Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Hyperbole and a Half

"Maybe everything isn't hopeless bullshit."

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Allie Brosh
369 pages
Summary Link

Rating: 9


This will be the funniest book I own.


This is now the funniest book I own.

I was introduced to the perfection that is Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half comic/essay blog a couple years ago. I'm not a big blog reader, particularly not of people's personal blogs, but my friend Joyce sent me the link to The Fish Story while I was at work. Joyce apparently wanted me to get fired, because this is not a story you should read at work. It's not a story you should read anywhere near other people, in fact, because then you will have to deal with them staring at you. They will be staring because you will be laughing a bit too much and it will alarm them. I laughed so hard I cried, sitting at my very public desk, making undoubtedly ridiculous noises as I tried (and failed) to be hysterical as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.  

Humor is a tricky thing to explain, but whatever it is, Brosh has it in spades. She transforms the moments of her life into hilarious illustrations that I wish I could plaster around my room. However, silliness isn't the only quality offered here. Brosh brings truth as well, the kind where you say "oh, yes, that's it exactly! Finally someone figured out how to explain it!" Sometimes that truth is also silly ("Clean all the things? No...internet forever!"), but sometimes it's deeper. As strange and non sequitur as this sounds, if I was trying to educate a person about depression, I would suggest to them two texts: one would be Andrew Solomon's Pulitzer prize-winning tome The Noonday Demon, and the other would be Brosh's illustrated essays about her own personal struggle. She perfectly captures what it feels like to be depressed, while still managing to imbue it with a wry humor. If that's not an incredible skill, then I don't know what is.   

In physical book terms, this is a well-constructed book. The art is obviously more condensed than it appears on the website, but it's not too small and she did a good job on the layout. There's a good mix of old material from the blog with some great new stories (Brosh breaks down the exact content on the site). It's definitely worth the money. 

The only reason I didn't rate it a perfect ten is because it doesn't include the fish story. 

[In blog-related news, I've finished a horrific two-week cycle of exams at school, and thus should have a more regular schedule of posting from now on!]

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pick Three: Vampires

It's almost Halloween. Let's talk vampires!

Here it is: Stephen King's Salem's Lot is the best horror novel. I don't just mean the best vampire book, I mean of all the stories of monsters and murders and evil that stalks the night, this is the best. No "vegetarian" vampires consumed with angst here; these are old school vamps. The kind that lurk outside your window in the dead of night and tap tap ever so softly, begging to be let in. The kind you think of when the pine tree outside your window goes tap tap on the glass and you sit up in bed all night with the light on, waiting to be devoured. It's fantastic horror and it's a fantastic story.  

I know I just made fun of contemporary vampires, but I'm a product of the '90s. While I might despise the "sparkly" variety, I'm no purist either. My vampires wore trench coats, fought crime, and brooded. Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series was a staple of my middle school life. A powerful, ancient female vampire killing baddies and trying to overcome demons from her past? With the added bonus of Hindu deities? What's not to love? The series has subsequently been reissued with less...colorful...covers, but Christopher Pike without neon just isn't right.

I know, I know. Hear me out. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, is a great read. Grahame-Smith hasn't just peppered someone else's story with "and then vampires attacked". He's done the research and worked through a compelling alternate-universe...that just happens to involve blood drinking. Vampires as slave-owners makes so much sense that I'm surprised I hadn't seen it used before. This is one of those rare books that my mother, my father, my younger brother, and I all enjoyed.

And those are my three quick picks for vampires books! I considered doing the same for werewolves, only to realize the sole werewolf-involving book I've ever read is Twilight. Ouch.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Vicious

"You can't kill him."
"That may be. But half the fun is trying."

Victoria Schwab
368 pages
Summary Link

Rating: 9

+50 points to Slytherin


I've been reading a lot of books blind recently. I had added this to my "to read" pile a while back, but now that I've gotten around to it I don't remember why. I know it possibly involves evil superheroes and two enemies trying to destroy each other. Which is, frankly, all I need to know to make me ready to love it.


