Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rosemary and Rue—Seanan McGuire

I managed to grab a pole and ease myself into the nearest empty seat before I fell, doing my best to keep my back away from the wall. It's rude to get blood on the seats. (185)
This was the main book for Vaginal Fantasy in September, and I HATED the alt—my thoughts on the alt, Darkfever, are here—so I'm really glad that I enjoyed this one so much. I'm currently on book eight in this series, and it just keeps getting better. (More of those reviews to follow.)

October "Toby" Day was on a mission from her liege to find his kidnapped wife and daughter when she was unexpectedly turned into a fish and left for dead. It would have been even weirder if Toby wasn't part of the fae world, although she is a changeling so she's not a pureblood fae. After fourteen years as a fish, her fiance and daughter have moved on without her, and so has the rest of the world; Toby decides to retreat from the fae world and work a normal mundane job at Safeway. But that plan goes remarkably off the rails when an old fae frenemy, Evening Winterrose, is murdered and as she was dying tied Toby up in an unbreakable oath to figure out who killed her. Now Toby, against her own better judgment, returns to the fae world and other places from her past to figure it out.

I LOVE this series, although this first book is definitely the weakest of them. I liked the tie-ins with Shakespeare—each of the books has a title that derives itself from Shakespeare, and a lot of the characters have names in common with Shakespeare's characters. I was compelled enough by the worldbuilding and by Toby's character, and her real-life issues—even though she's from faerie—that I kept reading while there were still problems with the writing and plot. The fact that Toby works in a Safeway, and then actually loses her job when she doesn't show up for work because she gets sucked into the mystery with Evening, was very real. I've read a lot of urban fantasy books, and fae characters who have regular jobs always seem to be able to keep them, even with long stretches where they're not showing up for those regular jobs. So it was nice to see that moment of reality.

I also thought the depression that Toby is experiencing, after spending fourteen years as a fish and losing basically everything about her life, was a relatable feature of her struggle. She does some incredibly self-destructive things, but I think that makes sense with what she's going through. (They discuss in later books how Toby is kind of on a passive suicide path, not really caring about what happens to her.) She also goes back to an incredibly unhealthy relationship, but I understood that compulsion as well. After all, if you've lost everything, I would imagine that it would feel very tempting to return to something familiar and comfortable, even if you know it's not good for you. I think this is especially true given even the little bit about Toby's past that we find out in this book, about her kind of transient childhood and her feeling of lack of belonging. I can understand how that would feel amplified after her ordeal as a fish, and make that longing for familiarity even stronger.

Even with the funk that she's in, I appreciate Toby's sense of humor and her sarcasm. Basically, I feel like I'm only some fae blood away from being Toby—or I wish that was the case, anyway, that I'm as clever and pithy as her.

For the most part, I actually liked that things weren't explicitly explained about the fae world. Sometimes that can be irking, not enough explanation, but I also think because so many of these concepts are familiar from other fantasy books, and/or easily searchable, it allows us to skip the long moments of exposition and data dumps that sometimes happen.

There were also little tidbits like the fact that Toby's cats are called Cagney and Lacey. Love that. I liked that it was set in the Bay Area, having recently spent a few years there myself.

And where can I get me a rose goblin? Because I need one.

As was discussed on the forum extensively, this book definitely suffered from first-book problems. The plot was quite circular, and you really never felt like you were gaining any ground. Particularly towards the end, Toby was getting almost fatally injured at least once a chapter, which just isn't sustainable.

One of McGuire's strengths, though—at least in my mind, because I like this style of writing—is that she'll drop a small (or large) mystery in your lap, and then won't resolve it until books later. There are definitely some seeds that are planted in this first book that are still waiting to be brought back, and I love it. I love a slow burn like that.

As previously mentioned, this is definitely not the best book in the series, but it introduced me to Toby and her fellows, so it will probably always hold a special place in my heart. I strongly recommend for anyone interested in faerie stories and/or urban fantasy.

Darkfever—Karen Marie Moning

"I suspect most kill themselves. Beautiful women rarely possess sufficient depth of character to survive without their pretty feathers. Strip them down and they crumble ."The look he gave me was judge, jury, and executioner. (102)
This book was the alt for Vaginal Fantasy in September—for which the theme was fae noir—and boy am I glad that it was not the main. Or that it was the only. Because I had a hard time getting through it. I think especially in comparison to how much I LOVED the main, Rosemary and Rue, it just fell disappointingly short. I'd also heard a lot of really great things about the series. But I just couldn't take it.

MacKayla Lane's sister is mysteriously murdered while studying in Ireland. When the police don't make any headway with the case, MacKayla travels to Ireland to take matters into her own hands. (Because she's a twenty something, spoiled, sheltered bartender from the American South, so obviously she's going to get more accomplished than the authorities. But don't worry: Mac is equipped with a vague voicemail that her sister left for her, so she's all set.) But when she gets to Ireland, Mac gets much more than she ever expected: she finds out that there is a whole fae world that actually exists, and that she has the ability to see beyond fae glamours. As a result, she meets a mysterious man called Jericho who owns a bookstore (swoon) and is kind of an asshole. (What a surprise. A mystery man who is an asshole, and thus irresistible. Never seen that before.) But he knows something about the fae, so Mac puts up with him as she journeys down the road to discovering her past and where her future might lead.

There were a couple of redeeming qualities about this book. I really liked the fae aspect, I loved the bookstore aspect, I liked the intrigue and the discovery of Mac's true past. I feel like there could have been enough there to keep me interested and bring me back for more in the series.

My one bone of contention was Mac, and since she's the main character, as well as the narrator, I just could not stand her. Beyond just that base level of irritation, there was something deeper there that I can't quite decipher. I've read books with protagonists that I didn't love or relate to in the past, but I've never had quite as visceral a reaction to Mac as I did in this case. I think maybe if she hadn't been the narrator, giving us "insights" into her own life and personality, I wouldn't have been quite so irked by her...maybe...

One of the first things Mac says, on page 5 in fact, is this: It was currently playing an old Louis Armstrong song—"What a Wonderful World." Born in a generation that thinks cynical and disenchanted is cool, sometimes I'm a little off the beaten track. Oh well. (5) Well aren't you just so cool for not being cool. Generally, when I hear a twenty-something describe themselves as "off the beaten track," it's like them telling me they're a unique little snowflake and SO different from everyone they know. (And I'm a twenty-something, so I've had a lot of peers like this.) Beyond that, we get literally no other glimpse of her being "off the beaten path" in relation to her "generational" peers, so basically this was added by the author as an attempt to give us a glimpse into Mac's personality and make her seem well-rounded, but just fell flat.

