Thursday, June 28, 2012


Since I was raving so enthusiastically about The Girl of Fire and Thorns in my last post, I feel like I need to come back and wrap up my opinion, which changed over the course of the book.

I gave this 4 stars on Goodreads, really more of a 3.5 book.  Honestly, though, the first part of the book was almost a 5, while by the end it had dwindled down to a 3.  There are a lot of elements to my reaction, and a lot to pick apart, I think.

First, what I loved about it was what caught me at the beginning.  I think a lot of it had to do with how unusual it felt.  First, the Hispanic influences of the language and names, which is not the same-old.  The fact that the characters seemed to be Latino/a was also a big plus.  It just gave a slightly different flavor to another fantasy story. 

I also really liked the angle that a lot of things came in at.  I liked that Elisa and Alodia are princesses--Elisa finds it oppressive, Alodia empowering.  For both of them, being a princess has nothing to do with dressing up in fancy dresses or having parties--either good or bad.  So many books either push back against "girl things" or embrace them, but they really don't show up much at all here.  Elisa is bookish; Alodia is social--both are smart. I liked that the arranged husband is neither treated entirely as a sex object nor is he a terrible curse.  So many things like this felt more real and complicated than they are in many fantasy stories.  I think this is what set my expectations so high.

There were so many little worldbuilding things that I loved at the beginning.  The religion aspect was cool--Elisa bears the godstone, which warms when she prays.  God is a big part of Elisa's life, but it's not clear how literally we're supposed to take him--is God going to be a deus ex machina in this story?  Are we going to find out God's big secret?  Are the priests good or evil.  All of these, and none--in real life, the answer to "what's up with this religion thing?" doesn't jump out at you, and it doesn't here, either.

So the beginning, essentially, had a ton to love about it.  But about one-third of the way in, there's a big shift, and the story changes abruptly.  It's not entirely unexpected--quite the opposite, in fact.  From an unexpected, interesting, unpredictable place, the book takes a shift into standard YA territory--there is a quest, and a finding of the self, and friendships, and an enemy that is OMGSOEVIL!  Elisa shifts into this new zone well before I did--from the minute she left the palace, she didn't act like I expected; she acted like someone who knew what was coming in the story and was behaving the way the story wanted her to.

I was really bothered by how "other" the enemy seemed.  They're barely human, pure evil, out to Take Over The World for no particular reason.  They're physically disgusting, cruel, and manipulative.  It's not like I haven't seen this problem in other books--a bad guy with so little subtlety that there's almost no point.  It's just that I have seen it so often, and I hoped for so much more here.

I don't want to give away the story, but suffice to say that all sorts of things that you might expect happen--romance, betrayal, escape, etc.  It's all quite dashing and kept me reading, and was well-written.  But nothing in the last 2/3 of the book lived up to the glorious promise of that first 1/3.

Now, let me get to the thing that so many people have been bothered by: Elisa's body.  She starts out fat--"piggy," "disgusting," frequently eating herself sick.  This is the angry, weak, lonely Elisa who's never good enough.  I kind of liked this, actually--a fat heroine.  Yeah, the fact that she's not just fat but gross about it--frequent scenes of her eating herself sick use phrases like "cramming food into my face"--is kind of bothersome, but this, of course, is the flawed character we start out with.  The direct association of fat and grossness is the before picture. 

And I'll say, I thought her internal life was really neatly drawn.  Her sense of failure and hopelessness and shame is all tangled up in hope and wishing and pride in her other accomplishments and frustration, both at herself for not being less gross and the rest of the world for not realizing that she's not as gross as she seems. 

But again, the rest of the book let me down.  As Elisa gains strength, she stops stuffing her face.  As she gets more confident and accomplished, she sometimes forgets to eat.  As she undergoes physical trials, she finds her clothes don't really fit anymore.  And finally she emerges--strong, proud, confident, and thin.  So the fat was never separated out from the gross.  The appetite and enjoyment of food is never distinguished from gorging herself sick.  Thin is beautiful is healthy is successful wins the day.

