Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Kiss at Midnight - Eloisa James (Fairy Tales #1)

A Kiss at Midnight (Fairy Tales, #1)
Every now and then, a girl likes to read a trashy romance novel.  It's one of those simple truths, a little guilty pleasure I think we all like to indulge in every now and then.  And in my opinion, if the novel is based off a fairy tale, even better, because then I get to scrutinize it for interesting twists.

This didn't have many of them.

As the title and cover would suggest, A Kiss at Midnight is based off the story of Cinderella, though it takes place in Regency-period England rather than in some place where magic trees or fairy godmothers are prevalent.  There are some changes from the original story--the stepsister isn't evil, the prince is exiled and will never be king, the heroine is posing as someone else for much of the story--but it's nothing that made my jaw drop.  Really, I feel like it didn't need to be a Cinderella story at all, and that it would have served its purpose, romance-novel-wise, if it had just revolved around Kate pretending to be Victoria.  I think a more interesting story would probably have been that of Tatiana: the Russian princess uprooted from her home to marry an impoverished prince she's never met, only to find him in love with another woman.  That could be interesting.  This?  This was...entertaining, in a typical romance novel sort of way, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's actually interesting.

So, the plot wasn't terribly interesting.  The characters weren't that interesting, either.  Really, my favorites were Effie and Henry.  Kate and Gabriel themselves were just...blah.  Kate is a Nice Girl who slaves away for her family, servants, and tenants while her stepmother and stepsister spend all of her dead father's fortune.  After her stepsister Victoria, who is genuinely a nice person, has a little mishap with a dog bite, Kate agrees to pose as Victoria in order to secure the approval of one of Victoria's fiance's relatives; this approval is apparently vital, even though the fiance and the relative (the prince) have never met before.  Kate spends the entire story talking about duty, how she just couldn't leave her stepfamily, and whining that she will never marry Gabriel because she believes that he'll have affairs, even if she blatantly states that she doesn't think he's the type to leave.  Gabriel spends his time whining that Kate isn't rich enough for him to marry if he's going to pay for the upkeep of an entire castle and its staff because that is his responsibility.

Suck it up and find solutions.  The two of you are supposed to be adults, aren't you?

Effie and Henry, though, were delightful.  And Tatiana seems like she had potential, too, though we didn't really see that much of her.  Oh well.  That's the way the cookie crumbles.

2 stars out of 5.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Touch Of Power - Maria V. Snyder (Healer #1)

Touch of Power (Healer, #1)I actually had to double check that this book was by Maria V. Snyder because, uhm, what happened to her writing?  I adore her first novel, Poison Study, though I adored its sequels slightly less, and while I haven't read the Glass series or the Insider duo, I was looking forward to this one.  I just don't understand what happened!  The book was a sloppy mess, and Snyder's writing seems to have de-matured between Poison Study and Touch of Power.  Touch of Power just seemed like a slapdash collection of plot elements, including:

-flower that may or may not be able to kill you
-eleven types of magic, many of which seem to contradict   each other and none of which are properly explained
-multiple princes
-a religious cult
-fifteen realms, one of which randomly has a president that is very out of place
-way too many caves
-a plague that kills anyone who tries to cure it
-a missing sibling
-a romance that doesn't really ring true

So.  While I liked how healing magic works in Touch of Power, with a healer assuming an injured/sick person's maladies and then healing herself by just getting better ten times faster than a normal person would, that was pretty much the only good part of this book.  Everything else just feels like Snyder cobbled together a bunch of different story lines, any one of which would have made a respectable novel of its own.  It just felt like this wasn't actually the novel Snyder wanted to write.  I couldn't decide if she wanted to write a zombie novel, a school story about the children of powerful/royal families, a book about a plague-ravaged land, a tale of rescuing a lost sibling, a narrative of struggle about coming to terms with a hated power, or a chronicle of trying to bring down an evil king. All of those were present here, and it was just too much.  Not a single aspect was explored fully, leaving the book a hurried rush from one plot element to the next without anything actually being settled.