The same thing was true when Mac tells us that she's smart and reads a lot. Mac tells us this: Before the call, I had no use for a word like "demarcation," one of those fifty-cent words I knew only because I was an avid reader. (7) Other than this convenient explanation for her knowing what demarcation means, there is no other evidence to suggest that Mac is an "avid reader." Since I am actually an avid reader, I know the signs. Also, as an avid reader, I don't consider demarcation a "fifty-cent word." I feel like it's a pretty commonly known phrase.

That just set the stage for me not liking Mac from the beginning, and then she is completely self-obsessed. Now, I know a lot of people have an inclination to think about themselves or be materialistic, and I don't think these are necessary bad qualities; I am drastically not that way, probably because I have no fashion sense and feel uncomfortable in my body. But I can understand it. I think this is one of those cases where I might have given Mac more leeway if she hadn't been the narrator telling us these things about herself. Basically everything she said felt like a humblebrag to me. Here's the first example: I loved to eat. Fortunately, it doesn't show. I'm healthy through the bust and bottom, but slim through the waist and thighs. (6) I'm all for women being proud of their bodies. There's far too much body shaming that happens, and if you actually like yours then more power to you. I also think that the false modesty that a lot of women have is part of the same problem, so I'm not looking for that from Mac either. I guess this information just seems kind of unnecessary in the grand scheme of character development? Like, what do those sentences help me discover about Mac as a person? Nothing.

The shallowness of Mac focusing on her own appearance is a through line. She makes sure to remind the reader every chance that she gets that she's an attractive girl. Here are just a few examples:

  • With my figure, nobody could ever accuse me of not being womanly. (131)
  • The black linen trousers were a joke. I had a twenty-four-inch waist... (104)
  • I might never manage ugly, but at least I bordered on invisible. (170) — Honey, anyone can manage ugly. Have you seen Charlize Theron in Monster? That woman is beautiful and they made her hideous. Anything is possible.
  • "How many different ways do you think I can do my hair? I refuse to be a redhead. I draw the line there. As much as I like color, I have no desire to paint my head orange." (194) Well, redheads don't have orange hair, they have red hair. But sure, definitely insult them in an un-ironic way.
  • Me, I have a pretty face. (262)
I could go on about moments that made me completely despise this girl. And not because she's a villain or evil, but because she seems like an absolute contradiction in herself, with what we're "told" about her (by Mac herself, through the author, really) and what we see in action about her.

I might try to continue with the series, as some of the other Vaginal Fantasy folks in the forums said that Mac has some growth in later books, but it's going to take me a while to shore up enough patience to dive in for another journey with Mac.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Circle—Dave Eggers

"It's not that I'm not social. I'm social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you're purveying. It improves nothing. It's not nourishing. It's like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You're not hungry, you don't need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you're pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it's equally addictive." (134)
A beautifully written and horrifying parable on the level of Orwell's 1984. This book was so good—and SO disturbing. Eggers taps into the current obsession with digital connection and amplifies it in a very 1984-esque way, showing us all a disturbing potential future. Like Orwell's dystopian future-telling story, it is perhaps most distressing because of its complete possibility; I could absolutely see us going down the path that Eggers creates in The Circle.

Mae Holland is hired by her best friend to work at The Circle, the ever-expanding internet company based in the Bay Area. (Sound familiar?) The Circle links everyone's online presence, banking and purchasing, for one profile, which is shared and transparent for everyone to view. Mae, with her wide-eyed idealism, is quickly drawn in by the romance of it all—and pulled into the cult-like mentality of privacy equaling lies and deception. As she opens up more of her life for public consumption, she grows more and more isolated from the people who matter in her life. But what she gains means more to her than what she loses, until any hint of the old Mae disappears altogether into the hive mind.

This was a bit too real for me, at points. The fight over right to privacy continues to be fought, especially with the increase in digital presence (as Eggers artfully takes advantage of) and the inability to ever escape or erase your digital past. Mae starts at The Circle full of idealism and the desire to succeed, especially since she basically got the job through a nepotistic channel when she was hired by her college best friend. Although some of the ways of The Circle seem strange and counterintuitive at first, Mae fairly quickly substitutes the general consensus and opinion for her own. For example, Mae starts out not being attached to her phone, and basically shamed for it. Mae's desire to succeed, however, propels her past even the employees who have been there longer, eventually pushing her to be the poster child for openness. She starts wearing a camera everywhere that she goes, for everything, because privacy is a crime—after all, you're keeping information that could be valuable to other people from them. This only backfires after the friend who had gotten her the job has some information revealed about her family—in the pursuit of transparency, of course—and spirals out of control.

Before she gets quite pulled into it, though, Mae is out kayaking in the Bay, and doesn't digitally document it. This conversation happens with some of the higher-ups:
"Oh, I've never brought a camera."
"But how do you identify all these birds?"
"I have this little guide. It's just a thing my ex-boyfriend gave me. It's a little foldable guide to local wildlife."
"So it's just a pamphlet or something?"
"Yeah, I mean, it's waterproof and —"Josiah exhaled loudly.
"I'm sorry," Mae said.
Josiah rolled his eyes. "No, I mean, this is a tangent, but my problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper brochure, and that's where it ends. It ends with you. Like you're the only one that matters. But think if you'd been documenting. If you'd been using a tool that would help confirm the identity of whatever birds you saw, then anyone can benefit—naturalists, students, historians, the Coast Guard. Everyone can know, then, what birds are in the bay on that day. It's just maddening, thinking of how much knowledge is lost every day through this kind of shortsightedness. And I don't want to call it selfish but—" (187-188)
You can really see the change that she goes through to get to the point where her ex-boyfriend, Mercer, says the pullquote to Mae about disconnecting from her digital life and connecting with reality. He is trying to convince her to move away from the Dark Side (as I came to view The Circle) while she is trying to convince him that he needs to be more digitally involved. Even though we haven't quite descended into madness with our digital lives yet, it feels like such a possibility, something that could so easily start with the best of intentions and then take over, that you can feel Mercer's terror and outrage as Mae gets pulled further and further into the inner workings.

Even after one of the three founders of The Circle approaches Mae and tells her that things are getting out of control, that it needs to be shut down, it doesn't help snap her back to reality. (Spoiler: She actually turns him in to the other two creators and keeps him from derailing the company's trajectory.) It seems as though her desire for approval, along with her desire to succeed, have made her completely incapable of viewing the monster from the outside. And when you get right down to it, what is our digital/social media presence but a desperate cry for approval and acceptance?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Genesis—Dale Mayer

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I've had this book finished for a few weeks, but the schedule's been a bit crazy and it's taken me a while to put together a coherent and thoughtful response to it. Especially considering the nature of how I came to read it, namely a free copy from the author/publisher.

