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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (ARC)

Title: Hush, Hush
Author: Becca Fitpatrick
Reviewed Format: ARC
Release Date: October 13, 2009

Sixteen year old Nora Grey gets stuck with the most unlikely lab partner: an older, mysterious transfer student with a smoldering gaze and a penchant for the color black. His clothes reek of cigars, but that’s the least of Nora’s worries. A “get to know you” assignment turns into a cause for alarm when Patch, her partner, reveals he knows more details about Nora than she can handle. When her teacher refuses her plea to switch partners, Nora decides her fate is in her own hands and dealing with Patch becomes priority number one, but he doesn’t make it easy for her. Patch’s relaxed and flirtatious manner make her blush as often as she becomes frustrated. To make matters worse, Patch’s appearance coincides with Nora being harassed by an aggressive stalker wearing a ski mask who sometimes sits outside her window watching her sleep. The implications are ominous.

If this sounds at all identical to Twilight, let me correct you: it isn’t Twilight. It may be eerily similar, and the comparisons are going to be passed around like a bad cold, but Hush, Hush is in a league of its own. Vampires? Werewolves? Who cares. We’ve got angels.

Well-written angels.

I fell absolutely in love with this book. I couldn’t put it down. I want to re-read it and that doesn’t happen very often, if at all. The writing was very accessible, self-deprecating, and funny. Fitzpatrick nailed the dialogue between Nora and her best friend, Vee. I thought they were entertaining together. The color diet both frequently cheated (and kept tabs) on and considering themselves as “un-twins” were both extremely believable habits I could imagine teens having. In fact, participating in weird things together (and then, making sure we both stayed on track) is exactly the sort of thing I remember doing with my best friend in high school. In the realm of teenage friendship their interactions were natural; Vee reacted to Nora’s level-headedness as much as Nora feed off of Vee’s drama. They were incredibly likeable and the chemistry between the two made me to wish I could step into their world and meet them. As the protagonist, Nora was obviously fleshed out more as a three-dimensional character, but don’t count Vee out: her sharp tongue and eye for adventure and drama throw out an inordinate amount of ridiculous that’s just tempered enough with Nora’s incredulity and exasperation to reign her in from being too over the top.

I also winded up liking Patch a lot. Okay, I lie. I have a little crush on Patch. Fitzpatrick hit some kind of deep, psychological cord and unearthed a secret desire I must have for tall, dark, muscly, cocky, sexually aggressive and provocative men who are just short of communicating through sultry growls and grunts. Really though, I can’t spoil the end (I REALLY WANT TO), but let me tell you, I was surprised with how smitten I got by the last page. He’s a lot of things readers criticize Edward (from Twilight) of being: over-aggressive, manipulative, socially deviant (does not along well with others at school--does he even try?), murderous, and perhaps, a little threatening, but at least he doesn’t scold Nora for making him “do” anything. He’s quite happy with Nora going off to do whatever she wants. It’s only when she’s truly in danger that he’s insistent she listen to him and unlike Bella, Nora’s aware of the danger and so the trust is that between equals.

Patch is of a different breed: he’s patient, confident, and blunt. He makes no apologies or keeps any secrets about his feelings for Nora. It’s quite disarming, really, if a little forward and off-putting. He’s kind of like PéPé Le Pew in that regard, whittling away at Nora’s resolve, watching her squirm until she realizes her resistance is futile and skunk isn’t all that bad, not really. And, he smiles. Frequently.

He’s also mysterious, but only about his past which, he’s quite willing to tell Nora about or, as it turns out, have her discover on her own. There is no anger, only a little surprise and calm defeat when she calls his bluff (although to be fair, is it really bluffing if his was a lie by omission?). And when he does get angry (ladies, have any of you watched “Roswell”? That US television show that aired on the WB about 10 years ago in which the main romantic couple had surprising results when they began getting intimate with one another? There’s something reminiscent of that here, but, trust me, it’s far more relevant and less gratuitous--more intimate with the nature of who Patch really is and, quite touching, really) it’s not because he thinks she’ll be frightened or disgusted, it’s because he doesn’t want her to jump to conclusions; Patch wants to explain things to her when he feels she’s ready, when she’s calm, when her intelligence can precede her fear-based assumptions. Even though he does get angry, he controls himself (never blaming her) and manages to stay quite collected as long as it takes for him to clear the air.

