365 Days of Women Writers

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin

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Quiz Time!

1. You have several gods at your beck and call. Yep, they can do most anything, except for read minds. Your beloved daughter has been murdered. What do you do?

a) Concoct a byzantine plan to see if the person you suspect is guilty a la old timey witch tests You know, that one where they throw a woman in a pond and if she drowns, congratulations she’s not a witch. If she survives, she’s clearly a witch and gets burned at the stake. Except for “burned at the stake” insert “becomes ruler of the entire world.”
b) Get the damn Gods to find out who killed your daughter and then have them make paste out of him.

2. You have obsessively been trying to find out who killed your mother. You are now about to die, but you still have a chance to denounce the one you believe is guilty. You:
A) Denounce the bastard!
B) Decide “What’s the point?” I’ll just hold my tongue.

So these first two questions felt like Jemisin knew what she wanted to happen but couldn’t think of a good reason why, so she went with really, really bad ones.

3. Darre is a country straight out of creepy pornos. This is best exemplified by which rite of passage?

a) Amazon women capture a male enemy warrior and then boink him into exhaustion.
b) One amazon warrior fights against one of the male citizens of their country. If she wins, they “make love.” If he wins, he gets to rape her.

Yeah, really I have no words for this.

4 A teenager elected leader of her/his country?

a. Totally plausible.
b. George Lucas has a lot to answer for.

Nope, don’t buy it. Especially given the chance to do something for her people, Yeine spends most of her time investigating a personal tragedy. Oh, and getting laid.

And for good measure I will complain about how it’s a matriarchal society, except for Yeine’s dad who got to be the leader bean too, because you know, special snowflake syndrome.

5 Is today opposite day?

c) No (by which I mean yes because it totally is)
d) No (by which I mean no.)

Yep, when in plotting doubt, turn to Calvin and Hobbes for assistance.

Anyway, apparently it was opposite day the day Yeine died because instead of getting killed by the magic widget of doom, it turned her into a goddess. For pretty much no reason at all. So yeah, we got the ending that was telegraphed way in the beginning of the book and it was even less satisfying that I had expected.

6. So did you too have the feeling when Yeine was talking about Naha that it was like a woman talking about how awesome her boyfriend was and you totally wanted to hand her a pamphlet on “top signs your boyfriend is abusive”?

a. Yeah.
b. Hells yeah, and double creepy because the book felt like a Mary Sue.

There were things I liked about the book, like the super creepifying way some people died (turned to diamond! Getting a jillion extra limbs!) or the war where not a single person died.

And I think the bones of the plot could have been quite good, but it didn’t cohere all the way and Jemisin forced it.

Maybe next time.

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Written by Chance

December 18, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Posted in n. k. jimisin, novel

Day 31: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Ok, I’m sure there’s many smarter people than me who have had loads to say about P&P, but I’m going to say stuff anyway.

1. Why didn’t anyone tell me that Pride and Prejudice was funny? Laugh out loud funny, even.

2. I got a bit annoyed with Lizzie being attracted to Wickham. He seemed like an asshat from his first appearance. (Never trust anyone who badmouths people as their first activity.) Having him end up with the annoying Lydia was a nice touch.

3. I liked that both Lizzie and Darcy were both kind of jerks at the beginning and had to grow up a bit before they could find each other. (I particularly loved the hilarious first proposal seen where Darcy was like “You aren’t nearly good enough for me. Marry me?”)

4. When Lydia runs away with Wickham, that’s some hella stakes with some amazing tension. The whole world is crumbling. Proof that a story about marriage can be as riveting as any “large stage” story.

5. I was particularly interested in the commentary on marriage, especially how love being the primary consideration was the exception, not the rule. It’s so easy to forget that marriage was an economic institution at its heart.

Written by Chance

October 18, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Posted in jane austen, novel

Day 29: White Cat by Holly Black

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I don’t think the title or the cover does the book much justice. The title is bland and the American cover looks like it wants to tie into the Twilight/wicked lovely/ every other OTP teen supernatural romance trend. (What are we up to again, angels? Dunno what comes after.) The UK cover (on the right) is a bit better but gives almost a quirky/cozy feel when this book is no such thing.

White Cat is a mob story. Think Godfather for the teen set. (Only much better than the Puzo book, think more the movies.) It’s also an alternate history. The mob bosses in New York City didn’t only gain power because of prohibition and bootlegging, but also because the curseworkers (whose works became illegal at the same time.)

Curseworkers can bring you luck or make you fall in love, forget your past or kill you dead. Curseworkers are rare and Cassel is the only nonworker in a family of them. His grandfather used to work killing curses for the Zacharov family and now his brother Philip breaks legs. And then there is Barron, the Fredo of this story. Cassel thinks Barron’s a luck worker, but really he’s a memory worker. His mom is an old fashioned grifter (And reminds me more than a little of Anjelica Huston in The Grifters) and works emotions.