Let's start with the things that I really liked about this book. The premise and world were incredibly interesting, and the idea of the magic system was intriguing. Essentially, Genesis, the oldest of triplets, lives on a world called Glory. In a stunning turn of events, humans had completely destroyed planet Earth, and so had to look outside of their native planet for somewhere else to live; hence, their existence on Glory, and ostensibly other planets throughout the galaxy. (There was a casual mention that scientists were working to making Earth habitable again.) Glory has some sort of magic system that involves the use and movement of energy, which is a power that Genesis has in spades, and has been taught by her late grandmother. There are water pools underground that have some sort of healing qualities, although that's not really investigated. The spirit pets were adorable and worth reading it on their own, because now I desperately want one.

Okay, things I had issues with. This list is unfortunately a bit longer than the list of thing I loved. Overall, this book just felt so disjointed, and ultimately like nothing plot-wise really happened. It's the first in a trilogy—each one is about one of the triplets, which, don't even get me started on the triplets—but it doesn't feel as if there's anything to be resolved further in the trilogy because the conflict feels entirely manufactured. There was NO background on any of the characters, the world they live in, or the magic system that exists. While the snapshots that we see of each of these are enough to keep you reading, there is no explanation of any of them and how or why they work they way they do. Which leads to the feeling that there is no payoff. Why should I care about a character who seems to have come into existence three seconds before I started reading about their life? Further, the lack of development into the magic system, and the terminology and phrasing which makes it seem as though you should already know exactly how it works, leaves a reader feeling as though they've completely missed something.

Ultimately, the story ends up feeling like a poorly constructed vehicle for a love story. Perhaps if the love story itself had been more compelling, I could have forgiven the other issues I had with the book. Because we don't get much background on characters—if any at all—I have no investment in the relationship between Genesis and her ex-boyfriend. Further, the information that we do get is that they only "dated" for a week, over a year ago. Yet, they're still pining for each other. Now, I consider myself something of a romantic. But two people who were only together for a week, that relationship is not based on an undying love for each other—it's based on pure lust. That's fine, if you want to have a lust-based relationship in a book, I'm all for that. I love sexy times as much as the next person. But don't try to sell me mud and say it's ice cream...or some other saying that connotes the same thing. Just be up front about the nature of the relationship.

This gets incredibly frustrating when Genesis and Connor both refer to how he/she has "always" made them feel a certain way. Really? Always? Like, that whole week? Here are just a few examples: "He'd always had the power to move her, a sensuality that he never seemed to be aware of." "A look she'd always loved and thought she'd never see again." "She loved him so much. Always had." Emphasis was mine, but that was only three of the myriad examples. I just can't take something seriously when "always" refers to one week's worth of time.

There were moments of poor grammar and unrealistic, awkward, clunky dialogue. But I could have also forgiven those if the other redeeming features had been greater.

There was a lot of promise here, and I can only hope that the other books in the trilogy live up to that promise.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Miniaturist—Jessie Burton

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends. But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot, and the church's east corner is crowded. (1)
Marin has swallowed time, and on the map of her pale skin, Nella cannot find the clue of when she sank and how she disappeared. (351)
I've been hearing a lot about this book since it came out, I have seen it repeatedly on the recently arrived section at my local library, and the cover is entrancing. So I finally picked it up and zoomed through it. It was so intriguing and perfectly mysterious and juicy, showing us a little slice of life of—we discover—a rather unorthodox Dutch family.

In Amsterdam in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman has arrived in her new role as wife or a Dutch businessman. She's barely met him and has never met his surly sister or servants/household members. She's had even less experience with men. But she knows that her new husband, Johannes Brandt, should be coming to her room to take care of his husbandly duties—and so she can take care of her wifely duties. But he doesn't, instead gifting her with a miniature version of her new house to fill and use as practice for managing the larger version. While pondering this, Nella also has to navigate her relationship with Marin, Johannes' sister, who is used to managing the household, and keeping secrets. Otto and Cornelia, the two servants of the house, complete the strange little family; Nella is especially surprised that Otto is African, as she's never seen an African man before. But perhaps the biggest mystery is the miniaturist, to whom Nella sends away requests and receives more than she asked or bargained for.

Oh boy, this book had so much more going on than I could have anticipated. There were a couple of reveals that I guessed hundreds of pages earlier—like Marin's pregnancy, which isn't hard to guess at if you have any experience with recognizing symptoms of pregnancy.

But despite some later predictabilities, I was caught right from the beginning with that beautiful piece of metaphorical imagery—"words are water." Although it does lose its impact a bit when used multiple times—Burton uses the same phrase again on page 149—it is the perfect metaphor for the occasion and for the setting in Amsterdam, a city surrounded and built upon water.

And despite those predictabilities, there were a number of reveals I did not see coming. Perhaps the most poignant fact of this book is how similar the issues are that Nella is dealing with to the issues that we still deal with and debate today. When Nella first finds out that *spoiler* Johannes is actually gay and she is his unknowing beard, she immediately recoils and remembers all of the vitriol she has heard against men in relationships with men. (It probably doesn't help that Nella isn't just told that Johannes is gay, but discovers him in his office receiving oral sex from a younger man...) But after approaching Marin with anger and rage at being pushed into an arranged marriage that will never allow her to live "as a proper woman," this exchange occurs:
In the heavy silence, Marin collapses slowly like a puppet, arms and neck slack, chin to chest. "Do you know what they do to men like my brother?" she says. "They drown them. The holy magistrates put weights on their necks and push them in the water." A wave of devastation seems to draw down Marin's body. "But even if they dragged Johannes back up and cut him open," she says, "they still wouldn't find what they wanted.""Why not?"Tears start to strand on Marin's pale cheeks. She presses her hand to her chest as if to ebb her grief. "Because it's something in his soul, Petronella. It's something in his soul and you cannot get it out." (150)
And later, Nella thinks to herself that although she was taught that sodomy was a crime against nature, "how right is it to kill a man for something that is in his soul? If Marin is right, and it cannot be removed, then what is the point of all that pain?" (156)

Unfortunately, this debate over the nature and "rightness" of homosexual relationships still continues. The uncomfortable feeling that is Nella's impulse when she discovers Johannes' secret is still present in a large number of our population. However, we don't quite have to worry these days about institutionalized death penalties as a result if it is discovered that someone is gay, which is what Nella has to deal with. Just as she comes to respect and admire and even love her new husband, she must deal with losing him when he is accused of sodomy and sentenced to death by drowning.

Further, we find out that Marin and Otto were in a relationship, and Marin is pregnant as a result. Interracial relationships are much more acceptable now in the United States than they were forty or fifty years ago, but there are still places where interracial couples get stares/glares in public. The struggle for Marin in thinking about the quality of life for her child as a mixed race baby is also something that is especially relevant to today's life. As much as we hope and wish that we lived in a "post-racial society," it's becoming ever-more evident that is not the case. Marin wonders how she can consider bringing a child into a world that is only going to despise and misunderstand it, which is a sentiment I hear often from mothers of mixed or minority children.