I try not to abuse the highest ratings, because then they lose their power. But Schwab's Vicious made the cut. This book deserves a full-length review and usually I know what I want to say, but this time I can't figure it out. "Fully developed characters," "gripping story," "great writing," "immensely satisfying," &c, &c. It's all true, but boring to spell out. There are some books that are good, and then there are books with that little extra something. That hook. You feel it as you read, that this one different. This one is better than the others.

For me, that realization came when I was reading a specific passage explaining the downward slide of one character for normal girl to, well, casual evil. Schwab wrote in such a way that I got it, I felt in my bones how tragic it was, how easy and inevitable it would have been.

This is a book about bad people but some of them are worse. Bad people, old foes, brothers-turned-adversaries. Villains. And you're drawn to them anyway. I found myself grinning along with Victor before wondering just what the hell kind of a person that made me. You get swept up in the mission and forget that morality should be involved. It's just so delicious, the idea of power and revenge. I'd like to say I worry I'd be exactly the same, but I try be honest with myself in all things and worrying implies uncertainty. Vicious knows damn well that we'd all be exactly the same.

Monday, October 14, 2013

'Tis the Season: Halloween Thoughts

I've started getting invitations to Halloween parties, so I'm of a mind to think about spooky things. The scariest book I ever read? There are two answers for this. One is genuinely a great horror novel (and I'll talk about it in an upcoming post on vampire books) and the other, well...

Sometime during my young teen years, I was at sleep-away camp deep in the woods of West Virginia. Being the kid I was, I had of course packed a bag full of books, and being the strange kid I was, they were all horror books. I think I even lugged Stephen King's The Strand up there with me. In hardcover.

My version did not have this cover.
I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea. I was a pretty anxiety-ridden child and sleeping in the dark in the woods already terrified me. Sleeping in the dark at home terrified me too. I'd like to say that my love of literature was stronger than my fears, but I'm pretty sure I was just plain stupid. I found myself reading Watchers by flashlight, an old '80s Dean Koontz horror novel (back when he could still write a good yarn) about a Frankenstein-esque murdering monster called "The Outsider" and a super-intelligent friendly dog. We're not exactly talking Man Booker Prize here, but it's a gripping enough tale (~of terror~).

One night, I wake up and have to go to the bathroom. We're supposed to use the buddy system, and given that it's the woods at 2 am, I would have peed on the floor of our cabin before going out there alone. So I woke up my best friend and dragged her off to the bathrooms. Nothing untoward happened, though we did have a minor freak-out about a moth the size of our heads. It wasn't until we were walking back that something went CRASHING through the woods off to our right. We clutched at each other and rabbited back to our cabin like the hounds of hell were upon us. Certain of our impending deaths, I practically leapt all the way up to my top bunk without touching the ladder (everyone knows the people on the lower bunks get murdered first). Eventually, when The Outsider failed to come crashing through our flimsy screen door, my heart rate descended from "tachycardia" to "brisk jog" levels, though I'm not sure I slept at all.

I do, however, remember that I didn't stop reading my horror novels. I just switched to The Stand, because a plague couldn't sneak up and dismember me in my sleep.

And that's how Watchers ended up being one of the scariest books I've ever read.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Perfect Ruin

"Would the people of the ground think Interment is a paradise, or a punishment?"

Perfect Ruin (Internment Chronicles #1)
Lauren DeStefano
356 pages
Summary Link

Rating: 7


I liked Wither, DeStefano's first book, though I didn't love it. I thought her second book was much stronger, but I wasn't invested enough in the characters to finish the trilogy. I wasn't especially excited about this new book, particularly because the blurb feels so generic- girl in dystopic society, tries to live quietly in her planned out life, meets dangerous new boy, predictable drama ensues. I expected a CW teen drama TV show. I've been sick all weekend though, and bored with my other reading options, so I decided to give it a whirl.


It's rare that a blurb makes a story look worse, but this one did. Against all my assumptions, Perfect Ruin is a jewel of a book.

Everything written in the summary is technically correct. Morgan Stockhour is indeed a teenage girl living in the floating sky-city of Internment. Her life there is generally calm and pleasant, with her best friend and her betrothed, but Morgan can't quite let go of thoughts of what must lie on the forbidden ground far below. Then a murder rocks the city, Morgan meets the boy who stands accused, and is drawn further into the secrets of the city.

