Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Yummy yummy deeeelicious fantasy! Intelligent without losing the wish fulfillment. So much more tasty than, say, Twilight, since you still get SPOILERS! the incredibly handsome, superpowered boyfriend who reads minds, but the Mary Sue is also superpowered and usually able to beat him, and the whole deal is that they each have to learn to rely on the other.
Also, very well-written, transparent, precise, flowing, no glitches or hitches. That's so hard to do!
Plus, the heroine is actually likable and not an asshole who breaks every girlfriend rule in the book!
Sign me up for the next Cashore book, in advance!
Also, so far this year I've read about 28 books in 12 weeks, which puts me at well over 2 books a week. My rate in the past few years (especially early in the year) has been a book a week. Of course, a lot of this is YA, which is usually a quicker read for me than adult fiction, but so has my reading in the past years been. I think the reason for this is simple: my Kindle.
I had no idea that this would happen, but having all my new reads in one place, in one easy-to-access, light to carry, easy to hold, and easy to read place, has eased my entry into each book considerably. I've noticed in recent years an increasingly tough surface tension around books for me, a resistance I have to overcome to "get through" and get into a book. The surface tension is much less around YA books, which is why I read so many of them: I'll choose them first. For some reason, reading the books on the Kindle has lessened the surface tension around all books considerably, and in multiple ways.
There's the tension you have to get through to start a book, the tension you have to get through to return to a book again and again if the book is written in a more fragmentary fashion, and the greater tension of reading a book you know you will find difficult, or requiring greater concentration than usual. The Kindle has eased all of these. I'm reading a book now which I've actually been reading slowly for a month. I don't have to go back to it regularly, and yet I do; for some reason it's much less threatening to pick up where I left off on the Kindle, and also less confusing.
I wonder if this is all psychology, all on a cognitive level, or some combination of the two. Be interesting to find out.
David Small Stitches
Malinda Lo Ash
Georgette Heyer Faro's Daughter
Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army
I have a lot to say about Daughters of the North, or The Carhullan Army (which latter title I vastly prefer) but I just don't have time right now. Maybe I'll get to it later. Had some problems with the insistence on "beautiful" over functional language at the beginning (was surprised to hear that this is "stripped down" from her previous books.) Had some problems with backstory (weak) and character-building (her motivation was weak.) Had some problem with the major plot-killing point that the Carhullan radicals never once seemed to consider the issue of how badly society would collapse and how few resources they actually had to keep the masses alive if they actually succeeded in their revolution. But the main portion of the novel, depicting the life and world and human dynamics of Carhullan was breathtaking. Bottom line: Great book!
Okay, since I hate writers' blogs that are just post after post of "look at my reviews!" I've decided to combine updates on my writing stuff with posts about other things. Ready?:
And in reading, I just disposed of Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child and The Reluctant Widow. Like I said before, I tend to consume Heyer books in threes. I enjoyed Friday's Child a great deal (although I feel like I've read it before ... probably because it's so similar in plot to others of hers) but didn't like The Reluctant Widow at all. The hero and heroine were neither of them attractive, interesting, or likable. So now I have to read a fourth one to finish out my Heyer fix.
Since I've pretty much given up on fashion (my feet have given out and I can't wear cute shoes anymore, and that's where it all begins) I've started reading fashion blogs. I'm sure there's some Psych 101 in there somewhere, but don't bother me with it. Anyway, I'm reading The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, and Jak & Jil blog, aside from Go Fug Yourself.
Garance just posted about her ten fashion basics, which seemed like a fun meme to me, so I'm gonna do that here. Just the fashion basics, mind you, the things I do to (in my mind) look good, not the things I always wear because they're comfortable. Well, actually, I'll post about the comfortable things I wear because I think they look good. I never wear anything uncomfortable. I might not have ten.
I'm a bad self-promoter, but I gotta do this:
Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata
The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
Outside Beauty is interesting to compare with Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child, since both are about Japanese American (or Canadian) families of four sisters, who are trying to survive difficult parents. But they are almost the opposite story. I mentioned before that The Kappa Child approaches the world from a pov of disgust. Something I explain to my students is a part of world-building or setting: the narrator's attitude towards the world. It infuses the world and determines what is and isn't possible in it. The daughters, beaten down by their abusive father, their ineffectual mother, and their alienation from familiarity, accept the disgusting things of the world with blankness and a dull lack of surprise. It makes the book difficult to read, because there's no hope in this point of view. The action of the book is for the girls to try to find hope, or some sort of motivation to live, in a world that is full of "no" and disgust.
