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Good and bad and temptation

In reverse order:

The temptation.  Audible.com is having a sale on classics through September 30th:  two books for one credit.  I bought copies of Don Quijote, Middlemarch, A Passage to India, and North & South.  I’ll have audio material for ages now, although I feel vaguely guilty about buying yet another version of DQ (5th – ebook and 2 editions in English, 1 edition in Spanish, and now the audio English).  Actually, in addition to the bargain price of the books, the narrator was the draw for two of them.  Juliet Stevenson did a fabulous job with Persuasion, and she narrates Middlemarch and North & South.  I’m going to end up buying audio versions of all Austen’s work…and A Room of One’s Own…and Lady Windermere’s Fan. Oh gods, my budget.

The bad.  I downloaded Chaser by Rick Reed; I can’t remember who recommended it originally, but the blurb was kind of interesting, in part because it had an overweight hero, which is as rare in m/m as an overweight heroine is in het romance, if not more so.  The writing wasn’t terrible, in terms of mechanics, although I did highlight some weird phrasing and punctuation.  But the stereotypes!  The manipulative, exploitative, sexually-overdone, shallow, cosmetically and gym enhanced BFF.  The hero who let his BFF walk all over him, who was ashamed of who he was attracted to, who jumped to conclusions at the drop of a hat, and engaged in diva-ish behavior.  The other hero could’ve been interesting, but he was just a straw man.  After two hot nights of sex, he was motivated to change himself for his One Tru Wuv (to whom he couldn’t actually talk about his body issues or the big changes he was making in his life), but there was no foundation for who he had been before or why he was changing other than to appeal to the other MC.  Who was, basically, an asshole who couldn’t face his own fetishes even in the safety of a therapist’s office and never bothered to mention that he liked large men but then got pissed off when his two night stand lost a bunch of weight.   This could have been a great story, but ended up being a shrill, gay version of all the het romances in which characters only get an HEA or HFN if they are buff and gym-polished.  F to the nth degree.

The good.  The End of Nowhere by Elizabeth George.  Really enjoyed this book and have things to say about it but want to reread it before attempting what will likely be a spoilerific review.  This is George’s YA debut, and her afterword notes how much her editor had to guide her and how steep her learning curve was for this new genre.  Which makes me wonder:  another big name author jumping on the bandwagon of YA in light of its recent popularity?  Back at RWA2009, one of the panels I attended was about how to write YA.  One of the key points of the panel was that things that work in adult fiction do not work for YA fiction and not all authors can or should attempt to publish in the genre.  On one hand, this read as YA, not adult fiction edited into YA format or wedged into its constraints.  On the other hand, at some point the YA market will be saturated; as much as I like YA, I like adult fiction more and am not willing to read ever increasing amounts of YA as former adult fiction authors transition to the current money maker.

 

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Seen at The Strand Bookstore

In addition to visiting Flushing Meadows to watch supremely athletic people smack around  innocent, little, yellow tennis balls, I saw some theater and visited The Strand this week.  No trip to New York is complete without a visit to the bookstore.

I wound up with a copy of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, a Native American narrative set in Southern California after the Mexican-American War, two of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant urban fantasy/mystery/procedural books, and Garcia Marquez’s The Story of A Shipwrecked Sailor.  Am tearing through Midnight Riot right now, love it.

In the half-price mass market paperback bin, I was tempted by a copy of Jennifer Probst’s The Marriage Bargain.  It looked worth the price point (half of $7.99), and I’d heard good things about it, but in the end it didn’t appeal as much as the other books in my basket, and I had a self-imposed limit of four books.  I noticed on my way out, though, a stack of trade paperback editions of The Marriage Bargain.  Someone in a hurry would see those first, and end up paying the slightly discounted tpb price of $11.69 over the $4 bargain bin price.  I guess it pays to be a bargain browser.

Also in the half price mmpb section were a bunch of YA paranormal and urban fantasy books, including nearly all of Tamora Pierce’s backlist dating back to the Alanna books…which I read and loved; I can remember checking out The Woman Who Rides Like A Man from the school library in hardback. (It was a favorite, along with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Across Five Aprils.) Made me wonder if someone had cleared out a kid’s bedroom bookshelves after she headed off to college.