I was pleasantly surprised when DeStefano avoided the cliches I assumed were coming, particularly the oh-so-obvious love triangle. Instead of taking a bite out of that poisoned apple, she decides to build believable characters with multifaceted relationships. The people don't feel like macguffins there to move the story forward or add romantic drama, they feel like people with histories whose decisions are motivated by their pasts and personalities (you know, like real people). Plus, I felt an inexplicable love for the bizarre-yet-wonderful duo of characters appear in the final quarter.

(I speak, of course, of the Prince and Princess. Maybe it's because I just watched a bunch of The Legend of Korra, but I could not help constantly imagining them as Desna and Eska, despite their objectively being nothing alike. On the other hand, they are both kind of insane, have a weird conversational style, and always hang out together...perhaps a preppy version of them?

You will take me to your rebel machine.

The exceptions to this are an antagonist whose act of villainy happens too abruptly, and a "dystopia" reveal that happened too unexpectedly (before, I would have categorized this as utopic). They could have been worked out better, and frankly, Internment didn't really need to get dystopic. It's already an island you can't leave, and social/religious mores mean you can't even talk about leaving. That's sufficiently negative without sacrificing subtlety and nuance. We didn't need to be beaten over the head with a literal government conspiracy forcing us to agree that one side is The Bad One.

The true strength of Perfect Ruin, though, is in its prose. It reminded me a lot of Lauren Oliver's Delirium, another story carried by the beauty of its writing. Like in Delirium, DeStefano succeeds in making you feel the emotions of the main character. Morgan is haunted by the fear that their world might be too small, that she'll one day go mad like her brother and try to jump. She's worried that it's never going to be enough. DeStefano also deftly interweaves the story with the religious beliefs of Internment's inhabitants, how they pray to the God of the Sky to keep them safe and tell stories about figures like Micah and his Boat of Stars. There are words here that go right into your heart; I kept using the highlight feature on my kindle.

It's altogether possible that it's too similar to Delirium- Morgan talking about the edge and her brother could have been Lena talking about love and her mother- but I didn't mind.  The writing is simple and moving and lovely, and it elevates the whole book above most others in the same genre.

Thus, unexpectedly, I'm now upset that I'll have to wait for the next book in the series. Yet another thing to add to my release date calendar.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: The Thousand Names

"Can you be haunted by someone who isn't dead?"

The Thousand Names (Shadow Campaigns #1)
Django Wexler
528 pages

Rating: 8

+25 points to Hufflepuff for normalized inclusion of a gay character and non-western culture.


This might be the first time in my entire life I read a book without even glancing at the blurb. I literally had no expectations other than what I gleaned from glancing at the cover. A dude with a desert cloak and some swords? So umm...a high fantasy story about some sort of arabian assassin/warrior who has to save a kingdom by overthrowing evil? I went into The Thousand Names almost completely blind.


Oh boy. Oh boy. Usually when you stumble around in the dark, you end up banging your shins and swearing. But sometimes you turn on a light to discover you're in a treasure-filled cave.

The Thousand Names does indeed involve a desert and some kingdoms, but that's about all I got right. Khandahar (read: the middle east/north africa) is in an uproar due to a recent religious uprising. They expelled the unbelievers, their old royalty, and the Vordanai Colonials (read: europeans). But a new Colonial colonel has arrived lead the army to retake Khandahar and reinstate the former government. The narrative alternates primarily between Captain Marcus D'Ivoire, who heads up a Colonial garrison, and Winter Ihernglass, a rank-and-file soldiers just trying to get by without anyone finding out she's secretly a woman. There are also some snippets from one of the Khandahari leaders to give a taste of what's happening from their perspective. It follows them from battle to battle across the country, into more and more complicated personal and political situations, and ultimately toward some strange magics.

Wexler's choice of narrators is absolutely perfect. When dealing with a story involving grand armies and politics, it's easy to get lost, but he's has brought the story down to a personal level. The plot is intriguing and clever, but it's carried on the shoulders of the characters. The writing is so clear that I know these people. None of them are one dimensional or lost in the mix, not even the side characters. Wexler doesn't even neglect the back-story.

