Sunday, June 30, 2013

Playing Tyler (review)

4/5 stars

Tyler MacCandless hasn't had an easy life.  After his father is killed by a drunk driver, Tyler's brother starts taking pain killers due to his injuries from the accident, eventually leading to a nasty heroin addiction.  On top of that Tyler's mom is mentally checked out -- she's working hard to pay for rehab and to try to keep the family afloat.  To make matters worst Tyler has ADHD and can't focus on anything, especially not school, which leaves his future looking pretty bleak.

If there's one thing he's good at it's video games.  More than anything he wants to be a pilot, even if his grades aren't quite up to snuff.  When Rick Anderson, Tyler's mentor from flying class and surrogate father, gives him a flight simulator video game to beta test, something that'll hopefully help get him into flight school, Tyler feels like his life is looking up.

Playing Tyler (Goodreads | Amazon) is told through two point of views, a narrative style that I often hate, young brilliant Ani who designed the flight simulator and Tyler who's testing it.  For the integrity of the beta test they're not supposed to speak after the installation.  But Tyler recognizes Ani as SlayerGrrl, a talented female gamer who stayed at the top of every high score list until she mysteriously quit gaming.  She's a super geek genius girl and Tyler is smitten.

I'm not going to to lie, the instant attraction between these two was worrisome.  Tyler thinks Ani is the most attractive girl he's ever seen and she thinks Tyler is hot as well.  But they get no attention from anyone else.  For Tyler, that makes some sense since he's got pretty severe ADHD and that might give him some socialization problems.  But I'm always concerned when the only person who recognizes the character's attractiveness is the love interest.

Other reviewers have pointed out problems with the development of Tyler and Ani's relationship that didn't really bother me, mainly that he continued to email her when she didn't respond.  But in Tyler's defense, he's a lonely boy with a very messed up life looking for someone to connect with and Ani had told him they couldn't talk because of Mr. Anderson's rules, not because she wasn't interested.  It may not be the best way to behave, but that doesn't make in unrealistic.  Sometimes the stupid, flawed, problematic things people do is what makes them believable characters.  And seeing Ani's perspective, that the crush is mutual, really negates any problems.

Fortunately, that is not really what this book is about and spends most of it's time in the background of the novel.  Instead of the mopey love story I feared, you get a timely action-packed, fast-paced, high-stakes novel when Ani and Tyler realize the game isn't quite what they thought.  Playing Tyler is the type of book that keeps you up at night, turning the pages because you can't stop.  It's also the type of book that would be easy to spoil if you said too much about the actual plot.  So I can't tell you much more but I do recommend reading it.

FTC disclosure: I received a free advance ebook in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sexism and Feminism in Geekery 5

A couple weeks ago (this post was postponed due to bigger incidents) a few authors on twitter, all YA authors (where you know, there are no feminists or something according to that Jezebel article) were talking about what rape culture is.

I think this is powerful.  These women are telling the truth about their experience growing up female in a very sexist world.  They are speaking out about things that are not okay.  What's MOST important about this is their audience: young girls.  Sometimes I worry we don't tell young girls enough about sexism and rape culture as an attempt to protect them. Unfortunately, until the world is different you can't. This is what we're up against.

Like many things on twitter this started with Maureen Johnson (that instigator!)

Then other authors chimed in with stories about things that have happened to them.

These women are speaking out and saying "GIRLS THIS IS NOT OKAY" and I'm so happy their doing it openly on twitter where we can all see that this happens to smart, intelligent and awesome people.

And in case you missed it a few months ago Shannon Hale (who's books you should read if you don't know that) had an excellent post about what rape culture is.
Rape is not a woman's problem. It's everyone's problem. And as the news has shown us, the villains in rape aren't just the male rapists. The problem is created by everyone who stands by and doesn't speak, who lets things occur.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Follow Friday - Preferred format

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What is your preferred reading format? Hardcover, eBooks, paperback etc?
I prefer my Kindle. I know among a lot of bookworms this is near blasphemy, but I find it easier to read on a Kindle.  Most of my reading is done during my lunch break at work and I can hold a Kindle in one hand, turn the pages with the push of a button and eat with the other hand.  At heart I am a multitasker so this REALLY suits my needs. Also I like the idea of having 100 books in my purse without it weighing that much. It's kinda like magic.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Universe Vesus Alex Woods (review)

2.5/5 stars

The Universe Versus Alex Woods (Goodreads | Amazon) lacked the emotional punch needed to pull off this book.  It had an excellent start, throwing us right in the middle of the action with Alex getting arrested crossing the Swiss border, immediately drawing me in and intriguing me. The problem is the rest of the book lacked action.  The whole book was exposition, dry and tedious.  I understand what it was going for, really I do.  The problem was it all felt very much like an info-dump and I never felt emotionally invested in the story.