Although the miniaturist is a mystery that is never quite solved, it is perhaps the least interesting happening in the story—which is saying something, because it was pretty darn interesting. Nella sends away for a few things to start occupying the doll house that Johannes has given her, and receives more than she requested—including some eerily familiar pieces, like exact replicas of the chairs that sit in the dining room, or perfect miniature versions of Johannes' two dogs. Has the miniaturist been here before? Is he watching them? I actually thought that it might have been that the miniaturist had a relationship with somebody in the house, and thus had intimate knowledge of its details, but turns out several people in Amsterdam had been ordering with the miniaturist and getting extra special pieces. So that couldn't be it. Then we find out that *gasp* the miniaturist is actually a woman. A woman? Working on her own as a tradesperson? Shocking! But how does she know about these little things that go in people's houses? Well, we never really find out. That remains a mystery.

Even despite the fact that one of my least favourite things, an event that is almost always sure to make me hate a book, happens here which is violence towards animals. There's a point at which Johannes' lover comes to the house to threaten Nella and Marin, and as they're finally getting him to leave, he stabs Johannes' favourite dog in the skull. What?! What is wrong with you, man?!

That's three or four big revelations right there, but there are still secrets to discover in this book.

Pepper a surprisingly relevant 300-year-old story with remarkable words and imagery, and you'll get five stars from me every time.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Magic Study—Maria V. Snyder

"Of course. I chopped Yelena's bow into firewood," Leif joked.
"You took me by surprise. I didn't want to hurt you," I shot back.
Leif looked dubious.
"How about a rematch?""Anytime."
Valek stepped between us. "I'm beginning to wish that you were an orphan, love. Can you both manage to focus on the task at hand without trying to catch up on fourteen years of sibling rivalry?" (375)
I read the first book in this series, Poison Study, as part of VF Rewind, and loved that one, so I wanted to continue in the series. After this one, I'm not sure I'll be so eager to be moving forward because it just did not live up to that first book.

After having found out that she was kidnapped and brought to the north in Poison Study, and having found that she has magic, Yelena is on a quest to learn more magic and to be reunited with her family. However, every experience that she thought would be groundbreaking and life-changing seems to fall flat: when she meets her family, it doesn't really seem to fit; when she gets to the magic school in Sitia, she feels isolated and derided. To be fair, part of that may be that she seems to always be getting into "situations," the fact that she is basically considered Ixian (of the north), and that she seems to have a strange affinity for magic that rivals even the Master Magicians. Interestingly, the other magicians don't seem to mind when she has skills that are helpful to them. She must navigate the new politics of her situation—including an Ixian prince wannabe. It's definitely not going to be easy.

Many of the things that I loved in Poison Study were completely negated or nonexistent in this sequel. Valek, who was one of my favourite characters and whose relationship with Yelena I found really interesting, is barely present in the book. When he is present, rather than the cunning adviser and strategist, he seems to be—as one of the reviewers on Goodreads put it—a "stud stand-in" for Yelena, following orders and providing her his strength. It was completely un-interesting to read.

Yelena fell into a Mary Sue situation for me, with her immense power that she seems to be able to tap into with little to no training. And she has ALL the powers that magician's possibly possess. I am willing to be flexible when it comes to magical prodigies, because prodigies exist in the real world, but when you make it entirely unrealistic even with any stretch of the imagination, I just can't get on board with that. One of the most compelling things to me about her in the first book was that she so clearly DOESN'T KNOW. She doesn't know about poison, and then Valek trains her. True, she learns pretty quickly, but not automatically. She doesn't know any self defense or have any training, so she asks Ari and Janco to train her. She still is not great at running, but she finds a particular style that suits her and builds on that. All of that industrious, curious, inquisitive nature seems to have gone completely by the wayside.

But without Yelena, we would never have been introduced to Kiki, and she was one of my favourite characters. Kiki is Yelena's horse and because Yelena can do everything, she can also communicate telepathically with animals. As such, we get an inside look at Kiki's thoughts, and she was just sarcastic and short (as animals with limited vocabularies are wont to be). Loved her.

One other thing I really liked was the juxtaposition of politics in the north and the south. In the north, where Yelena spent most of her life, everything is very regimented and controlled; it's basically a dictatorship, with some meritocracy thrown in. BUT all of the citizens are cared for and nobody goes hungry or has to beg for assistance. So it's a bit of culture shock when Yelena comes "home" to Sitia and is immediately accosted by dirty children begging for money. It's more of a democracy in the south, but for some reason that also means that those who are in need are not heard. (Sounds familiar...) It was interesting because in each of the locations, it is emphasized to Yelena that the other is completely worthless and has no value. Her reflections on the two situations reveal that neither is exactly true.

Perhaps one of my biggest problems is how easy Snyder seems to be with the raping. Everyone is getting raped, and it is dealt with in a completely casual, offhand manner. I understand that, in this book's setting, rape is probably a fairly regular occurrence, as awful as that is. (Let's be honest, even in our modern-day setting, rape is a fairly regular occurrence.) But even so, it could be treated with a modicum of the gravity that it is owed.

If that wasn't enough, all of the "bad guys" in the book are entirely one-dimensional. Everyone that is fighting Yelena is very outspoken about being so, with no attempt at cleverness or subterfuge. And I have to say, I'm done with the torture-loving, raping magician scenario. That was exactly the case in the last book, and one of the villains in this book was almost a carbon copy. Find something new and interesting, maybe somebody who has other motivations than rape and who is more secretive about coming after Yelena.

Finally, the last 100 pages or so felt VERY disjointed, and almost like an entirely different book. I just...maybe there's some set up there for something that's coming down the pike, but I did not understand what purpose those pages served.

As I said in my initial Goodreads review, I gave it three stars for the potential of the series, and would have probably given this book a two star rating on its own. I'm hoping the next book will redeem this one, but I probably won't find out for a while.

Moon Called—Patricia Briggs

A Vanagon resembles nothing so much as a Twinkie on wheels; a fifteen-foot-long, six-foot-wide Twinkie with as much aerodynamic styling as a barn door. (66)
I was initially drawn to this book, and voted for it in the VF forum on Goodreads, because it's set in Washington State (love) and the protagonist is a VW mechanic. I don't love the cover, but I forgive it because of those two things; my dad grew up in my grandfather's exclusively VW-bug shop mechanics shop, so VW mechanics hold a special place in my heart.

But after that first instinct to be into the book after reading the description, I realized that there had been a Mercy Thompson story in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (last December's alt pick) and I remembered not loving it. At one point, the characters refer to Africa as "The Dark Continent" which I have a real problem with, and also refer to people of Asian descent as Oriental. So not exactly a politically forward author, it seemed.

However, I didn't notice any issues like this with the full-length novel version of Mercy Thompson, so I'm hoping that was an anomaly and the rest of the series will be racism-free.