Nora’s quite competent and doesn’t flail or whine in fear. When she’s scared she stands up for herself and (however dangerous it would translate into a real life situation) even tries to protect herself by attacking her attackers, confident in her attempts to defend herself rather than submit willfully. But she’s also vulnerable as her unsuccessful self-defense tactics and anemia diagnosis prove.

Of course, not all characters can be as fascinating or well-rounded as Patch and Nora (albeit to be fair, they are the leading pair). Marcie Millar for instance, Nora and Vee’s social nemesis, is a joke. She’s a caricature of the mean-spirited and attractive popular girl (strawberry blonde hair, cheerleader--why are they always blonde cheerleaders?) who might as well be twirling a mustache instead of twirling her hair as she mentally cackles at her lame insults and comebacks. Fitzpatrick could not have tried harder to make sure we knew we weren’t supposed to like Marcie. That doesn’t bother me too much since I think the rest of the book and the other characters more than made up for Marcie’s lack of depth.

There were a couple of things I didn’t understand with the details in the rules (and subsequent execution) of Fitzpatrick’s world of angels, but without spoiling anyone, I can’t go into exactly what those are. Suffice to say, I might have to re-read Hush, Hush to find out. But it’s worth the second read. Hush, Hush is a story of romance (real romance--not just the physical desires of the lusty teenage years, but again, I can’t go into details without spoiling the book) and revenge. It has the right amount of horror and mystery to keep everything else in suspense. While Patch and Nora’s romance is a little rushed, given that Nora oscillates in her confusion between being attracted to Patch’s persistent, swaggerish-demeanor and being frightened of the implications of finding him appearing almost everywhere she goes, I liked it. The pacing is great--you blink at how easy it is to lose sense of time as the pages are turned--and the plot is wrapped up neatly with a surprise reveal I never would have guessed on my own. At times, it’s a bit predictable, but the writing more than makes up for that. And Fitzpatrick left just enough room open for a sequel. By the time you reach the end of this book, you’ll be wanting a sequel. And there is one, don’t worry. I asked the author.

Since I’m reviewing an ARC--courtesy of Simon & Schuster UK--I’m HIGHLY recommending this as a pre-order. I’ve already recommended it to three of my friends and am going to be talking it up for a while. It’s very difficult to talk about it without revealing spoilers, but I enjoyed Hush, Hush a lot. I won’t bore you with anymore synonyms for sexy in regards to Patch anymore; I’ll even stop turning this into a Patch-fest. Having just finished the book, I’m on a little post-read high that only really good reads produce. But it was worth it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Star Wars Fate of the Jedi 3: Abyss by Troy Denning

Title: Star Wars Fate of the Jedi 3: Abyss
Author: Troy Denning
Reviewed Format: hard cover
Pages: 317
Release Date: August 18, 2009

I’m disappointed it took until the third book for the Fate of the Jedi series to find a track to get back into, but really glad it did. Otherwise, I think I would have given up on a series for the first time ever. Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to the rest of FOTJ now instead of wondering why I’ve let myself be ruled by forces greater than those measurable by the common man: fandom and a great desire to find out what happens in the EU (at the cost of very thin hardcovers that are not worth the price).

