« August 2010 | Main | October 2010 »

5 posts from September 2010

September 30, 2010

Reading Update: The Mediator

I'm in the middle of thirty different books right now and got all wadded up and confused, so I tossed it all to the winds for a week in favor of Meg Cabot's sfnal series The Mediator.

I guess I should enumerate:

Meg Cabot The Mediator #1: Shadowland
Meg Cabot The Mediator #2: Ninth Key
Meg Cabot The Mediator #3: Reunion
Meg Cabot The Mediator #4: Darkest Hour
Meg Cabot The Mediator #5: Haunted
Meg Cabot The Mediator #6: Twilight

The series revolves around Suze, a "mediator" or someone who sees (and feels, and is able to touch, kiss, and beat up) ghosts. The mediator's job is to help the ghosts move on to their final destination by figuring out what unresolved issue is keeping them here and help them resolve it. Sometimes this involves smacking angry ghosts around, something that Suze really kind of enjoys doing.

The series begins when Suze arrives in Carmel, CA, where her news reporter mother has just married and moved in with a TV home-improvement guru and his three sons. Suze had been living in New York, alone with her mother ever since her father died when she was six. Her job as a mediator, necessitating damaging fights with ghosts and the occasional breaking and entering, had gotten her into a lot of trouble in NY, and she was considered weird by her school mates.

Carmel offers her a fresh start, especially since the principal of her exclusive Catholic school turns out to be a mediator too. The new family home, an 150-y-o boarding house, turns out to have its own ghost, who lives in her room: Hector "Jesse" de Silva, a very good-looking 20-year-old scion of a Mexican family, murdered in the house in its first year. Naturally, she falls for him. The series MILD SPOILER revolves around Suze and Jesse's relationship issues and how they try to resolve the problem of a cross-dimensional romance.

Okay, let's just be clear: these books are snacks, not meals (you can scarf one in a few hours), and empty calories at that. And yet ... I found them utterly addicting, and ripped right into the next one as soon as I'd finished the last. They're fun, funny, full of cute boys (there are almost no bad-looking boys in the series, which owes more to the fact that the narrator is a horny 16-year-old girl than anything else), and smoothly written and structured. None of the cute boys -- not even Jesse -- has any personality, and that's a big problem. In fact, all of the characters, except Suze, are two-dimensional at best. So the series will ultimately be forgettable.

But there are two main hooks for me here, which are a little surprising: Suze DOES have a personality, and it's not a Mary Sue personality. She's a bantam, horny and always looking for a fight, and definitely never the smartest person around. She's smart enough, but her nemesis Paul, who first appears in Book 4, is clearly smarter than she is and always one step ahead of her. In fact, so is Jesse, in his way. Jesse is book smarter, anyway, although he may be too "honorable" to see past her ... um ... wiles.

Suze is also a bit of an emotional klutz: clearly affected by her unpopularity in New York, she has trouble believing any boy would like her, and is completely unprepared for popularity or leadership in her school. And her emotions always get the best of her, in both senses. She can't seem to do the smart thing when her hackles are up, and ends up getting into a lot of trouble. I found this incredibly annoying and, incredibly, realistic. I remember being sixteen. It's not a smart look.

The other hook is Suze's physical aggression. It's not presented as a cool fetish -- nor is she a particularly gifted fighter. She's just very experienced at fighting, not afraid to fight, and convinced of the efficacy of fighting, given her experiences with fighting angry ghosts in the past. Cabot presents the fighting as what it is: neither good nor bad, just one way of dealing with things. And ironically, it's the male characters who oppose Suze's aggression, and try to convince her that there are better ways to resolve problems. I also love that she loses fights as often as she wins them, and in a realistic way: when fighting the ghost of a 19th century lady, she wins handily. But when fighting that lady's roughneck husband, she gets into trouble, as you'd imagine.

Anyhoo, this is a great anodyne for anyone suffering from too much Twilight. It's a precursor to both Meyer and Shymalan (the first three books were published one and two years after The Sixth Sense came out, but were presumably written before, since it's only in the fourth book that she makes humorous reference to it -- something I'm sure Cabot couldn't have resisted doing earlier if she'd had the opportunity.) And this is the anti-Twilight in a lot of ways: the new girl in town meets an undead boy (who watches her sleep!) and connects with him in a way that no one else can, and has to figure out a way to be with him. Only this klutzy girl is determined, kickass, and full of personality, and makes her own solutions rather than leaving it all up to her undead boy. Even the resolution to the "how to be with him" issue is the opposite of Twilight's, but I won't spoil it be saying what it is.