Really, it's not a bad book.  It's a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy adventure story.  But it promised to be so much more at the beginning--in spite of the 4 stars, I'm left feeling pretty let down in a lot of ways.  But I'll read the next one; I'd like to see if Carson brings other bright spots to the rest of the series, the way she promised to in this book.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The Kindle has changed my relationship with the Personal Library Renaissance.  Which is hard, because it's not like I don't have a huge shelf of books upstairs that I haven't read yet and want to read.  Plus all those library books I still have out.

But right now, the backlog of books in my Kindle that I've acquired and want to read is the one that's teasing me most.  People are always asking why I get books before I'm ready to read them, and I don't really know how to answer that, except to ask how you manage to know you want to read something but not acquire it right away.  Don't you worry that it will vanish from the library/bookstores/internet and you'll never get a chance to read it?  Or (less insanely) that you'll forget how interested you were and miss an opportunity that, right now, you're SO EXCITED about?

Anyway, the hurdle is always jumping in, starting a book and getting swept away.  Let's see what's in the line up for now.

I've started The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rea Carson.  I bought this months ago after loving the sample, and I don't have any special explanation about why I hadn't gotten around to it yet, but now I have and I'm really, really loving it.  Actually, about 1/3 of the way in it's just taken a turn for the slightly less interesting--it was all court intrigue and mysterious omens before, and now it's--well, I'm not going to give it away, but it's just a different direction, and I'm not far enough into the new section to be excited about this twist.

But I LOVE the story.  I like that the main character has some real, significant weaknesses--she's childish and selfish and overeats--but you're still really rooting for her--she's smart and wants to be better.  I love the Hispanic feel to the worldbuilding--all the names and words from the "old language" are Spanish-sounding, and the landscape, between deserts and jungles, has a Central American feel.  It's that perfect thing to find in a new author--a familiar structure--girl needs to grow up and save the world--with a new flavor.

The next few I have lined up are also all YA fantasy adventures that I'm excited to read.  Can you believe I haven't read Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races yet?  I bought it months ago!  I don't even know much about it, but I've heard it's amazing.  I've also got the last of Sharon Shinn's Samaria books, Angel-Seeker, and Mercedes Lackey's The Gates of Sleep, which is one of the only books from her Elemental Masters series that struck my fancy.  Oh, plus Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik, because how is it that I'm so many books behind in Temeraire?

These are all just on deck, though.  I'm still reading (and loving) Bab: A Sub Deb, which you kind of have to read in chunks or you just want to smack her, or her mother, or her maid.  And I'm trying to pick my way through some of the library books I have out.  I'm thinking I'll take on a Heavy, Important, Grown-Up book, just to counterbalance all the fun I'm having right now.  Does that seem self-punishing?  I can't decide how much non-YA, non-fantasy I need in my reading diet to cleanse the palate and keep my brain limber.  But I've got about two novels written from the point of view of Mary Magdalene out of the library right now, so maybe I'll start there.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Project Project Gutenberg Gutenberg

I am, as Brenda recently pointed out, EXTREMELY COMMITTED to free ebooks.  I will wait months on hold at the library; I will read things that hold only the most tenuous appeal to me; I will cross deserts and climb mountains.

But somehow, I've never made much use of Project Gutenberg.  The main problem is that it's an undiscovered country--the dense and unmapped terrain of classics, histories, and dry-titled tomes by writers I've never heard of, plus the (I'm sorry, but it's true) really basic, bare-bones, non-glossy interface...I've never been able to navigate it.  I see a list of authors, or book titles, with minimal information and my eyes start to cross.

This is why I'm so excited about The Project Gutenberg Project!  Some of my favorite bloggers are participating in this group blog project where they review and highlight cool books from Project Gutenberg.  On one hand, it's a really fascinating glimpse into what's in there, different periods of history, kinds of books I would never have thought to read, and I love reading the reviews just for themselves.

On the other hand, without the Project Project, I would never have found Bab, A Sub-Deb, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, which is KILLING ME with awesomeness.  (Note that the link in the text is to the free Kindle version, but the picture links to a $2 version, because of the cute cover.)

Now, I have to admit that I actually read the review of this on Aarti's blog itself; she hasn't cross-posted it to PGP yet. But the very existence of the project is the reason that this book--and the author, who I can already tell you I'm going to read more of--are even on my radar.  I should also caution you that Bab narrates the stories here in the form of themes that she's writing at her boarding school, and her spelling is absolutely atrocious.  I thought it would be unbearable, but it very quickly became absolutely darling, and it's all very readable.