It was also an inspired decision to have the main characters not be, well, the Main Heroic Characters. That probably needs clarification, so here goes: Marcus, while certainly a senior captain leading up the army, isn't the guy in charge of everything. That's the fantastic, enigmatic Colonel Janus (who reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Patrician Vetinari). Winter, while smart, capable, and qualified, isn't some sort of graceful, "blades flashing in the sun" warrior woman. She's just a scrawny soldier with some brains, trying to escape a difficult past and a lover she left behind. They're just people. It reminded me a lot of Joe Abercrombie, a favored author of mine, though without the grimdark "the world is full of fucking ugliness and bastards" tone; just a story about some people trying to get by in a rough world the best they can.

I love these people. All of them, even the total bastards and the ones I just knew were secret spies and sorcerers. I have opinions about them that I want to share. I want to introduce them to my friends. I found myself caring about battle tactics because they cared. I realize I've strayed into gushing instead of reviewing, but I can't help it. I'm sure there are flaws (the first few chapters are too in-media-res and it took me a while to get oriented and invested), and sequels will reveal if Wexler can handle the genre shift from this sword-and-sorcery soldier's tale to the epic-fantasy toward which he's building. But I'm just too damn glad I found this book to care.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: What's Left of Me & Once We Were

"We'd been born with our souls' fingers interlocked. What if we'd never let go?"

What's Left of Me (Hybrid Chronicles #1)
Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)
Kat Zhang
343 pages & 352 pages

Rating: 6 ; 6


YA dystopias may be my jam, but that doesn't mean I love all of them. I've read dozens that I've promptly forgotten five minutes after I turned the last page. It's kind of what I've come to expect. I had slightly higher hopes for What's Left of Me, mostly because I loved the premise. It has a certain high-concept charm. But I wasn't holding my breath.


It's nice when a story comes along that actually sticks with me. 

What's Left of Me introduces us to Eva and Addie, two souls living inside one body. In their world, everyone is born with two souls, but they're supposed to "settle" and have one soul fade away during early childhood. Addie and Eva never settle; Addie becomes dominant and takes control of their body, but Eva is still there, a secret voice inside her head. Their AU-version of America only allows the single-souled, and hybrids considered a dangerous threat. Addie and Eva spend fifteen years hiding their status, until befriending some fellow hybrids who teach Eva how to assert control again. Unfortunately, they end up getting caught.

First of all, Zhang totally pulls off the premise. The world works. She doesn't go too deep into explaining things, but provides enough to paint a clear picture. The plot is simple, but solid. I liked that she kept it small- no one is trying to save the world, they're just trying to save themselves. It works on a believable level. Nothing about this book overreaches or tries to mask weakness with epic plot or melodramatic romance.  

Zhang also manages to competently juggle a number of characters, most of them living inside the same body. They all had their own unique voices; I felt like if I were living with all these people, I'd be able to tell them apart. I liked Eva and Addie, who are fairly realistic teenage girls, without any particular talents or specialties beyond finding their own courage. Heck, I even kind of liked the main male characters and their relationship, and that's usually where I get the most critical.

What's Left of Me doesn't have towering heights, but it also doesn't have any lows. Overall, Zhang's written a good, steady book. 

(I'm going to talk about the sequel now, but only in general terms. So no real spoilers, but if you don't even want to know any vague plot points, stop reading now!) 

Once We Were picks a month or two after the first book ends and asks "what do we do now?" Eva and Addie learn more about how to function as hybrids, with all the difficulties that entails- particularly with regard to relationships. They also start wanting to do more than simply hide. 

Some reviewers have been referring to this book as "filler", which might be true from a plot perspective, but it's not from a character development perspective. Eva and Addie have to deal with feelings about their own (lack of) bodily autonomy and grapple with questions about morality and rebellion. This book is about their growing up. Plus, the plot felt realistic- they're a bunch of teenagers, the best they can do is fight the only way they can, even if it doesn't actually change anything on a macro-level. I do grant that the pacing in the first half could have been quicker.  