I would definitely hand this off to any mourning Twilight fans who need correction.

September 16, 2010

Reading Update: Hornets' Nests and Stupid Writers

Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

Holy crap writer, Batman! This is the third of a series, but there is a limit to the number of characters you can stuff into a book before it explodes. By my count:

  • Two heroes: Salander and Blomkvist
  • Two main antagonists: Zalachenko and Niedermann
  • The gang at Millenium magazine (3 or 4 active characters)
  • The gang at SMP newspaper (4 or 5 active characters)
  • The Stockholm police team (5 active characters?)
  • The Goteborg police team (2 or 3 minor characters)
  • The Bad secret police team (4 or 5 active characters, two of whom die during the book's action)
  • The Good secret police team (2 active characters and 4 minor characters)
  • The private security firm team (4 active characters)
  • The hacker team (3 active characters so far)
  • The motorcycle gang (3 active characters, one of whom dies during the book's action)
  • The politicians (4 active characters: PM, Justice Minister, former PM, ambassador)
  • The prosecuting attorney
  • Salander's mentor Palmquist
  • Salander's doctor Jonasson
  • Salander's lawyer Giannini
  • Random Kurds with speaking parts and personal histories: 2
  • Berger's husband Beckmann (Is that his name?)
  • ... And some others ... mumble mumble ...

Did I MISS ANYONE? IT'S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE!

Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you NOT SUPPOSED TO TELL THE MYSTERY AT THE BEGINNING OF A MYSTERY BOOK? Isn't NOT KNOWING the mystery supposed to be what drives you through the whole process of discovery kinda thing?

ARGH. Argy.

Seriously, how do you write a flawed but seriously interesting book, with a fascinating and thrilling main character, and then in the succeeding two books systematically destroy everything that was great about the first book (and character)? How? Why? Argh!

September 13, 2010

Reading Update: Women's Wrongs by Women and Women's Wrongs by Men

Suzy McKee Charnas The Furies

Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Furies is the third in the Holdfast Chronicles. Pretty awesome. Written about twenty years after the first two, it adds even more complications to the already complicated political landscape of this all-female world. She's also set things up for the fourth and final book, in which men are presumably no longer to be treated like aliens. Can't wait.

The irony of the Stieg Larsson series, which is about a woman who becomes an avenging fury herself against men who exploit and abuse women, is that she's called a "girl" in the title, although she's 24 when the series starts. Argh! Larsson's rather profound limitations come out in spades in the second book. He's fascinated with the older man/younger woman structure, and we get to see three sets of these now. He also can't imagine a more subtle misogyny than men who always think of women as "cunts" and "whores." So the heroism on behalf of abused women rings false. We also never get to meet any of these degraded and abused women, except for Salander herself, who has always fought back. Annoying.

But the series is still addictive, and I'm about to embark on the third one.

September 07, 2010

Reading Update: Serial Killing Hello Kitty and (update) Feminist Swedish Mens

Angela S. Choi Hello Kitty Must Die

Stieg Larson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hello Kitty: Recommended. Can't say too much more since I'm reviewing it for Hyphen. But I asked for their lit editor to request this book, because I suspected it of being a genre-buster ... and I wasn't disappointed. Hie thee, Asian America, to a bookstore, to support the downfall of Azn Chicklit! Yee haw!

One note: she busts the genre, but doesn't bust some of the problematic tropes involved, such as the pushy Asian parents, the abusive Asian uncle, the thousands of Asian American men who are all losers, and the white men who rescue Asian girls from all of it. Argh.

Also, she stoleded the last image directly from Heathers and it didn't really fit that well. Well, actually, she stoleded the whole plot from Heathers ... kinda. Anyhoo.

Dragon Tattoo: an addictive read, although the writing was only competent. Interesting stuff in there: not white guilt but male guilt. I'm in the middle of the next book and Larson seems to be motivated entirely by misogyny ... I mean by his mission to combat misogyny, as if that were the only thing wrong in the world. All the mens are either older, enlightened, feminist mens who handle women perfectly and are always mentoring (and sometimes fucking) younger, brilliant women who look like children ... or they're older or younger vicious misogynists who think all women are cunts and whores. There's no in between, and no subtlety or nuance in his understanding of how sexism actually works in society. Sigh.

September 02, 2010

Reading Update: Japanese Concubines

Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol IV

Yeah, more of the good stuff. That is all.

Join My Mailing List!