First things first, and for those of you who’ve finished the book already, can you believe Denning waited a whole four chapters before making another Jedi go crazy?! I can’t and I just read it! Before I go nutty with glee, Tahiri’s not dead yet. She’s even been let off the hook (damn, that didn’t even last a whole book), but (BUT!) there’s finally something interesting happening between the lackluster and overhyped “romance” that is Jag and Jaina.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a quick synopsis:

Luke and Ben have left the Aing Tii and made their way go the Maw Cluster, that big ominous splotchy area of space that’s been revisited so many times it’s no wonder LucasBooks has finally saturated its very existence with lots of significance and pre-planning. Two other Jedi have “gone crazy,” but this time Cilghal’s got an idea of potential victims and is unsurprised when they do so. Her theory is far from reassuring: if the Jedi who were kept in the Maw as children during the NJO are all in danger of harming themselves or others then the Order has a precarious situation in their hands, especially since a connection does not a cause create. Without a cure or any idea of why Jedi are falling like flies, it would seem that the Jedi, under the lead of “Grand Master” Kenth Hamner, are ready to give up the humanistic approach and let Chief of State Daala encase every last victim in carbonite and have done with it. However, the Jedi have a few more tricks up their sleeve and, if Han and Leia have anything to say about it, won’t be giving in to Daala’s overbearing need for power and control.

That is, with the help of all of their allies, Jedi and non-Jedi alike. And by non-Jedi I mean politician friends. Like Jag and the surprisingly loyal Wynn Dorvan. I say surprisingly because of the two, I never would have suspected it’d be Jag that turned out to be a slimy sleeze ball. Wynn is answerable to Daala herself; Jag is answerable to the Imperial Remnant, all its angry, bitter Moffs, and his genitals (but even that’s questionable). When Jag tells Jaina he’s overheard Daala mention bringing Mandalorians in to police the Jedi, he makes her promise not to tell anyone, knowing full well the awkward position he’s put Jaina in. What actually happened we find out later when Wynn contacts Han and Leia and tells them he let Jag find out that information on purpose thinking he’d be the Good Friend and warn the Jedi, or at least warn other trusted people who could then warn the Jedi. Which we already know he didn’t do.

I loved that Jaina’s loyalties are being tested here, especially with the tension it brings to her relationship to Jag and her family. It makes the couple interesting in a way that moved my indifference for Jag to interest even as I find myself agreeing with Han that Jag just isn’t good enough for Jaina. His position is a little reminiscent of the political fine line Leia used to walk as the Chief of State, but without the emotional investment that makes Leia so easy to love as a character. Jag is just too rigid for me to invest in his relationship with Jaina (which, when it isn’t subject to that same rigidness, is reduced to make-out sessions), but it makes for perfect characterization in terms of what he’s best at: political and military maneuvering.

In the scenes where he’s pulling his weight as a political figurehead, Denning made him bad ass. And I loved that, I actually liked Jag in those scenes because he’s showing honor and duty, the staples around which he was raised and written to uphold. It may not warm me to his character, but it makes me appreciate and understand where he’s coming from and that, I can respect.

Another thing I liked in Abyss was the other tension-causing situation: Javis Tyrr and his unending quest to feed Daala’s anti-Jedi sentiment. I’m not going to take offense that the “good Jedi” are having their names slandered for the purpose of advancing Daala’s political agenda. It’s actually good cause for drama, the thing which engrossing novels thrive on. And Abyss was an engrossing novel. No, I don’t believe the Jedi are bad, baby killers (I made that up), or anything else Daala and her unending supply of gullible supporters take solace in finding suspicious beyond belief. But FOTJ giving them a hard time after dealing with Sith Lord after Sith Lord, especially when the last one was the son and nephew of prominent political and public figures? Totally worth it. Everyone’s being called to task in this series: Luke, Tahiri, Daala (okay, the Jedi have to do a lot of smart dancing on this, what will inevitably prove to be, long task, but still!), Jacen, and because the majority of those are Jedi, the Order itself is under suspicion. If I was a civilian, I’d be tired of Jedi, too.

And apparently, the Jedi are tired of Jedi, too. When two young Jedi decided to “quit”, I thought the same thing Lecersen did, “Jedi can do that?” (p. 110) At the very least, it kept the story on its toes and me intrigued enough to want to keep on reading. There is no doubt that Abyss is a page-turner. Even the weirdness that Luke and Ben found in the Maw Cluster was interesting. Interesting in a Waru kind of way, but interesting nonetheless.