I also wish we had gotten to see more of Addie- though both books are narrated by Eva, this one seems a bit too heavily focused on her. Also, Lissa and Halley strangely disappear as main characters. We did get some new people too- some of them felt extremely under-characterized (I know nothing at all about Emalia, Cordelia, or Warren), but others captured me right away (I want more Sabine and Josie!). I think Zhang's writing is improving too; the addition of a few short, poetic dream sequences really made the story shine. 

I know it's not for everyone, but I'm a big fan of books dealing with teenagers and terrorism. Once We Were reminded me a lot of Animorphs or The Tomorrow War at times, asking those sorts of difficult questions. What are you allowed to do to fight for freedom? Does there have to be a right time? How far is too far? Zhang does a good job depicting Eva and Addie's struggle to find answers, without coming off as overly certain that there is one absolute right answer. 

Between the two books, Zhang has earned my respect. With any luck, the third book will be out next year.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: The Bone Season

"As Jax said, better an outlaw than a stiff."

The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1)
Samantha Shannon
480 pages
Summary Link 

Rating: 6.5

+ 10 points to Ravenclaw for coming up with a plausible reason why people in 2059 England would dress like Victorians.


I hadn't heard the hype for this, so much as I had heard the hype about the hype. Apparently everyone thought this might be the next Harry Potter-type fantasy epic? I mostly avoided caring, because the word "clairvoyant" in a blurb makes me run away almost as fast as the word "dragon", but eventually I grave in. What can I say, I'm a sucker for future dystopias, even though I assumed it would be a fairly boilerplate teen girl paranormal dystopia. Girl has psychic powers, girl gets captured by oppressive government, romance and rebellion ensues.


By the zeitgeist, you've bloomed like the ambrosial flower you are, right winsome wunderkind! Welcome to the psychic underground of London. Apparently this has already been optioned for a movie, which makes sense since I kept imagining it set the same way as a steampunk-inspired production of My Fair Lady I saw a few years back. Though with more ghosts. And no actual steampunk, thankfully, since it's 2059 and they have proper electronics and guns.

The Bone Season was exactly what I expected in terms of story outline, but...better. It takes the standard body of a YA paranormal dystopia, then dresses it in new and exciting clothes and shoves it out onto the streets of London. It's one of those stories that sucked me right in and I read it straight through without pause, although it's not without flaws. Shannon's unique, interesting alternate-universe London is easily the the best part of the book, and it's obvious she put major effort into it. The downside is that at times she gets carried away and it overflows with confusing jargon. Sometimes it worked and I fell into the rhythm, while other times I was scratching my head trying to remember what a word meant. Other reviewers have used the phrase "overly-ambitious", which is spot on, but that's leaps and bounds better than "boring". Personally, I vastly prefer an author reaching for something new and different, rather than falling back on the same old stuff, even if they can't quite handle their own creation.

Plus, it's always nice to have a female protagonist without debilitating issues. Paige doesn't spend any time bemoaning being a freak or moping about her lot in life; she's damn good her "voyant" crime syndicate job and she knows it. She's not a particularly original or deep character, but she's strong and doesn't sit around waiting to be rescued. The side characters are interesting as heck too, but they don't get enough development...though since there are supposed to be more books, I'll cut Shannon some slack on the condition she flesh them out more later.

What I disliked most was the super-predictable romance (with a gorgeous forbidden special supernatural being, of course), but if I complained too much about that sort of thing I could never read any YA books ever. It also doesn't come into play until the very end of the book, which is nice, though I'm not sure how much it will piss me off in future books. At least it's not a love triangle. And, to be fair, there wasn't anything objectively wrong with how Shannon handled it, I think I've just overdosed on the whole concept.

The Bone Season practically oozes potential, but only time will tell if it'll live up to it. If Shannon works hard and develops as a writer, she could have a major blockbuster on her hands. On the other hand, if she loses the threads, it could all fall apart by book three. Seven volumes are a lot to manage and it'll take serious chops to pull off, but I'm definitely looking forward to the next one.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

"When you will have done what you need to do, you will have lived long enough."

The Burning Sky (Elemental Trilogy #1)
Sherry Thomas
464 pages

Rating: 4.5

Magic! Not ghosts, parallel universes, psychics, glamours, fae, or paranormals, but wand-wielding, spell-casting, Latin-adulterating, Hermione-would-be-proud magic! I never realized how much I missed it until the first few chapters of The Burning Sky. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy all those other fantastical concoctions, but sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned Wingardium Leviosa!