Additionally, every single one of the characters in this book lacks dimension.  They are all single-faceted, which makes their "growth" come across as false, especially Kerrick.  What was up with that sudden romance?  While it's not insta-romance in the sense that they fall in love right away, when it does happen, it's pretty instantaneous, with no build or maturation of the relationship at all.  And while Avry is a perfectly nice protagonist, she isn't someone you can really root for, because she's not really struggling.  She's just kind of there.  We're just supposed to accept that Avry is Special, and that is why everything goes right for her.

Speaking of that, what was with that ending?  I have NEVER seen a more blatant cop out on explanation.  NEV.  ER.

Overall, while I'm kind of curious as to what Avry &. Co. will get up to next, I'm not curious enough to slog through another of these when there's much better stuff out there.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThis book made me want to go live on a farm with the Hempstock women, where there would be porridge with blackberry jam, honey, and cream, strange-eyed kittens, no electricity in parts of the house, milk fresh from the cows, and a pond that's an ocean.  We would bake fresh bread and delicious pies and have fabulous adventures, and they would be terrifying and thrilling all at the same time.  I would learn how to do magic-y things, though not spells or cantrips, because those are common and the Hempstock women are anything but.  I would probably have to break up with my boyfriend, of course, because men apparently don't hang around the Hempstock place, but I imagine it would probably be worth it.  (Shhhh.  Don't tell him I said that.)

The thing is, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is a work of beauty, just like everything Neil Gaiman writes.  It's not a particularly "adult" book, and the main characters are children, but in that way it manages to deal with ideas that adult books probably can't tackle in quite the same way.  Some of those themes are violence, death, loss, and fear.  This is a beautiful book in that it add humanity to every aspect.    As Lettie says at one point, even monsters are scared of something; that's why they're monsters.  Even though I wanted to hate Ursula, and she repelled me, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for her toward the end.  She wanted to make everyone else happy so that she could be happy, and she went about it horribly, but... I don't know.  Her intentions weren't exactly good, but they weren't bad, either.

Anyway.  The book is short, at less than two hundred pages, but it fits a lot into those pages.  It also addresses the mysticism of it all in a very good way.  It's in the spirit of Neverwhere, but simpler.  Having the main character be a child for most of the story (which is all essentially one big flashback) allows a kind of blatant acceptance that is not present in adults.  It also allows memory to come into play; memory isn't infallible, after all, so did it all take place the way it's remembered, or did it not?  The book did not end the way I expected, but the way it did end was just perfect for it, and I was not disappointed at all.  Gaiman continues to be a master storyteller, and this is not one to miss.

5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

White Cat - Holly Black (Curse Workers #1)

White Cat (Curse Workers, #1)So, I really liked Holly Black's faerie stories, and I was hoping White Cat would be along those lines.  You know, kind of dark, twisty, surreal, and glamorous all at the same time.  Well, this isn't quite like the faerie books were, but it's not bad, either.  The story is about Cassel Sharpe, the only non-gifted member of a family of curse workers.  Black integrates curse workers into our world as if they've always been there, as a semi-functioning part of society--only semi-functioning because curse work was been illegal since about the time of the Prohibition.  Consequently, everyone, worker or not, wears gloves of some variety to prevent the working of curses (laying a curse requires touching someone with your hand) and many people wear charms designed to prevent curses from taking effect.  Because working is illegal, anyone who wants to work (in the US, at least) typically ends up working for mafia-like families who organize crime networks of workers.  Cassel's family is involved with the Zacharov family, though since Cassel doesn't have working abilities, he himself is left out of everything to do with workers and instead tries to make himself as normal as possible at his boarding school.
Like I said, Cassel doesn't have working abilities, but he has a secret of his own: he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago, and his family helped cover it up.  Now, Cassel is having weird dreams of a white cat and is sleepwalking, leading to his suspension from his upper-class boarding school.  All he really wants to do is stop sleepwalking so he can go back, but while he's trying to figure out what's going on with him, this white cat (featured in his dreams) shows up in his life, and he begins to suspect that he has amnesia of a sort. Kind of a disappointing plot device, amnesia, but it worked.  There were a few things that were blatantly obvious from the very beginning, and I was actually embarrassed for Cassel that he didn't figure them out sooner.  But there were still a lot of great twists, which it's hard to talk about without revealing stuff, so just take my word that they were pretty good, though not nearly as enthralling in general as I found Tithe and its companions to be.  I was also hoping this would be along the lines of Tithe in that it could be read alone, but that's not really the case; where Valiant and Ironside were companion-books to Tithe, the Curse Workers books are actual sequels.