I may be partial to that kind of weirdness, having grown into the EU with stuff like Waru, the Corellian Trilogy, Solo babies wielding lightsabers to save Uncle Luke, Callista… If you didn’t buy into that oddball stuff, there wasn’t much of a way for the early EU to survive in your heart or imagination. Lucky for me that it did because I was totally engrossed in the hypnotic weirdness of Those Who Dwell Beyond The Veil. I was even creeped out when Qwallo Mode eerily channeled Emperor Palpatine’s bribes and Anakin Skywalker’s desires when he said, “Do you think you can stop us all from dying?” (p. 99) Man if that didn’t make me shiver.

Although, I have to admit, it was almost a little too much when bad D&D names like the Lake of Apparitions, Mirror of Remembrance, Mists of Forgetfulness, Throne of Balance, Font of Power, and Pool of Knowledge started creeping into the narrative. Denning definitely doesn’t get points for originality there if he’s the one that came up with those award-winning titles. The ghosts (or whatever you want to call them) Luke and Ben ran into were also stretching my belief and for the sake of spoilers, I won’t say who or what they saw, but I was disappointed Nimueh or some other Lady of the Lake didn’t pop a hand out with some ultra mega Lightsaber of Vanquishing in her grasp to offer Luke the means of finally riding the galaxy of evil once and for all. Some things just weren’t meant to be.

When it comes to little things I liked or disliked, I’ll just mention them briefly. For the fans that don’t particularly like the Mandos--and some will no doubt find glee in the fact that a few of them get beat up by Jedis (GASP) or empathize with Leia finding them “too cold” to waste the sacrifice of one of their own and risk an entire mission to save a pal--I , as a Mando fan, thought they were still good in this book. Because we got to read from their point of view in LOTF, they were written to be sympathetic characters, but since in Abyss they were hired by Daala to police the Jedi, that automatically puts them on the “bad guy” side with a job to do, one that the reader is not supposed to like. We never get inside of their head; their involvement here is transparent. That doesn’t bother me at all.

But Leia’s got a problem when she says they’re “too cold”. Why? Because a page earlier she’s just done the same thing she accuses the Mandos of doing! Which is telling her companions to dump the Jedi cargo (an actual Jedi) if it comes to that because the mission is more important than saving everyone; saving one is “good enough.” I mean, come on. If you’re going to criticize Mandos, at least don’t make your sympathetic characters out to be big hypocrites!

I was caught off guard with Luke assuming Ben was going to be the next Grand Master after him--as if it’s a duty passed on through the family like royal responsibility.

I was confused when Han and Leia freely discussed Jacen’s real relationship to Allana (still do not care for her) with Allana. I probably just forgot which book they decided to finally tell her the truth, but was it actually written in the text that Allana was told? Was that a real scene or something that happened between books?

I’m not sure how I feel about Abeloth. Creepy? Denning managed to make the Lost Sith a little more interesting, but I’m wondering how a tribe that was so isolated for such a long time is familiar with popular culture enough to know who Luke and Ben are. Although, referring them (the Lost Tribe) as “a particular strain” (p. 309) of Sith is hilarious. The Sith as some kind of virus is exactly the metaphor I was looking for!

Denning does not know how to write C-3PO. I think he mistakes the "missing the point" humor at 3PO's expense we all know and love and instead writes him as an annoying, extremely detail-oriented droid.

The expressions “bloah,” “barvy,” and “sleemo” are stupid and should never be used again. I mean it.

Abyss might have raised more questions than given direct answers (I think Daala knows more about the Maw than she lets on), but I liked this. It gave more direction and potential for the rest of the series to explore and, hopefully, answer. So far, it’s the best out of the three and I’m totally looking forward to Backlash. I think the extra 100 pages helped a lot.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed Format: .PDF
Pages: 428
Release Date: February 8, 2005

Tally Youngblood is just shy of turning sixteen and looking forward everyday to becoming pretty. Becoming pretty isn’t some state of mind or anything (except for very rare circumstances) predetermined by genetics; when you turn pretty, you undergo cosmetic surgery to conform your physical features into something that is supposedly universally appreciated as beauty: big doe-y eyes, plump lips, soft features. The alternative is living the rest of your life as an “ugly,” something Tally’s determined not to do. Uglies are “gawky and nervous, unkempt and uncoordinated” (p 77). In fact, uglies sound just like regular adolescents struggling in the limbo of puberty and lashing out with hormones by doing “tricks”--childish stunts pulled only by uglies.