Unfortunately, The Burning Sky couldn't live up to its own promise. It seemed to be heading down a great road. British boarding schools? Girls pretending to be boys? Evil kingdoms to overthrow? Strange beasts and super-powerful mages? I'm there. But Thomas tries to weave in too many threads and ends up dropping half the stitches.

Iolanthe Seaborn is, as described, a supremely powerful elemental mage living in a the magical kingdom of the Domain. The Domain is technically ruled by Prince Titus, but he's just a figurehead, as the oppressive Atlanteans are really the ones in charge. Titus know he's prophesied to be the one to protect and guide Iolanthe, and she'll eventually overthrow Atlantis and free the country. But he didn't know she was going to be a girl. Their lives become intertwined and thus begins the adventure.

It's pretty straightforward stuff, but Thomas starts strong. Iolanthe may be powerful and outwardly kind and carefree, but she's been secretly covering for her drug-addicted guardian for years and its taken its toll. Titus is a refreshing subversion of the standard prince-character: his outward selfishness and who-cares-about-my-people-I'm-rich attitude are just a cover for his plan to sacrifice his life to save his country.

The narration alters between them, which I think is the first major misstep of the book. Either would be enough separately, but trying to cover both of them doesn't work. Titus is the much more interesting character and I wish Thomas had written the book solely from his perspective; plus, then we'd have the novelty of reading a YA book with a male protagonist and subverting the expected tropes by telling the hero story from the mentor perspective. Instead, the more subtle, interesting characterizations are quickly lost in a muddle of Iolanthe's irrational anger toward the Prince because he thinks he trapped her (even though she's being hunted by the Atlanteans?) and the Prince's moping about how he's in love with her (and makes a fake version of her in a training exercise so he can kiss her??). Their insta-love doesn't even stand out, since most developments in the book appear out of nowhere when the plot demands it.

This problem is constantly repeated: Thomas brings in too many topics that would be interesting individually, but are strangled by all clutter around them. Iolanthe is in hiding as a boy at Eaton, they have a magic book that makes a training world, Titus's mom left a book of prophecies, Iolanthe's guardian gave up his memories, a crazy lady might have the memories but then later she's not crazy, the Atlantean inquisitor is evil, she's also a mind mage, the inquisitor works for someone even MORE evil who's also immortal, Titus's mother was involved in an uprising, Iolanthe is also an athletic cricket prodigy, insert random training sequence that accomplishes nothing, the magic training book has even more magical abilities, there's an oracle for more prophecies, bullies at the school, a ball, on and on and ON. The story never has a chance to breathe. Instead of nurturing the original sprouts, Thomas just keeps planting new seeds every time she wants to move the story forward (I'm just using metaphors all over the place today).

Plus, what happened to the ending? Nothing the book spent time on ended up mattering much at all. I found myself skimming the last chapters so I could finally be done.

I don't understand the effusive praise for this book at all. I feel like everyone read something completely different. I want to have read that book, with the beautifully crafted blending of historical and fantastical and a romance to make your heart swell. Maybe it's in disguise on a boarding school bookshelf somewhere.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Half Review: Wuthering Heights

"I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to being heaven."

Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte
337 pages

Rating: 8

This isn't a full review, because frankly, people have been discussing this book a hundred years and at least a few of them have written well-reasoned, comprehensive and nuanced reviews. Instead, I want to discuss expectations.


I had avoided Wuthering Heights, not only because I tend to avoid 1800s classics, but because all I ever heard about it was ~doomed forbidden love~. I thought it was going to be a stupid, sappy love story about Cathy and Heathcliff pining across the moors for each other yet unable to be together, etc etc, cue more pining and moping and possibly brooding. I mean, for landsakes, it's Bella's favorite book and that girl has the dumbest opinions about romance. People always seem to talk about it as a great love story for the ages and whatnot. 

I have never been so happy to find out that everyone is wrong.


On page 11, I knew I was going to like this book. That's when our narrator is at the old Heathcliff estate, trying to make pleasant conversation with his less-than-amicable hosts. He notices some cats sitting across the room and asks the lady of the house if they're her favorite animal, only to find that what he thought were some cats is actually a pile of dead rabbits. 