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Read/reading now

I’ve recently read a few things that I’m not going to review in full or even in brief but I do want to mention them.

Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain.  Book 5 of the Archie Sheridan series.  I commented over at AvidMysteryReader‘s blog that this is it for me with this series.  I started out loving the utterly twisted dynamic between Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who tortured him but chose not to kill him, because it was so different from anything else I had read in mysteries/thrillers.  It’s dysfunctional and fascinating but is growing stale for me as a reader:  I want the narrator/protagonist to progress as the series progresses, and it feels like Archie really isn’t, and that he doesn’t want to.  And at this point, I don’t trust that Cain will let him, because Gretchen as arch-nemesis sells books.  Beyond that, most of the major plot points felt extremely coincidental and/or utterly predictable and disappointing.  Not badly written, but not up to the standards of HeartSick.

He Speaks Dead by Adrienne Wilder.  M/m paranormal/horror.  The narrator is dead.  He’s a ghost, in love with a live guy who is psychic, and they have sex by taking possession of horny drunks, which seriously squicked me; not because of the sex but because the mental/ghost possession felt like a brain or psyche rape to me.  And their excuses parallel those of date rapists — she wanted it.  I found narrator pretty unsympathetic on the whole and the entire relationship seemed profoundly unhealthy — falling in love with a dead guy you never knew while he was alive?  The other hero needed serious therapy for a variety of things, not the least being his choice in lovers.   And the ending was a complete cop out.  If this had been a paper book, it would’ve hit the wall.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.  This is the first Potter book that I read immediately upon publication, since I came to the series fairly late.  I haven’t re-read this book since it was published, and upon re-read the storytelling stands up but the writing does not.  Rowling could have stood a firmer editorial hand with this book, as well as the next two probably.

I’m working my way into Tana French’s new mystery, Broken Harbor.  I’ve never read her before.  Love the writing and the narrator’s voice, but I haven’t felt compelled to sit down and read the book cover to cover.  Perhaps this was the wrong place to start?

 

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Lines that drew me in

Alma Katsu’s The Taker is YA paranormal, or the blurb reads as such. The cover is pretty standard for YA PRN, too. Yet I bought a copy. Because of one small part of a paragraph. Context: teen girl has just kissed an older boy in early 19th century northern Maine:

I stood there for a second, shocked. I was confused, still possessed of the phantom traces of his desire, his kiss and the memory of his hardness in my hand. In any case, he’d misunderstood me: I hadn’t given myself to him. I had declared he was mine.

Sold.

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Making me cry: The Fault in Our Stars

I didn’t *love* Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a collaboration between John Green and David Levitan, I liked Green’s portion enough to be willing to try something else he’s written.  Yes, yes, he’s apparently a Big Deal in YA but I’m fairly disconnected from YA and also from a lot of other genre fiction.  His new book is The Fault in Our Stars.

It made me cry.

I seldom cry.

And I could not tell you when a book (or film) last made me cry or even feel a little misty-eyed.

Hazel Grace is a sympathetic narrator: she has accepted that she’s living on borrowed time* and even though she recognizes the unfairness and gets angry, she just keeps living.  Community college, favorite TV shows, keeping up an awkward friendship with an ex-classmate, going to Support Group.  She’s smart and snarky and a little bit unbelievably mature and verbose for her age, but still a great character.

And then there is Augustus Waters.  He steals the book from her.  Also smart and quirky and funny and an utter boy (although also a little too mature and well-spoken for his age, but forgiveably so).

While there is a very tender (and sexy) love story in TFiOS, this is absolutely not genre romance.  There is no HEA; Grace reminds readers constantly by her very presence and the medical equipment she drags along behind her that there will be no ever after.

I’m not entirely certain what to think of the drunken, reclusive author who has a major role but only a small speaking part in the book.  He’s a monumental jerk to Hazel and Augustus, but he also highlights the end point and limitation of works of fiction.   Because fiction isn’t real, and even though a reader can imagine “what happens next”, it’s the author’s prerogative to write (or not) whatever the next is.  And in his case, there was no next, despite how his opus ended.