While the writing was good and the characterization was decent, one thing that did seem evident was a lack of consequences for the characters' actions.  Nothing seemed to have blowback except the curses themselves, and even that was relatively minor.  In the end, everything was just peachy keen, and no one really regretted...well, anything.  It seems like in a story where there were some morbid revelations, there should have been more consequences, at least on a psychological level.  Now, there was one kind-of consequence at the end, but I'm not really sure it can even be called that because it looks like it will be resolved in the other books.  All I'll say about that is:

Anyway, this was a pretty good book, but I feel like it could have been deeper and consequently better.  Overall, I did like it, but not as much as I was hoping to.

2.5-3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How The Light Gets In - M. J. Hyland

How The Light Gets InDisclaimer: I have never read The Catcher in the Rye.  I never had to read it for school and I really have no inclination of my own to read it.  I did not pick this book up because it was supposed to be like Catcher in the Rye because, obviously, that meant nothing to me.  It just sounded mildly interesting while perusing the shelves of the used bookstore the boy and I like to frequent, so I bought it.

I have never encountered such a stupid, frustrating heroine in my entire life.  The writing quality was good, but the story revolved completely around Lou's stupid decisions, and since she's supposed to have such an enormously high IQ (though we never find out exactly what it is) it makes it all the worse.

So.  The story revolves around Louise Connor, aka Lou, who moves from Sydney, Australia to somewhere around Chicago in the USA to spend a year abroad.  She never wants to go back to her family because she hates them and thinks they're awful, even though they don't actually seem to be that bad.  Her parents are unemployed, only receiving some sort of governmental stipend, so the family is pretty poor, but they spend their time delivering Meals on Wheels to old people, and there were several anecdotes about how sweet her mother or father could be.  But Lou's real problem appears to be with her sisters.  They do sound like they were mean, but...  Lou didn't have to be involved with them.  She also constantly calls them "sluts," a perception that appears to stem from them being interested in sex (even though neither seem to have a string of guys; one of them has a fiance, the other a boyfriend, and between the two of them only one past boyfriend is mentioned), smoke, drink, and want to have babies.  Erm...what?  And what's even more "what" about it is that Lou acts exactly the same way, except she's apparently afraid of sex for some reason, even though she takes her shirt off and engages in various sexually-related acts throughout the story.  What what what?  She also hates people who are prettier than she is, calling them all "low-IQ witches" when she never even spoke to them to determine their intelligence level.  She's supposed to be quirky, I think, with her fascination for learning new words, singing, writing notes, and sleeping in spare bedrooms to cure her insomnia, but really she just comes across as your typical socially-inept character, with the bonus that she's supposed to be smart but is a total moron.

Also, everyone--and I mean everyone--in this book seems to be out to get her, or at least she thinks they are, when they all actually have perfectly good reasons for what they do.  Except James and Tom, who are just creepy individuals all around.  Oh, and did I mention that I'm not sure I trust Lou as a narrator?  She seems to be a compulsive liar and blatantly contradicts herself at several points.  I'm not sure if this was bad continuity or, what seems more likely, Hyland using Lou as an unreliable narrator.

Anyway, if you want to read a book about a complete moron who spends too much time trying to be "deep" and makes a lot of bad decisions, this would be a good book to read.  The other characters are pretty well done and the writing isn't half bad at all.  But Lou's sheer stupidity, contradictions, and lies made me pretty much hate her.