Bab is about 17, and her older sister is a debutante, while Bab is stuck attending parties with the schoolroom set.  This is cosmically unfair, and her determination to set this injustice to rights gets her into scrapes.  That's the only word for it.  In the first story, she makes up a boyfriend to bother her mother.  But the story snowballs, and suddenly there's a young man at the party who is going by the name that she made up and declaring for her hand to her father.  What's a not-yet-debutante to do?

If Anne of Green Gables was spoiled rotten and boy crazy, this would be her book.  That sounds horrible, though, doesn't it?  If you crossed Scarlett O'Hara with basically any L.M. Montgomery heroine, you would have Bab--determined to have what she wants, really trying to be good, clever with a plan in the thick of things but maybe without the long view of a situation.

She sounds kind of insufferable when I say this, but she's not.  She means no one any ill--it's just that she wants a fur muff and to have some fun, and she really can't figure out why she shouldn't have them.  And when you're in the middle of the book, neither can the reader.  "I am very determined and fixed in my ways, and with me to decide to do a thing is to decide to do it."  The solemn dignity this child brings to bear is absolutely charming.

So thank you, Aarti and PGP, for bringing this bright spot into my reading day.  It is exactly what I need to counterbalance the rather craptastic criminal profiling book that I find myself not putting down for some reason.  And did I mention--FREE!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

True Crime Trash

I'm not a huge true crime fan--not really one at all, in fact--but I watch my share of police procedurals, and I have a soft spot for Criminal Minds, which is not a fabulous show, but I like the psychology aspect.  It's clever--not the show, but the idea of profiling.

Sometimes I like to read the memoirs of FBI profilers: My Life Hunting Serial Killer types of books.  When one popped up at the library as an ebook, I jumped on the wait list.  It's actually called The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers, by Pat Brown, so I know that she's able to write a clear title.  Or at least, the ghostwriter is; I don't hold a ghostwriter against her, though--writing a craft, and if your craft is hunting serial killers, there's no reason to assume you can construct a coherent narrative.  So hats off to Bob Andelman.

At the beginning I mostly called it readable.  The first chapter was pretty good, actually--she talks about being a stay at home mom and getting a weird vibe off a student renting a room in her house at the same time that a murder takes place in her neighborhood.  The cops didn't believe her.  Her interest turned to profiling.

Then, in the second chapter, she backtracks to describe her life.  This is the chapter where I started to kind of dislike her. There's nothing wrong with the actual course of her life as she describes it, but the way she talks about it is kind of dismissive of everyone else.  She went to three or four different colleges and community colleges, but nothing held her interest.  (Okay, kind of ADHD, but that's not a character flaw; she's looking for her place in life).  Then she gets married and becomes a stay at home mom, and thrives.  This is kind of wonderful.  She homeschools her kids, they adopt their third--all lovely. 

Except, when she's describing her decision to homeschool, she talks about sitting in a public school classroom for a while and leaving in disgust at the chaos.  When she adopts a six-year-old and is told that he has a learning disorder, she scoffs (I'm pretty sure that was her word--scoffs) at the people who tell her this, and teaches him to read.  She cosleeps, breastfeeds till they're past two, et cetera--great!  I know lots of people who do these things!  But she talks about them like, I don't know what all you crappy parents out there are doing, but this just felt natural to me.  She refers to having a kid sleep in their own crib as shoving them in a box by themselves. 

So yeah, I kind of hated her even before she started profiling.  But then we get into how she became a profiler; she became obsessed with the unsolved case in her neighborhood and her ex-tenant who she's certain did it.  She's got a very convincing case--maybe not for a court of law, but enough that the cops should have been all over it.  She was dismissed as an hysterical housewife, which I'm sure must have rankled.  From many years later, she tells about what she'd learned about the investigation--a jurisdiction war that put inexperienced cops on the job, a victim's family with enough political ties to put pressure on the DA to close the case, and a local suicide of a troubled man that coincided with the murder--that led to the poor police work.  But she doesn't talk about these things with the "we do our best" inevitability of the seasoned police officer, or with the "we can do better!" enthusiasm of an Atul Gawande of crime.  Instead, she talks with the shrill, "won't somebody think of the children?" hysteria of a nervous housewife.