Cassel’s the guy who doesn’t quite fit in at the boarding school he attends. Not only because his family is full of workers, but he’s not rich and he is the local bookie. And as the book opens, he wakes up on the roof in just his boxer shorts. Oh, and maybe he killed his 14-year-old best friend Lila a few years back. (Now I feel like we’ve strayed into Veronica Mars.) At least, that’s what he remembers, standing in a room covered in blood, but he has no idea why or how it happened.

Cassel gets temporarily thrown out of his school and his past starts to unravel. Cassel finds out his brother Philip has been having his wife’s memories altered and in quick succession learns that his own memories aren’t to be trusted either. His brothers have been using him and wiping his memory (because you know he is secretly a powerful worker) and now are planning to assassinate the head of the Zacharov family.

One of the things I really liked about the book was how Black integrates the worker culture into America – everyone wears gloves and to have bare hands is very intimate.

Maura folds her arms across her chest. It’s so strange to see her bare hands that I’m embarrassed. Mon hated gloves at home; she said that families were supposed to trust one another. I guess Philip believes that too. Or something.

Its’ different when the hands belong to someone I’m not related to, even if she is my sister-in-law. I try and force my gaze to her collarbone.

Cassel is a bit slow on the uptake – the reader figures out way before he does that he’s actually a transformation worker and that he didn’t kill Lila (Zacharov’s daughter), he turned her into a cat. I wish that part of the story had played out a bit quicker.

There’s a temptation to write complicated cons just because they’re fun. Black doesn’t quite escape this-there’s a con with Lila the cat that was amusing, but completely unnecessary.

And while I didn’t think the climax was completely there – I wanted just a little bit more – the ending was heartbreaking.

So when does book 2 come out?

Written by Chance

October 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Posted in holly black, novel

Day 23: Reckless by Cornelia Funke

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I have to say that I love Inkheart with an unreasonable and giddy love. It gives me shivers because it’s so awesome and few books celebrate books and the act of reading as much as it does. When I wrote about comfort books, Inkheart is definitely one of my go to books. I think that’s why I was so very disappointed with the sequels – they were good, but they lost the magic quality of the original.

Which brings me to Reckless, Funke’s latest novel. The book opens with Jacob sneaking into his father’s study – former study actually, his father having disappeared several years before – and finding his way into a magic land via a mirror.

Rather unusually for a children’s book, the story then cuts forward 18 years and the remaining action happens when he and his brother William (no it’s not a coincidence that they have the same first names as the Grimm brothers) are adults.

William has followed Jacob through the mirror and is turning to stone – a goyl, a race of stone people who live below the ground and have been warring with the surface folk. Now Jacob’s desperate to cure his brother in an attempt to feel worthy of Will’s trust in him and the guilt he’s felt for abandoning Will.

It reminds me a bit of MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin but with a modern edge. Oh, and the goblins win the war.

There are echoes of fairy tales throughout the story and for the most part they don’t intrude on the story (I particularly liked the bit with the children-eating witches.) But for the most part it doesn’t add much.

I really liked the worldbuilding – Funke is a master of bringing us into her world and making us feel like we are there, and even better, wish we were there. I particularly like Fox, the girl who was given a foxskin who has fallen in love with Jacob but is so wedded to the freedom given by her fox shape she rarely chooses to be a human companion to him.

The book falls down on two fronts for me. First is the plotting. It is unfortunately a “run from place to place to attempt to gain the magic widget” (the widget being the cure to Will’s Goyl infection) type plot.

Funke commits a literary crime I’ve complained about before: She kills a character and then takes it back. NEVER DO THIS. If a character is going to come back to life, it ought to be hard.

Additionally, Funke is far too free with the magic get-out-of-jail-free card. You need to climb up the side of a castle? Oh what’s that in your pocket, some magic snail slime that will turn you invisible and a “Rapunzel hair” which is the ultimate climbing rope? Well, good thing you happened to have these things in your pocket. It’s convenient and unconvincing and while you ricochet from event to event, these sorts of things make the story far less effective than it could have been.

My second big gripe with the story, and it may be that this is addressed in the full series, is Jacob’s relationship with his father. It’s so central to how the story opens and what drives him into the fairy land, and yet it rarely makes an appearance in the story. His father is at the heart of Jacob and I wanted him to be part of the story, not at the edges.

The book is readable, enjoyable even, but it was not terribly memorable. When I was done I didn’t want to linger or flip back to the beginning and begin again.

ps, how ugly is the American cover (on the left below)? UK cover totally kicks its ass.

Written by Chance

October 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Posted in cornelia funke, novel

Day 22: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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I started reading this when I off sick with the lurgy this past week and I’ve been pecking away at it bit by bit on the Tube this week and finished it up this morning. (It was quite a lot longer than remembered.)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read the book and I was surprised to find that I had completely forgotten the second half except for the general sense that Amy marries Laurie, Jo marries the guy with the beard and Beth dies.