The thing about Wuthering Heights is that everyone in the story is an awful, awful person who does awful things. It's practically a Jerry Springer episode. These people are monsters and they deserve what they get. I kept cackling as I read at each new horror that they brought upon each other. When Cathy says that her soul is the same as Heathcliff's, she's right: they're just both awful, conniving, cruel people. This isn't a book about forbidden life, it's a book about how the actions of despicable people can poison even their children. It's not so much about love as about obsession. It's a soap opera where all the characters are practically the villains. I loved every minute of it. 

The Bronte sisters are now two for two with me. I need to read something by Anne next to complete the set.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Earth Girl

"The polite people would call me Handicapped, but you can call me ape girl if you like."

Earth Girl (Earth Girl #1)
Janet Edwards 
358 pages

Rating: 5 

This book is okay. It's not terrible, it's not offensive, but it's certainly not outstanding or sensational like some people seem to believe. The reviews of this book are a textbook case of people's tendency to overinflate ratings. You can rate things below "outstanding", people, it's all right. Sometimes things are just fine.

Jarra, our protagonist, is handicapped: stuck on Earth in a future where almost everyone got the hell off the planet if they had the chance. The rest of the galaxy looks down on her kind as primitive relics, but Jarra isn't having any of that- she decides to apply to an off-world university (that holds its first-year courses on Earth) and not tell any of her classmates she's an "ape". She invents a fake backstory for herself and sets to work studying archaeology and digging up the ruins of old New York. Obviously, issues ensue, as Jarra struggles against prejudice against her and also her own prejudice against the "norms". There's also a whole ton of stuff about how people in the future conduct archaeological digs.

The best parts of this book involve the world building. I love far-future settings that still involve Earth, and I feel like there aren't enough of them- usually when we're this far in the future, it's always in a space-exclusive or distant-planet setting. I loved the concept of portal technology, the inevitable Earth exodus, and what it would be like to be trapped on a planet during a space-faring age. It's what Edward's loves writing best (well, that and how to conduct futuristic archaeological digs), and it shows. The main reason I kept reading was to learn more and more about the galaxy Edward's has crafted.

It's also a refreshing divergence from the standard relationship archetype that abounds in YA lit these days. Sure, there's a romance, but it's realistic- a girl and a boy meet because they share interests, become friends, have some issues, start dating, have problems to work through. There's no ridiculous insta-love or undying, forbidden passions. Plus, Jarra is flawed in real ways, not in "she's quiet and shy because she thinks she's plain but is secretly amazing" ways. She can be kind of obnoxious and has a lot of justifiable issues given the prejudice she faces, but she's also smart and works had to be good at what she loves.

The main problem with this book, though, is that the writing...just isn't very good. It's not that bad- there are no grammatical errors or egregious statements, I never rolled my eyes at a stupid line (well, except when Jarra spontaneously goes crazy half-way through) but it's just...fine. The whole thing has a bit of an "uncanny valley" feel to it, where it's hard to put my finger on it but everything is just a little bit off. Phrases get repeated a few too many times. The non-Jarra characters are very two-dimensional, the "races" are excessively stereotyped, the dialogue feels flat, emotions are slightly over-explained, motivations are a bit overly simplistic, and problems and resolutions too quick to arrive and change. There's no depth to anything. Events also just sort of happen and then keep happening; some of them seem like they should be more climactic than others, but the writing can't convey any shift in intensity. I wasn't surprised to learn that Edward's apparently used to write technical documents before switching to fiction.

I'm reading the sequel now, which continues in much the same way (though Jarra ends up in more unrealistic situations- I don't care if she's an archaeology prodigy with a unique perspective, there are whole schools of archaeologists on future-Earth who aren't 18 year old freshman who would be more qualified than her). The world is interesting enough to have kept me reading, and it's a calming enough way to kill a few hours before bed when I'm too tired to read another book. Just don't expect five stars.

(In meta-news, it's occurred to me that I want to get back into writing reviews, so there should be more forthcoming instead of another ten months of nothing! Chemistry homework notwithstanding.)