I hate to sound so dismissive.  It's just that she doesn't sound very professional.  She sounds very anti-cops.  I'm curious how the rest of the book will play out.  Because the next part is where she talks about teaching herself to be a profiler, essentially by reading hundreds of books on profiling and then calling herself a profiler.  Instead of an investigator, or something--it's clear that she wanted to be a profiler, if only from the number of times she says the word profiler on every page.  It's not that she wanted to solve crimes, help victims, investigate, etc.  She specifically DIDN'T want to study criminal justice or forensics, work her way up through an organization, etc.  She wanted to be a profiler, and so she called herself a profiler and set up shop.

Next we'll see how it worked.  I get the impression she hooked up with the press.  I kind of anti-recommend this book, but it's fascinating reading in a train-wreck kind of way.  I mean, the last negative review I wrote was of a book that I slogged through out of duty.  This one I'm reading with shameful avarice, the way you watch a marathon of America's Next Top Model, or Dance Moms.  That's how I feel about this book; I don't recommend it, but I can't look away.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Club: So Close!

I thought the worst kind of book club is when you have a meeting that goes very badly, but it turns out that's the second worst kind.  The worst kind is when you read a really great book that you really want to talk about and then no one is able to get together for a meeting.  I want to talk about it!

The book is The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. You won't find a lot in the blurbs about the plot, which is as it should be--it's not a book about action and twists, but you never really know quite what will happen, and that's a big part of the appeal.  I'll tell you a little bit more, but first I want to warn you--at the end of this post, I'm going to put some discussion questions that I was going to ask my book club.  They're very spoilery, so you should not read all the way through if you're ever going to read the book.

First the plot, though.  The story follows the narrator, Katey, for a year--1938, to be precise.  At the beginning, on New Year's Eve, she and her boardinghouse roommate, Eve, meet Tinker Gray (I keep wanting to say Tinker Bell, not because of the Peter Pan character, oddly enough, but because of Stringer Bell from The Wire).  Tinker is a well-to-do banker, and their new-acquaintance banter reveals that he's feeling stuck in a rut.  This is the beginning of a friendship between the three that will lead all kinds of places, bring all kinds of new people into Katey's life, and reveal a lot of the world to her.  It's a book that is very much about Manhattan, and about being a woman in the first half of the century.  It's about the end of the Depression, and about class and money and charm.

One of my favorite things about the book is that Katey feels like a mystery to us, even though the story is told in the first person, and even though we have plenty of information about her.  Her life before the story begins is told in bits and pieces, the way you learn about anybody's life--where she grew up, the bones of her family structure, anecdotes here and there that fill things out.  I love that you spend the book getting to know everyone as Katey does, but also getting to know Katey.

Okay, book club questions coming up in a second.  First, to fill space, I'll say that this book reminded me of watching all my favorite old movies--All About Eve, Stage Door, Laura, and The Philadelphia Story.  I wish I could read it again.

But here are the questions.  Total spoilers, I warn you.  But fellow book clubbers, if you want to answer, you totally should. 

1) Did Tinker have to leave everything behind to redeem himself?  I mean, he was a banker, right?  Was the all-or-nothing choice that he makes at the end because he, personally, psychologically had to get away, or because it was really the only thing that could be done, or because that was the right life for him all along?

2) What do you think of Eve's disappearing act? She's such a huge part of the first half of the book, but she's also so different from Katey--did her departure make her feel less like a real person, or just less like Katey's close friend?  I thought it was really significant that she came from money--what she and Katey admire and are looking for is so different, even if neither of them cares about money.

3) What do you think of Wallace, Dickey, and Tate?  I think it's interesting how Katey triangulates herself around these three men in the later parts of the book.  She's looking for herself, but why does it seem like the men in her life are where she orients herself?  There are plenty of women--Eve, Bitsy, Anne--but the men are so much more reflective of where she is.  Is that because of her self-possession?  Her career-mindedness?  Or just because she's not all about love and romance?  Not that the other women appear to be.  Can't quite get a handle on this one.