It quickly became apparent why I’d blocked out the second half – it has double the moralizing and half the charm of the first section. Instead of the March girls earnestly trying to conquer their faults, we have some tedious moralizing about how Margaret was a spendthrift and spent too much time and attention on her children and not enough on her husband.

Even Beth’s death is a bit of a yawn and not nearly as affecting as when she has scarlet fever. There are some good bits, particularly between Jo and her future husband, but all in all it is rather a slog.

The first half is still lovely (even with the moralizing.) The ridiculousness of the limes, the burning of Jo’s book and the fall into the ice (which rings very true in Jo’s impulsive failure to tell Amy about the thin ice), Jo’s haircut, the gift of Beth’s piano and the sad bits – when their father is ill and when Beth gets scarlet fever.

I like all their rough edges which a mostly worn away by the second half. And that’s a pity

Written by Chance

October 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Day 17: Comfort Books

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I’ve been fighting a cold for the last few days which means I’ve been reading two kinds of books: trashy books and comfort books. So what qualifies as a comfort book?

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were definitely some of the first chapter books I ever read and they still fascinate because of their focus on people and how they do things to survive. How they built a log cabin and dug a well, how they smoke meat, how they made cheese, how you churn butter and about a million other things most people living in America today are completely distant from and how much energy that all took. (I’m sure these books are the reason I know that you need rennet to make cheese.) They also unflinchingly look at the hardships – when the locusts eat the crops, the winter they almost starve to death because there are no trains and Mary going blind from scarlet fever. There are things in them that are obviously fictionalized (well obvious now that I am older) but there’s a great sense of reality in how people lived during that time.

In a simlar vein is Mist on the Mountain by Jane Flory, which is sadly out of print so it is lucky I still have my copy from when I was a child. I would have never known that was such a thing as apple butter if it weren’t for this book. It also makes me a bit sad that I didn’t grow up where there were apple and nut trees all over the place just waiting to be harvested. (And so many different kinds! You would love it for the apple names alone.)

It’s too bad you can’t find A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle with the proper cover any more. (And by that I mean the old dell yearling one (hey! That blog is talking about filmstrips. Oh, nostalgia.)) For me this book is all Meg, Meg, Meg (with a small side of the three Mrs. W’s) I loved that she was cranky and got in fights and did poorly at school and her hair was full of cowlicks that never got styled properly. And I love that she’s good at math. (Take that, Barbie!) I also love that when her dad shows up he can’t save the day–it’s beyond him. Also, what’s creepier than a big giant brain? Nothing! IT is the perfect choice for the absolute evil villain. (IT still gives me the wiggens.)

I really love all of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, but only the middle of it counts as a comfort book. It is the weird interlude when the kidnapping drags on and on, where there is a bit of magic between the kidnappers (many of whom are children) and the hostages. (When I run to this book for comfort, I pretend that the end doesn’t exist and the idyll lasts forever.)

And now it’s time for me to climb back in bed, so that’s all you get for today.

Written by Chance

October 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Day 16: Fallen by Lauren Kate

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I have a hobby. It’s reading terrible paranormal YA romances where the heroine (it’s always a human heroine) loves a vampire, werewolf, fairy, angel, etc. [1] because I just can’t help myself. But at least I write about them for your entertainment.

Fallen is the latest of these. It’s got a pretty spiff cover (same for both the US and UK, more or less) so a bit of shelf appeal.

It starts positively with the OTP bursting into flames and dying and yeah that’s a bit new. Sadly, it does not last because the OTP is reborn in the tepid Luce (again aka not!Bella)

There is a fairly ridiculous setup to this story where Luce has been sent to a “reform school” – scare quotes because it’s a gothic boarding school for troubled teens with the worst security ever – because her boyfriend burst into flames when they kissed. (Oops, that’s what you get for messing with the OTP of an angel.)

Anyway, there’s a guy at the reform school who immediately wants to date Luce and that’s how we know he must be evil. (Though later he acts like such a controlling jackass I am comforted that he’s not the love interest. But since the love interest acts like a hot and cold PA jackass this is only a marginal improvement.)

Daniel (spell check made that denial first) is Luce’s OTP and he wants her, but first he’s a being passive-aggressive jackass to her, and then he wants her again. (Because of course young girls ought to be encouraged to thing men who treat them badly love them. So as always, not so much a great message to young girls about dating guys.)

GUESS WHAT? Daniel and a bunch of other people are angels. Well, fallen angels. How shocking! Except it was totally telegraphed in their uber hottness. And guess what else? The fate of the universe hinges on whether Luce and Daniel get together and do it.[2] I know! The most ridiculous plot ever.

Dan Brown decided to loan out a secret society to this book so clearly they are trying to kill Luce for some reason or other. The book sez: IT’S PLOT, DUMBASS.

Then all the angels rumble, until the good angels run off to save Luce. But not her best friend because she was not hott. She is dead.

[1] well, and other train wreck books

[2] I bet you thought I was kidding. I am not.

Written by Chance

October 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Posted in lauren kate, novel