I went back and forth on how I felt about Mercy. I like that she's tattooed, I just wish it wasn't quite so stereotypically done. I like that she's a mechanic and independent, but I'm also a little fed up with the isolated supernatural ladies. Why do they so often have no friends, let alone any close female relationships? Ugh. It made a bit more sense for Mercy, as a woman in a mostly male-dominated world, with fellow shifters, but still...

There are some interesting and different mythologies here with some supernatural beings that are sometimes VERY tired (namely vampires and werewolves), so that was nice to read. I love urban and supernatural fantasy, but if I read the same sad vampires and werewolves one more time, with absolutely no creative eye to their natures, I'm going to throw that book across the room. There were also some exciting action-filled moments in this book, which was awesome, and they were handled well and easy to follow, which is not always true of urban fantasy action sequences.

There were a few issues I had with geography, like when Mercy says that her mom tried to guilt her into driving UP to Portland, when in fact Portland is south of the Tri-Cities...although maybe that has more to do with regional language in relation to the author than anything else. I also didn't appreciate the tiptoeing around the swearing. Damn isn't even a curse word (at least in my mind) and yet characters apologized when they used it. Really? Can't we all just be grown ups, especially if there are going to be intimate situations happening.

I thought Samuel's treatment of Mercy when she was a teenager was completely messed up. I mean, I understand his reasoning, but still, children above all other considerations? Are you really that vain? Ugh.

When you get right down to it, I felt kind of meh about the book, even though I rated it four stars on Goodreads. That rating was reflective more of the potential in the series rather than my thoughts on this first book. Despite my ambivalence, I decided to continue with the series anyway. They're quick and they're like popcorn. Like the junk food of literature. Thus far I've read the second in the series, Blood Bound, and have the third, Iron Kissed, on my Kindle waiting to be read. I'm interested to see what happens with Stefan, and to hopefully find out more about Mercy's origins and the nature of walkers (since she seems to be the only one still in existence).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell—John Crawford

I went to the gas station yesterday to buy some cigarettes. An Arabic man was working behind the counter. He turned when he heard the door chime and gave me a broad smile. I walked out. I never wanted to hate anyone; it just sort of happens that way in a war. (157)
I was watching the Month of Zen, The Daily Show's month-long retrospective before Jon Stewart left (which gives you an idea of just how long this draft has been just sitting, since he left the show over a month ago, and I read this book two weeks before that...) John Crawford was one of Jon's guests in the mid-2000s and talked about this book that he'd written. I had this same problem throughout Jon's reign, which was that I just want to read ALL THE THINGS that he ever talked about or had guests talk about on his show. (To be fair, I always want to read ALL THE THINGS, and The Daily Show just gave me an excuse to indulge.)

So I decided to check my local library and find a number of the books featured and try to read them all. Somewhere I'm sure there's a wiki or something that includes all of the books that were ever peddled on The Daily Show. I will find it, and I will read them all. But I started with this one.

This book was difficult to read, partially because it's about war (which I continue to not completely understand) and partially because Crawford has a remarkably candid way of showing how callous war can make perfectly normal, caring people.

John Crawford was barely out of his teens when 9/11 happened and he enlisted in the military. Then, through some series of unfortunate events, got stuck in the Middle East for almost three years.

In a series of semi-connected chapters, Crawford shares memories of his time in the Middle East. From his deployment, to his multiple and extended tours, to the difficulty of returning to "regular" life, he is unapologetically crass and forthright. He doesn't sugarcoat the lack of empathy that many soldiers have for the civilians in the areas where they are stationed. As the pull quote above notes, nobody plans to hate anyone, but that's what happens during war sometimes. I would imagine that people who survived World War II had similar feelings —unintentionally or otherwise—about Germans, even if they had no connection to the Nazis.

I have very seldom found a book that is written in this style, from the point of view of someone who was actually a soldier in the war—rather than stateside making the decisions. It was quite the insight, and one of the best looks into the boots-on-the-ground, infantry-level military men that I have ever read.

I'll end with a quote from the book, which was in turn pulled from Hermann Goering's testimony at the Nuremberg Trials. It feels especially poignant in light of the nature of the United States' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.
Hermann Goering, Speaking at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II (171)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Life as a White Trash Zombie—Diana Rowland

"Yeah, I know my damn name," I snarled. "It's Angel Crawford." I wanted to add, And you can write it down with the pencil that's stuck up your ass, but I managed to hold it back. I knew that nurses had the power to make your life suck worse than it already did, and it was clear that this bitch considered me to be one step away from starring in my own loser reality show. Screw her. I was at least two steps away. (2)

Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

This was the main pick when Dearly, Departed was the alt. I have to say, I didn't think I was going to like this one, because generally something naming itself white trash is not something I'd be into. But I really enjoyed this one. Also, how badass is this cover?

If you look in the dictionary under "loser," you'd find a picture of Angel Crawford. She can't hold down a job, her dad's an alcoholic who occasionally verbally abuses her when he's had one too many, she has a sort of boyfriend who she doesn't really care about. But for some reason, her life seems to get back on track after she dies and wakes up in the hospital after having been found naked on the side of the road. Angel's now a zombie, although it takes her a minute to admit that to herself. Now, she has a job in the coroner's office—procured for her by a mysterious entity—she has easy access to life-sustaining brains, she's actually able to pay some bills, she's moving away from the deadbeat boyfriend. But working in the coroner's office, she can't ignore the corpses that keep showing up sans heads. As a zombie, she has an idea of where those heads, and their delicious delicious contents, may have gone. Angel thinks another zombie is behind the deaths, but she couldn't be more wrong.

I definitely started out not liking Angel, but that's kind of the point. Although she doesn't have her life together—which I can totally relate to—she's also not doing anything to change it. Until she's a zombie, she continues in the same self-destructive patterns over and over. For example, when she relates about one of her criminal encounters before zombie time, when her erstwhile boyfriend hooks her up with a guy who sells her a "nearly new Toyota Prius" for 500 dollars. Angel says she had a "feeling" that it wasn't a legit business deal. Really? You had a "feeling" that 500 dollars for a basically new Prius wasn't legit? What insight.

But after Angel is zombified, she really works on getting her life together. For the first time, she has a steady job. She has a legitimate paycheck. She has the opportunity for a long-term career that she actually enjoys in a field that is perfect for her...situation.

She also has the chance to get away from her sometimes boyfriend, who, similar to Angel before zombie, has no desire to change his life. Luckily enough, there's also a cute sheriff's deputy who *spoiler* is also a zombie, the one who set her up with the job at the coroner's office, and ends up with her in the final battle against his zombie hunter best friend.