4) Did you see Tinker's revelation coming?  What did you think of it, and of Katey's reaction to it?  I actually wasn't that surprised--I thought something like that near the beginning of the book--but my feelings about it really changed once Katey reacted to it.  I mean, I wasn't that surprised but I hadn't really thought about what it said about his character, but as soon as Katey had a reaction, my response was filtered through her reaction.

If you've read the book, I hope you read the questions, and if you do, I'd love it if you responded.  I'm really dying to talk to someone about this--to the point where I asked my husband (who hasn't read it) these questions yesterday and he made a valiant effort at answering.  (Eve represents innocence, and Dickey is the serpent in the Garden of Eden, in case you were wondering.)  Really, if you have any thoughts at all, please do comment.  Thank you, virtual book clubbers!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Observational Humor

One of my favorite pastimes is poking around the library's ebooks website to see what's new.  If you check frequently, you can get the books before the waitlists get too long.  The problem is that they usually acquire in batches, and these batches are often thematic and not particularly interesting.  It makes you wonder what kinds of requests the librarians got to put in these orders, or if the ebooks come in packages.  You'll get the entire back catalog of a certain author (Ann Perry or Jude Deveraux), or a whole slew of books on spicing up your love life, studying for the GRE, or dealing with hard-to-manage coworkers.  This month, we got romance.

I'm not a very big romance reader, but Sarah seems to go on these binges, and it kind of convinced me to pick one up.  I've got a reviewer copy of something called Almost a Scandal, which is about a woman who disguises herself as a man to join the Navy and falls in love.  I'm a sucker for one of those--can't wait to see what happens. 

In my opinion, though, romance novels are like wedding dresses.  Any individual one looks fine close up, but when you fill a room with them and look around at that room, it's the tackiest thing you ever saw.  Observe:

Okay, so a little sultry, but it's just a book.  But then you get a run of them:

Looked at collectively, they're not delicate beadwork and embroidery.  They're bedazzled polyester.  And that's just the images--look at the titles.  Bad Boys in Kilts; Lady Drusilla's Road to Ruin; Sheikh Without A Heart (which I'm pretty sure is spelled wrong).  Maid for Him. Assassins in Love.  I can't stop--they're all like this!

A few notes on more general themes that I  noticed: highlanders; pectorals; the Amish; ranchers; ranchers holding babies; business executives holding babies; more Amish.

And do you want to know the worst part?  In going back to look up titles for this post, I reread the blurb and found myself--yes, you guessed it--putting a hold on Lady Drusilla's Road to Ruin.  And I kind of can't wait till it comes in.  Curses!

Monday, June 11, 2012

One of THOSE Books

Okay, as promised, my negative review of Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? by Rhoda Janzen.  Let's just get that right out there--I'm not enjoying this book.

So I have a thing for spiritual memoirs, especially of a certain sort.  I'm particularly drawn to the ones that hint at the possibility that the author might be able to explain to me how faith works.  Because I'm fascinated by religion, read a lot about religion, and am very drawn to a lot of the qualities of religious life--community, conscious living, bringing abstract values in line with day to day life--but I just don't understand how to believe in what is essentially a mythology.  Abstract ideas of God, sure, but for Jesus, miracles, and so on, I have no context.

So I'm always reading spiritual memoirs, especially by converts, intellectuals, and people who share my values.  Anne Lamott is a great example of the latter--she's very Christian, but also very liberal, and she does the best job of any modern writer in explaining to me how her relationship with God works and makes sense.  She doesn't spend a lot of time on the notion of the supernatural, just the spiritual.  Lauren Winner is an intellectual, and the accumulation of quotations, anecdotes, and minutia with which she populates her books at least bring an academic, footnoted heft to the argument.  Janzen is a convert; I was hoping she'd be another good example.

But really, she's only kind of a convert; she was raised in the Mennonite church, spent about 30 years as a liberal intellectual East coast snob of an English professor and poet, and then converted to some sort of Pentecostal church--whether it was when she started dating her new boyfriend or when she was diagnosed with breast cancer four months later is a little vague.

In fact, let's start here with the problems in this book.  Let's not start with the theology or rational arguments or her attitude--let's start with the very bare problem of her really patched-together writing style.  I can't follow the timeline to save my life.  I understand that the chapters are organized thematically and that the sections on gratitude and tithing and breast cancer and aging parents all overlap in various ways.  But even within a chapter, it's very unclear when she started tithing vs. when she was cured of cancer, or when she got married vs. when her fiance/husband tried to teach her to shoot a gun.