2 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lords of the Sea - Jorhn R. Hale

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of DemocracyHale's Lords of the Sea is the history of the Athenian navy.  Pretty straightforward, so this will be a fairly short review.  The book is extremely readable, and it wasn't necessary to drag my feet through tons of horribly academic language.  It moves at a fairly good pace, and only uses 318 pages to cover hundreds of years of history, so there isn't a lot of pointless detail.


Hale is very obviously in love with the Athenian navy and credits it with every single advancement Athens made.  He credits the NAVY with the BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY even when Athens was a democracy BEFORE the navy!  He also glorifies it to the point that he ends up glorifying war.  A good chunk of the book takes place during the Pelopponesian War, and he makes it seem like a paddle around the pond for Athens, when in fact the the Athenians and Spartans spent most of the war torturing each other and dying in terrible ways.  These are entirely glossed over or ignored in favor of relating the detailed plots of some of the plays that were written--and not all of those were about the sea or the navy.  If you're going to include plays, Hale, you should probably have thought to include Lysistrata, the one about how the Pelopponesian War was so horrible and caused so many deaths that the women of Greece refused to have sex with their husbands until the men ended the war, because the women didn't want to lose anymore family members.  (This was, by the way, fiction; no such sex strike ever took place, to my knowledge.)  That seems a bit more important than a farmer flying to Olympus on a dung beetle.

There also seems to be some extrapolation; Hale often puts words or thoughts into Greek mouths, or records actions that I very much doubt were recorded.

Overall, a readable book, but Hale's love of the navy has obviously blinded him to other important aspects of Greek life, and this should be read with a heart dose of salt.

2 stars out of 5, for the blindness toward history.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Graceling - Kristin Cashore (Graceling Realms #1)

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Kristin Cashore's Graceling takes place in a fantasy world that appears to be without magic, but where some people are born with Graces, special skills of almost any variety.  These people, marked by their different-colored eyes, are abnormally gifted in random areas like swimming, fighting, cooking, dancing, or really anything under the sun.  The protagonist of the story, Katsa, is the niece of a king, and she is Graced with killing.  Her uncle uses her as his strongarm, forcing her to maim or kill people who cross him.  By night, however, Katsa and her friends work to right wrongs committed by Katsa's uncle and the other kings of the seven kingdoms.  On one such mission, they free the kidnapped father of one of the kings, and Katsa encounters another Graceling.  He shows up at Katsa's home court and reveals himself to be the grandson of the very man Katsa helped to rescue.  Greening, or Po, as he likes to be called, becomes quite close with Katsa, and after an upheaval at the court, they leave to find out why Po's grandfather was kidnapped.

First off, I really liked the characters in this book.  Katsa really struggled with coming to terms with herself, her Grace, and where she belonged in the scheme of things.  Po likewise struggled with his own Grace and what it meant for him.  Their relationship was extremely intense, and while it was pretty obvious it was going to happen from the start, it might have escalated form companionship to outright love a little too quickly for my taste.  I also hope that Giddon finds someone in the other two books in the series--I really liked him, and while Katsa was perfectly justified in not wanting to marry him, I'd like to see more of him in the future.  Bitterblue (strange name, even for a fantasy world) was very mature for her age...I AM kind of skeptical about that, but that kid went through some serious shit, so maybe that's behind her mental age?  Leck, as a villain, was weird and scary but not entirely believable because we never really learned anything about him.  Sure, Po and Bitterblue both said some stuff about him, but he only made two on-page appearances, one of which was only a few lines, so it's hard to actually grasp his motivations and how he came to be what he was.

I saw some weaknesses with the time with just Katsa and Bitterblue; it just wasn't that riveting.  And Katsa's constantly calling Bitterblue "child" was downright annoying.  I mean, yeah, Bitterblue's a little kid, but calling her "child" instead of calling her by her name or title ("Princess") just came across as weird.  Also, the similarities between Katsa and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games (K-named warrior girls who are kind of naive about the world and are super good at archery) are striking, but since the books were published at about the same time, I'm pretty damn sure that's purely coincidence.  I think Graceling is also structured a lot better than The Hunger Games; it's self-contained, rather than straggling much longer than necessary across three books.