It also reminded me a lot of iZombie, which the ladies talked about a bit during the Hangout. At the time the book club read White Trash Zombie, iZombie was still a comic and wasn't yet a television series. But that's how I came to it, and found it a really intriguing premise. So really anytime that I get a different vantage point or mythology related to zombies, I'm into it.

I agree with Felicia that it took me a little bit to get into, but once I got into it, I was excited to see where Angel ended up. I'm looking forward to reading further in this series, but I'm not desperately scrambling to get to the second one. I also agree about the texture of the brains...but I think you'd figure it out eventually.

Watch the Hangout below!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Uprooted—Naomi Novik

Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that's not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he's still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we're grateful, but not that grateful. (1)
Uprooted was the main pick for Vaginal Fantasy in the month of August, in the year 2015. It was a forum pick this month, and I have to say, good job us!

Agnieska is one of the girls in the valley, the valley from which the Dragon makes his pick once every ten years. The people of the valley allow the Dragon to take one of their girls, because he in turn protects them from the corrupted Wood. But Nieshka's not worried—everyone knows that the Dragon will take Kasia when he comes. So although she's not worried for herself, Agnieska mourns that she will soon lose her best friend in Kasia. But Agnieksa fears the wrong things, because when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will take.

The pull quote above is  the opening paragraph of the book. Along with it's following paragraph, they are the most intriguing beginning to any book that I've read in a long time. Uprooted is also the closest thing to an old school fairy tale that I've read in a long time, maybe ever; not just with regard to content, but also with regard to writing style, level of prose, and structure. Instead of using an overabundance of dialogue in order to explain things, there were actual descriptions, exposition. It was one of my favourite things about the book. I find that many authors rely on dialogue to tell the story for them, which feels lazy. Of course it's easy for a character to say, "I'm just going to monologue for a while to give you background about myself in a covert way, rather than having any sense of discovery there." Likewise, the setting and choice of language were deliberate and added to the fairy tale feeling.

This is especially true in the last fifty pages or so, when the origin of the Wood is revealed. The lore and mythology that was created was so heartbreaking and touching. As a tree hugger, I empathized with the Wood, and had I been Agnieszka, could see myself reacting similarly following the final battle. It's summed up when the Wood-queen explains, "They cut them down. They will always cut them down. They come and go like seasons, the winter that gives no thought to the spring." (419) Even though this is a fairy tale, it still rings true to the way that we humans treat nature and the world around us in general. Treating our resources as neverending is going to come back to bite us—already is, really—just as it did for the valley folk in this book.

There were some in the forum who felt that Dragon's background wasn't fleshed out enough. I actually didn't have a problem with that. I thought the one story that we got about his past gave us a fair amount of background. Use that, and a little bit of understanding about human nature and reactions, and you can figure him out with not much trouble. After all, we'd all probably be surly and antisocial if we were consigned to a tower in the woods, constantly fighting a losing battle by yourself, with no assistance, and ordered to train young women with magical aptitude. And if you only ever interact with a person who is essentially your captive, you probably aren't going to be super interested in explaining things, or even really remember the subtleties of human interaction. I also think that Sarkan was surprised and frustrated by Agnieszka's powers, because he had worked so hard and so long with his own style and then everything seemed to come so easy for her. Somebody like that would probably be quite frustratingly intoxicating and alluring. I saw it as his way of dealing with these foreign and uncomfortable feelings that he was constantly antagonizing her. Kind of like a second grader who pushes the girl he likes into the dirt. I don't think it's necessary to get a dissertation on the Dragon to understand why he is the way that he is. Agnieszka even says it towards the end: He wasn't wrong, and the Wood-queen wasn't dead anyway; she was only dreaming. But he wasn't going for the sake of corruption or the kingdom. His tower was broken, he'd drunk Spindle-water, and he'd held my hand. So now he was going to run away as quick as he could, and find himself some new stone walls to hide behind. He'd keep himself locked away for ten years this time, until he withered his own roots, and didn't feel the lack of them anymore. (423) Pretty stereotypical man in that way, running away from his feelings.

Like others mentioned in the forum, it did seem as though Agnieszka's powers manifested quickly and powerfully, but I didn't see that as such an outlandish thing. A big part of it seemed to be that she was more free, less restricted when it came to the magic. And there are examples of prodigies such as her even in our own mundane world. I appreciated her sense of agency and independence. When she and Sarkan finally get steamy, she is the one who initiates. She also is the one who takes her own path, and decides to work on healing the Wood after its history is revealed. She cares little for how others may perceive this choice of hers, doing instead what she feels is right and is within her power to do. I admired her for that.

The only things I didn't love were Agnieszka's time at court—which seemed to last about fifty more pages than it needed to—and the very end, when Sarkan comes back. I didn't think that was necessary, and likened it in my mind to the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Even with those few small caveats, I LOVED this book. I'm glad that I bought it in hardcover, because I will treasure it, recommend it to others, and read it regularly throughout the years, I'm sure.

Watch the monthly Hangout below to see what the VagFan ladies (and Veronica's Sword and Laser co-host and special guest, Tom Merritt) thought. I have to say, I love the main four ladies, but I am digging the guests, especially the Toms the last two months.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Georgina Kincaid Series—Richelle Mead


In the last few months, I'd found nicotine was one of the essential things helping me cope. Other things on the essential list: vodka, Nine Inch Nails, a steady supply of moral men, and an all-purpose bitchy attitude. (Succubus Heat, 1)

I read Succubus Blues, the first book in this series, for VF Rewind, and it was so quick and interesting that I immediately read the remaining five books in the series. (The fact that it's partially set in a bookstore in Seattle had nothing to do with it...said the liar.)

Boy, was I disappointed by the time I finished the series.

The second and third books were okay, but it was pretty much downhill from there, with a book that was entirely useless to the overall plotline of the series.

In the second book, Succubus on Top, Georgina and Seth are making a go at a relationship. A few caveats: they can't actually have sex because she'll steal parts of his soul, and on top of that, she still has to have sex with other people in order to gain energy and fulfill her responsibilities to Hell. But even with those obstacles, things are going okay until Georgina's old incubus friend Bastien comes to town. She's known Bastien for centuries, and now he needs her help to corrupt a local conservative radio show host in order to get him back in Hell's good graces. Unbeknownst to Bastien, that host has no interest to him and will never succumb to his incubus charms, because she's actually a closet lesbian. But you'll never guess who does succumb to Bastien's incubus charms? Georgina. When he morphs himself into Seth, she just can't resist. And you know who's totally cool with the whole situation? Seth. Because he's not a human person, he's actually an android without human emotions, like jealousy or anger. (That last part's not true. Seth is totally a human. He just seems to be the perfect man for Georgina.) There's also a B story line about a god who's in town and is spreading drugs in order something nefarious, and Georgina's friend Doug gets caught up in the drug situation, leading Georgina to try and find the god and destroy him. The battle is over in about two seconds. You finish it and think to yourself, "Wait, what? It was really that easy?"