In his author note at the outset of the book, Green warns readers not to read his personal life into the book, which I have not done.  But the fiction within the fiction made me wonder about Green’s position on fan fiction and its role in his popularity (or not).

 

 

*In this, she reminds me of Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion, who when reminded by another character that he was carrying a demon within and would likely die soon, remarked that this made him no different than anyone else since life was uncertain and they could all die at anytime, his death was just a little sooner and more likely than those around him.

 

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Read and seen (too often) lately

Starting with what I’ve seen too often lately:  the James Patterson commercial for his new book and the Nook reader.  Yes, he’s a writer, not an actor, but he’s so wooden that it’s painful to watch.  Also, is anyone at all talking about the author insertion or acting as a character with respect to Patterson?  In the commercial, he’s dressed in a trench coat, he kicks in a door, and later he appears to be abducted by masked men, which suits what his protagonists might do but has nothing to do with his reality as an author.  It makes me cringe as much as romance author imitations of their heroines does.

What I’ve read is much more interesting for the most part 🙂

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta — This is slightly older, Australian set YA fiction.  Aside from setting, it’s fairly average in a lot of ways (teenager dealing with first love, change of schools, family issues) but the writing was engaging and it was a very fast read.

The Evolution of Ethan Poe by Robin Reardon — YA GLBT fiction.  I saw this on a Best of 2011 list and it appeared to have been nominated in multiple categories.  IMO it deserved the nominations.  The protagonist is a gay teenager, and that’s one of the story arcs, but the more central arc is a local school board election in which evolution and intelligent design proponents clash.  Excellent, excellent book, will be on my personal list of Best of 2011.

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SBD: what have I read lately?

It’s Monday! Time for SBD!

One of my goals for the year was to SBD at least twice a month, but I’ve been slacking on that for a variety of reasons, mostly because I’ve been struggling with the reading. March is almost over and I’ve read a grand total of five books. Five! Despite having almost 2 hours of guaranteed reading time while on the train! One of those books was Brockmann’s Breaking the Rules (meh) which I wrote about last week, and another was an earlier SBD, Anna and the French Kiss. A third was good enough, River Marked, and merited a post on cover art. Which leaves two last books for discussion: I am J by Cris Beam and Why I Love Geeks by T.A. Chase.

I Am J was an impulse buy for in-flight reading. It is a YA GLBT book: its protagonist, J, is a transboy, born a girl physically but struggling with his gender identity. The book is well-written and appears to be well-researched, and it was worth the cover price. It gave me a glimpse in the the angst of a teenager whose typical adolescent issues are amped up by a factor of 1,000 because of the feelings of being in the wrong body and not fitting in. The book ends with the protagonist in a relatively safe and good place, looking forward to college and whatever might come next. But I doubt I’ll re-read it, and I’m not sure why, other than to say that I didn’t fall in love with the narrative. Solid B.

Why I Love Geeks was another impulse buy, and it was a rip off. The price ($7) was ridiculous — the word count was less than that of a Harlequin Presents ($4.50). In terms of the ebook editing or formatting, there were a variety of typos in which similarly spelled (but WRONG) words were used. The prose read like fan fiction: not particularly polished. In fact, I’ve read much more lyrical fan fiction, thx. The suspense plot was unbelievable and over-complex, involving Chinese business, Russian spies, and an improbable pharmaceutical that makes people invisible. [Don’t even get me started on the biochemistry. Even as a science idiot, I had to roll my eyes. I’m sure if The Biochemist attempted to read any of the “sciency” sections, she’d have a coronary. Because biochemistry is all about fast results and jewel-colored liquids bubbling in beakers.] One of the heroes was supposed to be a cute geek; his cuteness was exemplified by his filterless babble, which was apparently endearing. Or so readers were told repeatedly. Because there was a lot of telling and very little showing. The other hero was a cliche — a taciturn, macho cop, from a long line of cops, with a big, nosy, interfering family. Seriously, I want my money and the two hours I spent trying to read this mess back. F.

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