Unfortunately, one of the worst thing Westerfeld’s invented government has done to our futuristic dystopian society is brainwash everyone into believing the ugliness of everyone who doesn’t undergo the surgery. And ugliness is bad. Being an ugly also means being natural and subject to the whims of genetics, which also includes physical markers of ethnicity and race. The government has decided race and ethnic fighting must be stopped and so at some point in the past, have convinced most of the population that the operation to turn pretty is really an effort to find world peace. With everyone more or less looking the same, whatever do they have to fight over? Organized religion or personal beliefs aren’t taken into account--I guess when you make everyone look the same (I couldn’t find if Westerfeld ever mentioned what skin color everyone gets to have once they’ve changed), ethnically associated things (except food) go by the wayside.

So really, the operation is an exercise in convenience and a seemingly successful attempt to rid the world of unnecessary evils by reducing the things we can choose to fight over.

Tally’s fallen for this 100% until she meets Shay, an ugly who shares her birthday and is counting down the days with dread. Shay doesn’t want to turn pretty. In fact, she’s got a plan that will help her avoid it forever and wants Tally to join her. But it involves leaving the security of Tally’s small, sheltered Uglyville and the pampered life she’s lead. She doesn’t believe that pretties are just docile pets who live only to party and have fun. Tally sees her best friend Peris, who’s already turned pretty and left her behind, having fun without her and living, if possibly, even more of a pampered life. But could Shay be right? Could there be more to life than just being pretty?

With the rising popularity of cosmetic surgery and especially with teens wanting to undergo the knife to fix physical problems that may inevitably fix themselves, I liked the idea behind Uglies. What I didn’t like was the constant references to the world ugly. I almost forgot the “uglies” were actually quite normal and began to believe in them as being Ugly with that capital u, marking them as distinctly problematic. This hit me the most when Tally watches the new uglies (called “littlies” up until they go to live in the dorms around age eleven) stepping into her building, their “ugly little faces” (p. 76) being nothing more than the faces of scared children coming into a new, alien environment.

But I think Westerfeld intended the reader to disassociate the word ugly with its normal definition to give it an alternative connotation however much it remains a shallow translation of the original. Ugly is an ugly word and Tally is quite repulsed by all things ugly.

Despite everyone’s eagerness to turn pretty, there are exceptions. Some people don’t have to have the operation. Just like a weird translation of reality where the subjectiveness of beauty disappears for certain models, celebrities or other people who look attractive to a large percentage of the population, pretties can be born Pretty. Some people have all the luck.

There’s also an emphasis on pretties being somehow more significant than uglies. The childishness of uglies is played up against the important, “grown up” pretties (the fact that they party all day long is overlooked because well, they’re pretty). This propaganda is supposed to inspire loyalty in the uglies, to stay and have their operation so they too can grow up and be important and do more important things than going around pulling pranks with each other to blow off steam. Like partying.

Of course, there are darker implications to this and if you read the book, you’ll find out all the twists in the plot that force Tally to continually lie to her friends. The twist was interesting and made the book worth finishing. I even want to finish the rest of the series, but can wait awhile. Westerfeld’s writing is extremely accessible, so accessible I wondered if he intentionally lingered on certain things longer than necessary just to cater to a younger audience. Tally’s journey out to the Smoke went on far too long and the between time from her arrival and the inevitable invasion was an eyeblink--too short, but I understand the focus wasn’t supposed to be on the interval. It was the interruption that mattered.