So that was an interesting follow up to Succubus Blues, which I really loved. I think in this second book, I had already gotten used to Georgina and didn't find her quite as charming or lovably flawed as I did in the first book. Instead, I found her kind of selfish and awful, which is kind of how I felt about her for the rest of the series. But Mead did something really smart, teasing small bits of Georgina's past throughout the remainder of the series so that you're compelled to keep reading to find out what is actually going on with her, and why we get all of that back story to begin with.

In Succubus Dreams, Seth has forgiven Georgina for sleeping with Bastien (in Seth's form) in the past book, and they're doing well. Georgina even says that she likes to think that Seth has "improved a bit since we got together, but he had a long way to go." (22) Not insulting at all. In this book we got more about Seth and Georgina's relationship, which I honestly do not understand at all. (Okay, maybe now that I know the ending, I understand why they were drawn to each other so much, but really? Saw no reason for it until that point.) There's this quote from the book: "Seth pressed another kiss to my forehead. 'I'm sweet because you make it easy to be sweet.'" (117) I mean, I like Georgina and all, I think she's interesting, but in what way does she make it easy to be sweet? I don't even see what she contributes to this relationship. And it doesn't even have to do with being a succubus or not being able to have sex. I'm talking about all of her secrets, her lack of trust in Seth, the focus on pretty much everything above Seth. I just don't get it.

Anyway, in this book, there's somebody around who is messing with people's dreams, including Georgina's. She's not pleased, especially considering the dreams seem to leave her completely drained of energy, even if she's just had an erotic refill. Add to that there's a new succubus in town, and Georgina's having a hard time. The dreams did serve to give us more insight into Georgina's background and history, which is essential to the endgame. But other than that, this one felt like a bit of filler.

At the end, Georgina and Seth decide to break up—more Georgina decides to break up with him because she wants him to have a normal life—and Seth decides to do what Georgina has been encouraging him to do the entire time, which is sleep with somebody else in order to basically even the score for all of the (job-required) sleeping around that she's been doing. Of course, Georgina didn't anticipate that he'd sleep, and start a relationship with, one of her dearest friends Maddie, so that's a bit awkward.

Then we're on to the fourth book, Succubus Heat. This book is basically wish fulfillment for Georgina. Jerome, her resident demon, gets kidnapped and taken out of his main area, which means that all of the supernatural beings under his purview are temporarily mortal and have no powers. Too bad that Seth has started a relationship with Maddie, otherwise he and Georgina could finally consummate their relationship. Oh wait, Maddie doesn't matter. Georgina and Seth are going to get it on anyway. Because that's not at all out of character for Seth. Also, Georgina just happened to have been dating a guy, a fortune teller Dante, but that doesn't matter either because she doesn't actually have any feelings for him and he ends up being the bad guy, so who cares, really? We also get the return of Damon, who was the bad guy in the first book, and Jerome's bastard nephilim son. I was excited about that. Although I found Damon creepy in the first book, that was because he was creepy because he was trying to hide his evil-ness. But once he comes back to town and *spoiler* starts living with Georgina, I actually really liked their friendship. Eventually they find Jerome and it was his second in command that helped to facilitate the kidnapping, and all the supernatural baddies get their powers back, but that's incidental to the entanglements of personalities in this book.

Then, of course, Seth feels badly about cheating on Maddie—coincidentally, he starts to feel bad right around the time that he can no longer bone Georgina without having his soul slowly stolen from him—and so he overreacts to that guilt and proposes to Maddie. Because of course he does.

Succubus Shadows was entirely a bridge book if I've ever read one. Georgina is helping Maddie to plan her wedding to Georgina's ex (who she's still in love with). Meanwhile, Georgina is living with Damon and attempting to have something resembling a normal life, but she keeps getting pulled into bodies of water by siren songs that she can't seem to avoid. That's literally all I remember about this book, other than the big save, because there's nothing that happens. Eventually, they realize that it's Nyx's kids who are mad because of something Georgina once did to their mom, and so they're attempting to destroy her. Georgina gets taken into the shadow lands, and Seth is the only one who can save her. Even though nobody should be able to reach her, let alone a human. What?! What is happening?! Don't worry, all will be revealed in...

Succubus Revealed! Yeah, kind of an on-the-nose title...

In this final installment of the series, we finally find out why Georgina and Seth have felt so drawn to each other and it's because...drum roll...he's actually the reincarnation of her husband from her original life. And also the young man she loved in Paris. And during World War II. And basically every other man that she's loved during the course of her long life. Turns out, he remembered that there was something missing from his life after she made her deal with Hell, and made his own deal that he'd get ten lifetimes to try and find her and be together with her again.

Ugh. Gag me. I thought it was actually going to be something interesting. I was really hoping that she'd get together with the angel, Carter, because I liked their relationship, and found it much more interesting than the "soul mates destined to be together" thing that ended up being Seth and Georgina's relationship. Of course, everything ends happily ever after because Georgina's deal with Hell was that nobody remember her from her old life, and since her husband obviously remembered her enough to make his deal, it made her deal null and void. So they both get to be free of Hell and live together, and try again. Maybe this time, she won't cheat on him with his best friend.

Ugh. I was so excited to see where this ended up going after reading the first book, and it just felt like such a let down. But even so, I didn't give any of the books in this series less than three stars, which is sort of saying something. And I kept reading them, so there was obviously something drawing me back. And they were quick to read, I finished all of them in four days, so I don't feel like I completely wasted my time. But just...ugh.

Poison Study—Maria V. Snyder

I remembered my last offer, to be the food taster or to be executed. "What could you possibly offer me? I have a job, color-coordinated uniforms and a boss to die for. What more could I need?" (154)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

Yelena is awaiting her death in the dungeons when she is called to the office of Valek, the Commander's trusted adviser, spy, and assassin. Valek gives her a choice: she can either be executed as planned, OR she can be the Commander's new food taster. By law, he is required to offer the position when it is open to the next prisoner to be executed. What can Yelena do, choose death instead of possible/probable death by poisoning? She agrees to become the Commander's food taster, and Valek starts training her in the ways of detecting poisons. And Valek keeps her from trying to escape, now that she's got a bit more free reign, by deliberately poisoning her with Butterfly's Dust, a poison for which he has the only antidote, which she must take every 24 hours or die. As if that weren't enough for a young woman to handle, Yelena starts developing magical powers, and in Ixia that's a death sentence in itself.

I loved this book. There were so many little pieces and tidbits, in addition to the larger plotline being well put together, that made me give it five stars on Goodreads. I don't want to say that I'm stingy with my five stars, but unless I absolutely loved something and basically had no big complaints about it, I never give books five stars.