Probably my favorite non-plot part of the book, however (well, it WAS plot related, kind of) was the culture surrounding the ornaments of the Lienid people.  Absolutely beautifully done.  Well done, Ms. Cashore.  Well done.  The culture of the other six kingdoms, was kind of vague and they were all just lumped together.

Overall, Graceling was a lovely read full of fabulous characters.  It did have flaws, of course, but they were more than compensated for by its high points.  A wonderful book, and I am greatly looking forward to reading Fire.

4 stars out of 5.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Summer Prince - Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer PrinceI started this book thinking I would love it.  Then partway through I thought that I would like it, because it's very different, but I would be left confused.  And then it broke my heart.

The Summer Prince is the story of Enki and June, Enki and Gil, Enki and the City, and Enki and death.  Enki is the sun in this story, even though he's supposed to be a moon prince; everything revolves around him, completely and irrevocably.  For a long time, I didn't think that there was going to be any romance between Enki and June, that she was going to be sidelined by Enki and Gil, and I would have been okay with that, because it was different, and they were cute, and June was "aware this attachment I feel is the product of emotional investment in the largely stage-managed and manufactured spectacle of the royal election."  I admired her for that, for recognizing that in herself.  But that love transforms over the course of the story, and while, to some degree, I never really believed June and Enki would have a romance, it was so beautiful that I couldn't NOT want it.

I wouldn't say this book is about a revolution.  I would say that it's about art, and love, and inevitability, and the mistakes of history.  It was beautiful in all those ways.

Of course, it DID have flaws.  There are two instances of suicide in this book, and while one is barely mentioned, the other is glorified to what seems like an unhealthy degree.  There is also some lack of description that I find unsettling; I can't really get a clear picture of Palmares Tres in my head because there isn't really any solid description of it.  The whole sacrificial ritual also left me with some confusion; I feel like I absorbed a lot of knowledge about it that wasn't explicitly stated, but I'm still not sure if it's an annual thing or something that only happens every few years, and exactly how it evolved into what it is during the time of the book.  Still, the absolutely heartbreaking beauty of this more than outweighs it, and even parts I thought would be completely unnecessary, such as most of the last part of the book, turned out to fit into it so perfectly that I wouldn't wish them away for ANYTHING.

And the conclusion!  I sobbed like a baby in the middle of my workplace, but it was worth it.  Completely worth it.

5 stars out of 5.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany - Rudolph Herzog

Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany purports to be about the history of jokes about Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust within the bounds of Germany before and during WWII.  And indeed, it does start off this way, expounding on the history of political jokes and how they're used to relieve stress, and were actually good for Hitler's government.  However, after that, it rapidly falls apart into a disorganized jumble that can't even decide which continent it wants to focus on.  While subjects like the treatment of the Holocaust through humor by the Jews, the treatment of jokers, and the changing attitudes of the Nazis toward political jokes are broached, they're tossed in with confusing accounts of Hollywood comedies and BBC radio skits.  While those certainly pertain to Nazi humor, they don't exactly pertain to humor in Hitler's Germany, and they don't pertain to telling jokes in Hitler's Germany, either.  The German title of the book is Heil Hitler, Das Schwein Ist Tot!  Lachen unter Hitler--Komik und Humor im Dritten Reich, which seems to translate to Heil Hitler, the Swine is Dead!  Laughter Under Hitler--Comedy and Humor in the Third Reich, which retains the focus on Germany, so there's no clarity there, either.

Additionally, I think there's a problem with the translation.  Or, not so much a problem with the translation--it's a very comprehensible translation--but a problem with the concept of this particular book being translated.  Herzog repeatedly says that certain jokes are completely untranslatable, which makes their inclusion seem pointless when there are so many others which, when translated to English, retain their point if not their clever wordplay.  Paired with the disorganization and seeming inability to focus on one topic, jumping from jokes in Germany to cabarets in Switzerland to a long-winded explanation of the plot of an American movie, it's not exactly a riveting read.  It does have its moments, of course, but overall it reminded me more of a poorly-conceived thesis paper than a professional, structured book.

2 stars out of 5.