In any event, it’s the story that’s important here and the implications Westerfeld writes into the plot that make the book interesting. It bothered me that he was too presumptuous and condescending of today’s society, easy to condemn and criticize with blanket statements of wasteful practices and ignorant behaviors (without explaining the mechanics of his world that does not rely on oil, but still has plastics to mold people--all people--into pretties), but if you want to enjoy the story for what it is, you have to unhinge your own belief and buy into his for the duration of the book. I did and I winded up liking the book. It could have been shorter, the characters a bit more relatable and sympathetic, but overall it was a good fun read.

In the end, I was left with this very important thought from Tally: “If only people were smarter, evolved enough to treat everyone the same even if they looked different. Looked ugly.” (p. 97)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales Edited by Kate Bernheimer

Title: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales
Editor: Kate Bernheimer
Reviewed format: paperback
Pages: 341
Release Date: August 13, 2002

I started to read this almost two years ago, lost it, then found it again recently. Instead of starting from the beginning, I picked up where I left off. Most of this review was written about a year ago, but I’ve wrapped it up and kept it short. If it sounds choppy, that is probably why.

Has anyone read "The Snow Queen"? Everyone contributing here did and apparently it's the only one worth talking about. Halfway through I stopped to see if I had this story so I could read it. I don't.

Aside from having no idea what the hell everyone was talking about (except from the basic plot--but you know what that's like, you know what happens, but you don't know how it happens--which made the Snow Queen sound exactly like the witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), most of the essays were insightful, quirky, and blessedly personal. I say this because without that provocative self-revelation how else am I to relate in the way only girl-talk can inspire?

Fairy tales have a one up on any other genre of writing. A lot of kids really do grow separately, simultaneous reading or being read to with fairy tales. In this respect, we're all lucky. There isn't a finite number of fairy tales, but Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm still have a lot of mileage. And everyone, if they haven't seen the movies, has at least heard of the Disney adaptations. We can all remember something similar and that's the point. It's an instant bonding tool, a way to spark a conversation between the reader and these women writers who, for the most part, can't help but relate personal stories to their favorite fairy tales. Fairy tales are inherently personal. They're a part of most childhoods, that private imaginative and wondrous collection of years that only we are aware of, only we can share the experience of being us during the magic years. So when we find someone else that shares an experience, someone that read a story and feels the same way we do about it, it's a relief. And it also makes a secret connection between the two, like making a new friend.

That’s part of what made Mirror, Mirror On The Wall such a successful read for me. Many of the essays were personal, but some took other approaches: technical, literary, or sociological. Some were longer, some were shorter (a few pages), some were incredibly complex and beyond all hope of my understanding, but all of the essays were enjoyable, engrossing reads. I also found a lot of new favorite authors I want to begin reading, references to books I haven’t read yet, but have been interested in and now, must go out and read at some point. There isn’t much I can say about each piece individually; I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. As a whole, Mirror, Mirror On The Wall was a great collection of essays by a great number of female authors. I would recommend this to anyone who likes fairy tales enough to engage in the discussion these authors bring to the table.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Unlocking the Air: Stories

Title: Unlocking the Air: Stories
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Reviewed Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
Release Date: December 6, 1996

Ursula K. Le Guin proves with Unlocking the Air that she’s talented across multiple genres. While this collection may not be composed of Speculative Fiction, the stories are surreal, filled with magical realism, and fantastical events that border, and sometimes cross into, the supernatural.

There’s a total of 18 previously published stories that, for the most part, left me feeling like I couldn’t interpret them even if I tried, but were beautifully expressive in ways only Le Guin can manage. She plays with themes of location and place, belonging, relationships, family, perspective, and socially conscientious issues (homosexuality, abortion). Her writing is always delicate and insightful. There wasn’t a single story I didn’t like, only stories I like better than the others. And the fact that she veers willingly into the mysticism of dream-like situations reminds me her strengths are in toying with our sense of reality. Being a fan of her writing, I don’t think I’ll ever mind that.

I did have some favorites that I wanted to share my thoughts on. It’s always hard for me to write about a collection without going into some detail on the stories themselves--the following stuck out in my mind the most:

“Half Past Four” is a story of perspective; the same characters play different roles with each other, revisiting the same time of day from other planes of existence in which a daughter can be a mother in one dimension and a sister in another.