There are also a LOT of anecdotes that are vaguely amusing but not related to what she's getting at.  Using anecdotes like parables is a tried and true way to talk about faith, construct a memoir, or just fill pages of a book (ding ding ding!), but these anecdotes are not at all thematically related to any of the things that are supposedly the point of the book.  In fact, they are often topically related without being thematically related.  She'll tell a story about a really great shopping trip she once went on where she bought some fabulous shoes as a segue into a story about going to church in which she happens to be wearing those shoes.  The story has nothing to do with shoes, shopping, materialism, or anything remotely related, but she remembered the shoes and so told the whole story because she thought it was an amusing anecdote.  Wasn't.

Okay, so that's the reason I don't think it's terribly well-written.  And this post is already super-long.  But I'd like to spend some time on why I don't like the narrator.  We'll start with that racist quote from the book that I posted about before.  We'll move on to some of the things she realized about herself in the discussion of tithing.

She was amazed at how tithing made her feel more relaxed about  money, made her feel like she had more even though, by definition, she had less.  The example she gives is of a time when a church acquaintance--a newly married 20-year-old woman with a toddler--mentioned that her family of three slept in a single bed and wasn't getting much rest.  It just so happened that our narrator had just moved in with her new husband and so had a bunch of extra furniture to get rid of.  She shocked herself by deciding to give it to these people instead of donating it to Goodwill, which would have given her a tax deduction.

Jesus Christ, you have a bed you need to get rid of an a bedless person enters your life, and you are stunned at your own generosity when you feel the urge to give her this bed?  What kind of a person are you?  I'll tell you what kind--the kind of person who is really amazed by her own tolerance at hanging around with people who are so much less intellectual than she is.  She's so proud of the fact that her boyfriend/husband isn't an academic, thinks Sylvia Plath was kind of a whiner, and hasn't read any literature.  He's a big, muscled studly man.  Isn't she wild marrying him?

There's all kinds of weird, magical, crappy theology (when you tithe, extra money magically shows up, like the secret!  When you convert, your breast cancer is cured between one MRI and the next, as if by magic).  It's like The Secret.  She's always having very heavy feelings at important moments; she's always feeling moved to do something and then finding out her husband was moved--CLEARLY by God--to do the exact same thing!  Like, OMG, I was just thinking that!  LOL.

Let's see, healing, giving, magic, racist, confusing, not funny.  Was there anything else?  Oh, yes, I  didn't want to forget to mention her discussion near the beginning of the book about how one of the things that kept her away from church (especially the Pentecostal church she eventually joined) was their position on a lot of social issues, like gay marriage (well, really, gay people in general) and ordination of women.  But then she decided to see what they had to offer without judging.  She never mentions the issue again.  Does she continue to hold this concern?  Or does she realize they've been right all along that gay people will burn in hell?  Oh, who knows--not relevant to the narrative, right?

Is that enough?  I mean, this is clearly enough.  But I've been suffering through this because I wanted to talk about it, so I need to make sure it all gets out there. No, I think we've hit the high points.  There's definitely more, but there's no need to get further into the nitty gritty.

I do want to point out, though, that this is one of the books that I have a review copy of.  Now I have to go post this review on NetGalley for the publisher to look at if they want.  I'm a little afraid big goon-types are going to show up at my door tomorrow night.  If they come looking for me, tell them I'm at the library, checking out something by someone who's been dead 100 years.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Not To Get Greedy

The whole theme of this blog is greed, avarice, and book gluttony, so I don't know why I keep pretending that I can protect myself from this problem.  The library has been a big problem lately, but there's a new player in the gluttony game.

I've recently started getting a few books from NetGalley, which is a service that allows reviewers (including bloggers) to request electronic advanced reader copies of upcoming books directly from publishers.  For a while there I couldn't figure out the system and wasn't really using it, but more recently I've made a few requests and gotten some ARCs.  Code Name Verity was the first one, actually, and I loved that book inside out.  Since then, I went a little wild with the requests, and now I've got a new glut to handle.