Outside Beauty, on the other hand, approaches the world from the point of view of delight. The four girls, daughters of a beautiful JA mother, each from a different father, are raised with the flighty, manipulative, superficial, commitmentphobic mother's view of the world as an endless adventure. The action of the book is for the girls to understand what happens when the thin veneer of delight and adventure gets broken and the real world intrudes. The girls, taught to revere beauty and the joy that comes with it, don't respect most of the fathers, who present them with conventionality, irresponsible passion, and eccentric geekiness. The only father they like is the good-looking one. Of course, it turns out that the strangest father, the eccentric, geeky, foreign nonentity, is the best father of them all, the one who ends up taking responsibility for them.
The book ends up being a little too light. Things are resolved too easily. I think that's a problem with too much YA: the desire to introduce realistic conflict, but not to scare young readers by making the conflict too difficult to resolve. And The Kappa Child does show the danger of that: its unrelenting disgust can disgust the reader to the extent of driving her away (as it did to me.)
Georgette Heyer: I tend to read three of her books in a row when I get on Heyer bender and it seems I'm starting a new one now. Love her! Although this one seems like it was unusually poorly edited.
Finished Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series:
The Sea of Monsters
The Titan's Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian
It was fun and addicting, but it wasn't as good as Harry Potter and I'm trying to figure out why.
I think part of is was that Harry Potter had the growing-into-teenagerhood-battle-of-the-sexes thing, but didn't have to contend with traditional archetypes. It's really hard to represent female empowerment when your two strongest battle goddesses are sworn virgins who get their power from their virginity. Also hard when your top three most powerful gods are, well, gods, not goddesses.
Riordan did some interesting stuff here with making the potentially most powerful demigod -- the child of Zeus -- a girl. But then he also took her out of the running by having her swear eternal maidenhood, which means both eternal virginity AND eternal adolescence, argh. This could have been the vehicle for some interesting discussion about teens and decisionmaking about their sexuality, but it's glossed over in favor of a truly not okay dichotomy between slutty/manipulative/dumb/vain Aphrodite (and her children,) and cold/standoffish/superior/selfish/uncaring Artemis (and her followers.) Oh yeah, also: Hera is a vengeful hypocrite who only cares about appearances, although she's constrained to sexual fidelity to her husband, being the goddess of marriage; Demeter is just plain dumb, caring only about farming; Persephone is also dumb; Hestia, who kind of saves the day, is weak and "prefers" to appear as a little girl sitting by the fire, overlooked by everyone but -- literally -- keeping the home fires burning; and Athena, the wise one, turns out to be wrong about our hero, and also has children parthenogenically, through platonic love affairs with men.
Yep, there's not a single good, strong, triumphant female god in the bunch, although all the male gods end up coming through: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hermes, Dionysus ... well, maybe not Ares. And all the male gods are rampantly sexual -- in fact the main action of the series is caused by extracurricular fucking on the part of the three strongest male gods.
I DO however, think it's really interesting that the character chosen to play the part of Achilles in the series' retelling of The Iliad in the final book is a girl. Yep, that's right. Clarisse, daughter of Ares, argues with the Apollo children over who gets the spoils of a particular battle -- although the spoils are a flying chariot, not a pretty girl. When Apollo cabin wins, Clarisse refuses to fight against the Titans. Her Patroclus is another girl, actually, the head of the Aphrodite children. Although there's no overt homoerotic tinge to their relationship, it's the only relationship in the series that approaches (but never breaches) the Bechdel barrier.
And yeah, that's another issue: doesn't pass the Bechdel test. Although the hero of the Harry Potter series is a boy, there are plenty of moments in HP where girls talk to each other about magic or school or dresses or stuff (even girly stuff.) In fact, we see them off whispering to each other and talking and having a good time all the time. Not in Percy Jackson, though. The only Bechdel-safe relationship (mentioned above) is implied, not shown. Actually, it's not even implied; the girls bond over the death of one of their boyfriends. Argh.
I also thought that the series' utter failure to consider Western Civ as maybe, possibly, not the only important or humanity-changing Civ in hisotry was a big fail. And it's not like there weren't multiple opportunities to dig just a TINY bit deeper into the whole "Western Civilization will die in chaos and take you and your playstations with it!" thing. HP, on the other hand, took what it wanted from western witch/wizard tradition and build the rest anew. It wasn't beholden to ancient archetypes (although you might not know it from the Christ-like conclusion to the series) any more than it had to be. It didn't go running toward outdated archetypes with open arms.
"Open" is the word I'm looking for. Although PJ was just as cutesy/funny and well-structured and so forth as HP, there's a lack of openness in the narrative, a lack of feeling that anything could happen (even though, of course, in HP, not just ANYTHING could happen. But it sure felt that way.) It was stuck in thousand-year-old ideas.