“The Professor’s Houses” is an exercise in the illusions created to separate the stresses of our daily lives from the escape of daydreams; “Limberlost” tells of a novelist who finally discovers what she’s been looking for on a writer’s retreat as she’s leaving; “The Creatures On My Mind” projects the narrator’s guilt as literal and metaphoric in the poor, wounded animals and insects she/he finds in the everyday of life; “Ether, OR” (a dedication “For Native Americans”) is told from the voices and different perspectives of the townsfolk who live in a city constantly on the move; “Unlocking the Air”, the title story, seems to be about an Eastern European Civil War or protest that is touching despite not knowing the real politics; “A Child Bride” is a Persephone tale from the confused perspective of a daughter unsure whose decision her marriage was; in “Olders” a husband begins an arboreal transformation--issues of nature vs. humanity are brought up, trees are given emotions (jealousy, anger), and made sympathetic in this way; and “The Poacher” is a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty that vilifies the fairy tale as an exercise in belief of the dream that happy endings can only exist as such: dreams.

Unlocking the Air is a cohesive collection of stories ranging from the experimentally poetic (“Sundays in Summer in Seatown”) to the jarringly real (“Standing Ground”); all are lyrical. I think in particular, what all the stories share is a warning to remember those who we might least think of, or think the least of. Together, they are a plea to always consider another perspective, to make the effort to understand one another, lest we, and others, fall victim to memories, dreams, and intentions.

If you're interested in more Ursula K. Le Guin, here is a link to an earlier review I did (on LiveJournal) of another collection, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (ARC)

To get jumpstarted this weekend, I'm posting a review of the upcoming novel, The White Queen that I did at the end of June. It comes out August 18th, so you still have plenty of time to pre-order. :)

Title: The White Queen, Book One of The Cousins' War Trilogy
Author: Philippa Gregory
Reviewed Format: ARC
Release Date: August 18, 2009

Philippa Gregory’s latest historical fiction release is, to put it mildly, absolutely amazing. I think this is one of her better books--on par with The Other Boleyn Girl. The scope of The White Queen is just as if not more epic, in terms of literary drama, than the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn at the hand of King Henry VIII. It focuses on The War of the Roses, a bloody war of politics and rival family members pitted against each other as the Yorks and Lancasters fought to become the next ruling family of England.

I didn’t know much about this time in England’s history except that the Tudors, as part of the House of Lancaster, are the winners and the symbol of Henry VII’s unification of the two houses is the Tudor Rose. Of course, since it’s a war of cousins, as soon as I began reading, I had a hard time keeping track of this huge family and found a really handy family tree on Wikipedia made specifically for following the lineage and contributing royals to this war. Even with that, it’s hard to keep track of three generations of names like Richard, Edward, and George. But I think I did fine.

The White Queen is told through the voice of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow of the House of Lancaster with two sons left fatherless from the war with the Yorks. She finds herself in the middle of her mother’s plotting and is soon exerting her ambitions on the upstart York King Edward IV. Gregory imagines theirs being a true romance, despite Edward’s kingly indulgence of other women--she manages to make Edward and Elizabeth’s relationship seem much deeper than political ambition. They are married in secret--an act which eventually comes back to haunt them and puts their positions in danger. Rumors and scandals spread by rivals--even Edward’s own brother--threaten to overturn Elizabeth’s good luck and the safety of her large family of heirs.

Among the accusations is a cry of witchcraft at the hand of her mother, Jacquetta, who believes herself to be a descendant of Melusina, the mythic influence of The Little Mermaid fairy tale. Wielding strange beliefs in the power of her little spells and enchantments, the inclusion of this in the text adds an elusive and magical femininity to The White Queen and like Philippa Gregory’s other books, both confirms and denies age old questions of the wickedness once believed to be punishable only by drowning or burning. It’s just as easy to believe in the childhood mysteries and superstitions drawn out into her burgeoning womanhood as it is to think Elizabeth’s successes and failures are the result of her and her mother’s ambitious and well thought out machinations.