I did guess right away that Butterfly's Dust was bullshit. Maybe I've read or seen enough situations with poison, or maybe I clocked Valek the second we met him, but I just knew that wasn't actually a poison. I didn't guess the part about the "antidote" itself being a poison, so that was a twist for me.

The thing I loved most about the book, I think, were the relationships. I thought that Yelena's relationship with Ari and Janco—the two soldiers who help train her in some self-defense techniques and become good friends—was really touching. The protectiveness they felt for her, without being romantically interested in her, was lovely and not something you see a lot with books that have a female protagonist in such a vulnerable position like this.

Yelena's relationship with Commander Ambrose also takes an interesting turn when she discovers (with her magic) that he was born a woman. Yelena relates this information to us thusly: The Commander's reasons for hating magicians was as clear to me as glass. He was a she, but with the utter conviction that she should have been born a man. That cruel fate had chosen to burden him with a mutation that he had to overcome. And the Commander feared that a magician might pull this secret from his mind. (284) That whole storyline of Commander Ambrose being trans was really surprising and refreshing. Not something you see often in fantasy books, and especially not treated with such grace and explained in such a natural way. The way that Yelena hides this secret information from the rest of the world, including her eventual lover Valek, speaks a lot to Yelena as a person as well as her respect for the Commander.

Last but not least, Yelena's relationship with Valek was almost perfect for me in this first book. They didn't fall into bed together immediately, and in fact, didn't get together in the time (or place) that you thought they would. But the development of the relationship, Yelena's growing trust for him and desire to understand him, was perfect. Valek respects Yelena, and doesn't treat her as less than she is merely because she's a woman, which would have been the easy choice given the book's setting. Specifically, I'm thinking about the big battle at the end. There's a point where Yelena is fighting someone, and she tells Valek to go and find Mogkan, the big bad magician they're ultimately fighting, and Valek actually goes. He doesn't stick around and try to help Yelena when she told him to go. He knows that she's capabl, and also what's at stake if he doesn't do as she says. Then, Yelena even ends up saving Valek from exhaustion and defeat when she finds him fighting Mogkan in the corridor. It was just so nice to see not a helpless female—or one who's treated that way regardless of her actual skill set—in a fantasy book. Usually when women are not treated helplessly, it's because they act very hard and are longtime soldiers or have a background in battle or whatnot. But Yelena was vulnerable, even weak at times, and still treated with respect and trust.

I immediately went and read the second book, which I didn't love as much, but I do want to continue on in the series.
I obviously was not in alignment with the ladies in this Hangout, because neither Kiala nor Bonnie loved it. I actually had no problem with the lack of sexy times, although I can understand their opinion on that because that's one of the basic features of the book club. But that particular feature—or lack thereof—spurred a conversation about what constituted "Vaginal Fantasy," so the ladies talked about that a bit. I don't know that I necessarily agree with their definition of what the books need to be (not that my opinion matters, because I didn't start the club), and I don't think that they've necessarily kept to this particular definition, but it was interesting. I actually disagreed with Bonnie about the Commander being trans and focusing more on that; I liked that it wasn't overblown and focused on, that it was just treated as a normal thing (as it is). And I agree with Veronica about the steamy scene in the dungeon when they think they're about to die.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ill Wind—Rachel Caine

Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

Powering through the VF Rewind books/posts that have been sitting in draft form for weeks...

Ill Wind was the main pick during a month in which the theme was djinn. Oh boy, do I love me some djinn.

Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin is on the run after being accused of murdering a fellow Weather Warden, Bad Bob Burlingame. What those after her don't realize is that she has been invaded by the same evil that caused Bad Bob's death, and she's searching for the one person she thinks can help her: her old love, Lewis. Joanne knows that Lewis has three djinns, and she only needs one to take the black spot off her soul and save her from death. If only it were as easy as it sounded...

I really liked that Joanne wasn't the Chosen One, or imbued with all of the Warden powers. In fact, that character is pretty clearly another person altogether. It's not often that the protagonist in a fantasy book isn't the one who's considered the most unique snowflake, so I appreciated that. I also liked the different ways to indicate skills. When we get a flashback to Joanne first finding out about her powers, and the other Wardens deciding who is going to manage her, this conversation happens:

"I'll take her on. She can't cut it, it's my responsibility. I think she's going to be a damn good Warden someday."
Martin winced. "Not quite yet, though."
"Yeah, well. Who is, at eighteen?"
"You were," Martin said. "I was."
Paul shrugged. "We're fuckin' prodigies, Marty. And neither one of us ever had half the power this girl does coming into it." (50)

So, sure, she's not a prodigy, but she has more power than those who were. She's not the Chosen One who has all the Warden powers (that's her old friend Lewis) but she IS extremely skilled at her Weather Wardening.

I also liked the style of writing, with the occasional story from Joanne's past to help us understand her present. We see her background with the Wardens, we hear more about the mythical Lewis, we find out more about her history with Bad Bob. Sometimes when books have this structure, it can be hard to follow or distracting, but I enjoyed it.

And then there was a random flashback about losing her virginity. Why? To emphasize that all of her major life events have been precipitated by a storm? And that story includes the phrase, "And with the tearing of my hymen..." Ugh. Gross. Is that really a moment that you acknowledged during the event? I hope you said that out loud while it was happening so that everyone involved knew what was going on. Especially considering the preponderance of "losing my virginity" scenes in books with romance, and the overwhelming majority of them which focus entirely too much on hymen-tearing—to the point of falsehood in what that experience actually looks like. Just ugh.

Stopped taking notes about halfway through, which is either a really good sign or a really bad one. In this case, it was more that I just started to feel kind of indifferent. I really liked the idea of the story, and the writing style was right up my alley, but then it seems like Joanne is irresistible to all men and can't seem to focus on anything other than that, even when she's on the brink of death.

In addition to that frustrating throughline, I also spoiled it for myself by looking up the next book in the series about halfway through this first one, and it tells you in the first sentence of the summary that Joanne was killed and reborn as a djinn. Stupid me for looking that up, but is that really how you want to structure your summary? You can't think of any other way to introduce the next book without blatantly putting that out there? Alright.

And the straw that broke the camel's back was barely a straw at all, but Joanne is in love with this purple velvet number that she wears. She thinks she's hot shit when she's wearing it. Now, I know this book was written in 2003, which is a completely different decade at this point, but even back then, purple velvet was not "the thing." You're not stylish in purple velvet, Joanne, and you're not nearly as cool as you seemed like you were going to be.

I may go back and read the rest of the series at some point, but I was feeling so meh about the whole thing by the end that I have plenty of other things on my list that I'm going to read first.

Nineteen down!
This was the first Hangout after VF switched to Geek & Sundry (rather than Felicia Day's personal channel). So that was interesting. I agree with Veronica about it feeling like one long road trip that never really went anywhere. Felicia did say, though, that you need to read the first three in order to get to the actual meat of the series.