Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: Two Vampire Novels

Image Credit: Goodreads
I did a semi-live blog of Team Human on Facebook recently, but I'll recap the gist here: Team Human is the Twilight antidote I didn't know I needed. For starters, the title. For seconds, the tagline: Friends Don't Let Friends Date Vampires. For thirds, this line: "A vampire who wants to go to high school?... That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

I enjoyed it for Mel's snark and for the perhaps-racist vampires (200 years of life doesn't prove you're not a bigot), but mostly for the way it wrestles with the question of how to deal with a friend making bad decisions when there's nothing you can do to stop them. Consent and self-determination are addressed extensively here – huge after Twilight's "I like to watch you sleep" bullshit – and in her attempts to save her best friend, Mel doesn't handle everything gracefully. Mel and her two female friends, Cathy and Anna, all react in different – and believable ways – to Mr. Handsome Vampire's presence in their school. And the eyeroll treatment that teen girl + mysterious vampire receives is hilarious.

Image Credit: Amazon
In contrast to Team Human, Claudia Gray's Evernight is the Twilight inversion that let me down. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Bianca has just transferred with her teacher parents to a boarding school which helps vampires readjust to humanity's ever changing concept of "normal."  Although this time it's a vampire school with a few humans in it, instead of the other way around, and Bianca – not her love interest Lucas – is the vampire, all the Twilight nonsense of "But it's for your own good!" carries on with a charming side of "You shouldn't trust anyone (except me)." At one point a side character, Raquel, tidily ticks off the warning flags for why Bianca should run from Lucas as far and fast as she can: starting fights, insisting that he is "protecting" her from non-threats, attempting to isolate her from support networks and loved ones. These are all real signs and elements of abusive relationships. I was excited – a vampire book addressing what healthy relationships are? Two in a row? Hooray!

Aaaaaand then Gray blithely handwaves away all of this as "He was just trying to protect me!"

Needless to say, I will not be reading any more of the Evernight series.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: The Finisher by David Baldacci

Let me preface this by saying: this is my first time reading David Baldacci; this is David Baldacci’s first time (as far as I know) writing young adult SF/F; and, therefore, this is in no way a review of Baldacci’s larger canon of work, which I have never read and is not of the same genre as this book.

Vega Jane has never left the village of Wormwood – neither has anyone else in the village – until the night she sees her mentor vanish into the dangerous forest that surrounds the hamlet. Behind him, he’s left a series of cryptic clues for Vega to follow – if she can survive long enough to understand them.

I picked up The Finisher because I recognized Baldacci’s name and because someone had mentioned it as a readalike for The Giver. Unfortunately, The Finisher comes nowhere near Lois Lowry’s masterpiece. While it starts in a tone similar to The Giver – isolated village overseen by ruling council – Baldacci quickly starts tacking on subplots. The narrative jolts from dramatic moment to dramatic moment, made more confusing by the fact that Baldacci laces the story with arbitrary invented words (e.g., “session” instead of “year”), some of which are never fully explained. And then he throws in some magic. With no real rules or explanations, the nebulous magic saves (or hurts) various people Because Baldacci Said So whenever Vega Jane can’t think her way out of something.

For all that, the society Baldacci builds is the best thing about the book. The council members are flawed but well-intentioned, being rough doesn’t mean being cruel, and when it occurs, cruelty can be deliberate or unintentional. And I like the idea of fantasy AND dystopia. Unfortunately, Baldacci has not created a successful merger of the two genres.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff is the second book of his Lotus War series. I read (and briefly recapped) this book last year and loved it, so naturally I picked up #2 once I heard it was out. (Spoilers for Stormdancer below. You've been warned.)

Alas, Kinslayer suffers from the "link the beginning to the end" syndrome shared by so many other second in the series books. After opening with a brief who's-who (and where they are) refresher, Kristoff adds several new characters to an already substantial cast, including a clanless slum worker and another Guildsman. The plot centers on the Lotus Guild's solution to Shogun Yoritomo's death, their plans against the Kagé, and the Kagé rebellion's attempt to stifle those plans. Unfortunately, I think Kristoff's multi-perspective style has done his plot a disservice here; he seems determined to hop into every significant character's head at least once and quite a number of the minor ones as well. Because of this and the multiple narrative threads he has running simultaneously, the storyline is very jarring, jolting back and forth in time, location, action, etc. Likewise, character development suffers in this book, since we're not in anyone's head but Yukiko's or Kin's long enough to watch them grow. I still love the infusion of Japanese culture and mythology into a steampunk world, but wish he'd kept to a smaller number of perspectives.

Endsinger, the final book in the trilogy, will be out in September 2014 and I do plan to pick it up. Hopefully all the different tendrils Kristoff's got going will reunite into a strong conclusion.

Monday, January 6, 2014

4 Recent Reads

Gentle readers, I am ashamed. I abandoned you for several months because I could not bring myself to tell you this truth: that budget cuts, the bane of libraries everywhere, caught up to me at my lovely new school job. It's probably the hardest job I've ever had to lose, even as I understood why I lost it. But the world has brightened again, and I am re-employed at a bookstore and a local library (both part-time). But the more important questions in life: what's good lately?

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman

Full disclosure: I picked this up at work as an unsolicited ARC and enjoyed myself quite a bit reading it. The Ascendant is a digital age thriller, focused on the possibility of a subtle cyber-financial war in our modern era. I can't say that it was revelatory, but it was fun. Snowy day, stay inside, winter fluff fun. Political machinations are involved, which pleases me. The protagonist actually experiences personal growth over the course of the book, which is even better. A very strong debut novel for Drew Chapman, good enough that I'm passing my ARC along to my father and freely recommending the title at work.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

I picked up Her Royal Spyness (first in a series of six) because my mother looooves Lady Victoria Georgiana - Georgie to her friends. Georgie is thrown headfirst into detective work when she discovers a Frenchman drowned in the bath of her family home. Bowen has a good sense of humor and develops Georgie - a broke demi-royal - fairly nicely, from hapless nobility to vaguely self-sufficient, with a good deal of flailing along the way. I would pass this one along to my friend who loves the Jeeves and Wooster series.

All Through the Night by Suzanne Brockmann

I'll be honest, I wanted to like this book. I really did. I'd read Force of Nature, the book in which protagonists Robin and Jules came to the fore, recently and picked this one up from the Christmas books display at my library. Alas, equal rights include the equal right to mediocre thriller fiction. There's one drama after another after another all barreled through at enormous rates of speed with minimal development. I understand that this is a short-and-sweet interlude sort of book, but I feel like Brockmann had 8 different possible plotlines and, instead of pruning, decided to shove them all in. I'd pass along Force of Nature, but skip this one.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

You couldn't possibly imagine getting through without a re-told fairy tale, could you? Me either. This one ticks all my boxes: strong female protagonist, well-defined magic, political intrigue. Check, check, check. When her lady-in-waiting attempts to assassinate her and seizes her role, Ani must learn to stand on her own two feet, using her talents and wits to prevent her greedy betrayers from throwing two kingdoms into chaos. If you read this and like it, try Hale's Princess Academy series as well. I would pass it along to Rayna, who I think might love re-told fairy tales as much as I do.