If I read correctly, there are also references to stories of Cinderella and real-life influences for the myth of Robin Hood. Belief in fairy tales or not, they add an ambiance and counter the surprisingly bloody and graphic battle scenes Gregory writes with the confidence of a writer who’s been doing it her whole life. I’ve read eight of her books--in none of them do I remember ever reading the specifics on combat. That she does venture bravely into that arena emphasizes the extent of the war fueled by the political ambitions of the York and Lancaster families. If she hadn’t, I don’t think I would have understood the gravity, the severity, or the consequence of the war as much. I’m grateful and impressed--Gregory has definitely gone up a notch in my book. She reenforces her existing mastery of writing scandal, intrigue, romance, and the political maneuvering and flirtations of the court. But she also shows off skills I never knew she had; the darker side of Gregory’s writing is just as inviting as it is graphic.

I think it’s this addition to the book and the almost magical realism of the Rivers family and the storms they wield that make this a really spectacular first part in a trilogy (The Cousins War) that will include two other titles: The Red Queen and The White Princess. Of course, Philippa Gregory’s mastery over English history and phenomenal research makes for spell-binding historical fictions when combined with her superb storytelling and attention to the type of detail that adds veracity and momentum to every one of her books.

It helps that she wrote about such a tumultuous and dramatic time in English history--ripe for literary exploration. With the way she approaches her subjects and writes, I think Philippa Gregory could make almost any period in history sound scrumptious. That being said, the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower was an event way outside of my bubble of knowledge--I admit, I cheated and Googled the phrase to learn what about their fate has become so profound. After reading the book, I’m tickled to learn that Gregory has intertwined their fictitious fate with that of Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl who blames Anne Boleyn for his impotence and her inability to produce a healthy heir. I had to laugh as I read the curses of Elizabeth and her daughter. After all, Henry VIII, if Elizabeth’s magic is to be believed, has the right to place the blame on his troubles elsewhere--he’s just blamed the wrong woman is all!

In any event, I completely recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and anyone interested in reading a riveting story of love, jealousy, and vengeance. And I absolutely recommend this to Philippa Gregory fans. She’s reinvented herself in this one, I think and proves she can use fairy tales, romance, and gore in the same book and make it all completely plausible. I can’t say enough how much I loved this book. You should go pre-order it right now. Right now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My First Post

Because every new book blog needs an introductory post!

I've been writing book reviews for about a year now. Why? I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature and ran around flailing my arms wildly in despair thinking I'd never do anything of consequence book-wise again unless I:

A) went to grad school

B) got a job in the publishing industry like I want to (small press, please)


C) did freelance work writing essays, articles, poetry--anything to get published and gain experience writing

Anyone who's ever tried will (hopefully) be brutally honest with you and say, "Yes, it's pretty damn hard getting published." But that's not stopping me! In the meantime, whilst I send my work out circulating the nation, I decided to scratch the urge to keep writing essays by writing reviews for every book I read.

(obviously, I have, for one reason or another, chosen option C)

These reviews have been posted on my LiveJournal, a few LiveJournal communities, GoodReads, sometimes Amazon and Borders.com, and for about six months, thanks to Simon & Schuster UK letting me review their books for FREE, the new Simon & Schuster UK website.

I've been hesitant to create a brand new and completely separate book blog (my LiveJournal is also my personal blog) because I'm lazy, but also because I'm not sure if I have enough of a readership to make it worth the effort of monitoring two blogs when it feels like I have enough trouble roaming the wide, crowded avenues of LiveJournal.

I'm giving it a try anyway!

I read a lot of genres, but my favorites--and this is a broad list--are: Literature (ha ha), Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA books of similar genres, Star Wars (in a category of its own, folks), Literary Criticism, and some Social Sciences. I read comics, but don't review them. Sorry if this disappoints you.

As of right now, I won't be holding contests or doing interviews, but if those opportunities come up and I feel like it's something I can handle, I'll do it!

To get started, this weekend I'll be re-posting some of my more recent reviews from July. :D

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