There are a few problems with this.  First, while there's no official obligation to read and review them, there's a personal obligation.  They're trusting me to behave like a real reviewer, and that means reading the books promptly.  From a more self-centered angle, people who post reviews are more likely to get approved for future copies.

But the real reason this glut is a problem is this: I rarely pick a book based solely on its cover and blurb.  Usually there's a personal recommendation, a preference for the author, and/or the ability to skim a few pages.  Here, there's almost nothing--the cover, the blurb, possibly some info about the author's other work.  Some of the publishers are mainstream, others are niche.  There's no way to know what you're getting into.

And I got into some baddish places.  In my desperate quest for something to fill the need left by Sarah Tolerance, I grabbed a Regency mystery called Hawkwood.  I realized pretty quickly that it was not a book for me.  I won't say it's a bad book--it might be, it's a bit hard for me to tell--but it was just not great.  The writing was a bit cliched.  The plot was a bit hard to grasp.  The characters were a bit pat.  It was all just a bit blah to me. 

So: do I could that paragraph as a review and post it to NetGalley?

You see my problem.  I'm clearly not going to write a dishonest review just to be nice.  I like to think that, even if a good friend wrote a book, I'd at least abstain from reviewing it before writing a fake rave.  (Or go with the classic "As readable as Tolkein!" which an unnamed author provided as a blurb for a friend's book, keeping his dislike for Tolkein a secret.)  But it seems kind of wrong to write a rant about how bad--or even how mediocre--a book is.  I guess I kind of blame myself for choosing poorly.

Anyway, I've spent a week kind of agonizing about it, trying to write this post, but I think I've gotten past that.  Mostly this just means that I'm just over my initial flush of flatter at being acknowledged as a reviewer by NetGalley.  I've got plenty to read without claiming random stuff there.  And I'm still working my way through three or four books I got from them.  There's another one that I'm hating, but that one is worth a post to itself--THAT'S a negative review I'm going to write, just because I read the author's previous book from the library, and I have a reasonable amount invested in spiritual memoirs, so I want to get it right.

So: goodbye, Hawkwood.  I appreciate that the circumstances surrounding your presence in my Kindle made me think, even if the characters, plot, setting, and language did not.  I move on with a free heart and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Ad Nauseum

Have I mentioned my feelings about teen romance before?  Because I feel like I rant about it all the time. 
I think of myself as a YA reader, but--God, this is depressing to write--the older I get, the less patience I have with it.  I don't mind this very much, except that I think I'm in a period of growing pains, where I can't tell from a book description or a sample whether it's going to be a pleasure to read or annoy the hell out of me.

Case in point: The Catastrophic History of You and Me. While I realize that it's a love story, the whole sense that the WHOLE WORLD depends on this TRUE LOVE between these two sixteen year olds just exhausts me.  At least, in this book, it's not literally the whole world--if you look at books like Matched and Delirium, you'd think the actual fate of the actual world was in the balance.  But here, it's just life or death for the young lovers.  No biggie, right?

I couldn't finish it. Bree has died of a broken heart--apparently there are X-rays to prove it.  This demonstrates to me a lack of perspective on the part of this 16-year-old.  And even if she learned perspective by the end, I wasn't ready to spend my precious reading hours watching her get there.  She's hanging out with a hot guy in the afterlife/pizza joint, haunting her family and friends, maybe messing with the guy she loved so much who broke up with her.  But I'm sorry--your high school boyfriend not loving you forever is not life or death, and there is no level on which I can even pretend that anymore. 

But then there was The Fault In Our Stars.  My faith has been restored by this book.  There is life and death here--the teenaged characters all have cancer--and the love story is the absolute center of this book, and it still manages to be perceptive and sad and funny.  The teenagers are all overly educated and overly articulate, but you can buy that from kids who have spent most of their lives around adults, reading, resting, and thinking about the meaning of life.

I may no longer be as moved by the problems of youth, but I have a new appreciation for books that recognize that young people are also people, and treat them like that.  Catastrophic History is an ABC Family show of a book. (In my day it would have been a WB show. Yes, I'm a codger.)  Stars is a really good prime time drama.  Maybe by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Stephen Spielberg doing a rare stint in contemporary YA television.

My analogy is going off the rails.  It's okay--I'm out of blogging practice.  I'll get back on the wagon, I promise!