After the misleadingly exciting beginning, the story really begins with Alex telling us his life story.  Fortunately, he decides to skip his birth and starts the day he was hit by a meteorite.  Don't get too excited.  We don't get to see this, we only get told this in retrospect, partially because Alex doesn't remember the meteorite but mainly because that's how the whole book is told.
That's why I want to start back at the beginning, where the police wouldn't let me start. I'm going to tell you my story, the full story, in the manner I think it should be told. I'm afraid it's not going to be brief.
Eventually Alex befriends the local grumpy American, Mr. Peterson.  This is the friendship that is supposed to carry the novel, the older man and the young strange boy bonding as village outliers.  But the emotional connection was lacking.  There are moments that should've made me sad, but they didn't.  Everything was always so matter of fact, always told and never shown, that it was hard to drudge up any feelings for the characters.

Other flaws worth nothing, the book spent a ridiculous amount of time with Alex trying to justify using the word "cunt" and everyone trying to explain to him that it wasn't okay. By the conclusion of that 7% section of the book, he concludes that it was justified mainly because he wanted to justify it.
'And that word you used,' Justine added, wrinkling her nose, ' that word really is extremely offensive. Especially to women.' (And from the vehemence in her voice I knew that what was true of women in general was doubly true of lesbians...)
If you are a Kurt Vonnegut fanboy, the long sections about his books and their secular Sunday reading club where they read all of his works might appeal to you. For the rest of us, discussing books we may not have read does not add to the story.

This book made me feel so little (aside from gratitude that I was done) that it was hard to muster out a review, almost as hard as it was to pick up the book and continue every day.  Overall, it's a great first chapter and then a dull book that gets us back to that first chapter, which isn't worth the trudging middle.

I received an advance reading copy e-book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Between Shades of Gray (review)

4/5 stars

Between Shades of Gray (Goodreads | Amazon) is a rare book.  It's a historical novel about Lithuanians deported to work camps during World War II.  The story follows Lina, a teenage artist from an educated, intelligent family, who are dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night.  It's the story of fear and evil in a world gone awry.  But it's also a story of hope found where you least expect it.

The book starts when Lina, her brother and her mother are dragged from their homes in the middle of the night.  Lina is so sheltered and confused that she doesn't know what to pack or understand where they are going.  When they are taken to the train station she still doesn't understand. Not even when they are packed onto livestock trains does she get it.  That's because Lina is a child facing an evil unimaginable.  Her lack of comprehension emphasizes how terrible it was that the Soviets (as well as the Germans) deported and criminalized children for no real reason.

For once, in a WWII novel the Nazi's are not the bad guys but instead this book focuses on evils perpetuated by Soviets and the characters see potential German invasion as a chance for rescue.  For Lina, the world is not filled with a lot of good people, but varying degrees of darkness.  The reader gets to see Lina go from this wide-eyed innocent artist, to a girl able to survive and stand up for herself.

The best thing this novel does is show the "shades of gray" of humanity.  It does not paint all the Russians as evil and all the Lithuanians as good.  Instead within the Russians there are those who struggle and within the Lithuanians there are those who spy for the Russians, but the book emphasizes that we have no right to judge either party because we're not in their shoes.

This is a beautifully written novel that deals with the complexity of people, rarely all good or all bad but generally somewhere in between.  It's a very sad story, but a story still filled with hope.  It's absolutely worth reading.  The biggest problem with this book is that it ends abruptly then is capped off with an epilogue.  I'm just not sure how I feel about the ending/epilogue, it left me with questions and what felt like holes in the story.  Otherwise this book is near-perfection. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Follow Friday - Fave literary quote

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
 Question: Share your favorite literary quote!
Seriously, you expect me to pick only one?  I have a whole pinterest board of bookworm thoughts. Oddly my first two reactions were both C.S. Lewis quotes so maybe I'll just share both of them.

Feminism and Sexism in Geekery 4

So in the annals of online sexism this week has been so darn quiet, right?  I mean what in the world would anyone post about?  It's all sunshine, dandelions and puppies, right?


Sexism is alive and well this week. This week got off to a roaring start with Serena William's doing some slut shaming in Rolling Stone.
"I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."
She then quasi-denied/implied the quote was made up.  But really, who makes shit like that up?  Her denial wasn't even really a denial and she apologized for the things she supposedly said.  Either deny it or admit to making a mistake, this response seemed fuzzy at best.  And prickly fuzzy, not warm and fuzzy.

Read More here
I'm linking Deadspin for 2 reasons. #1 It's where I first saw the article #2 It's a publication that caters to men (Well not really but I'm assuming they would say they do. Anyone can love sports and Deadspin. I do!) and I'm pretty happy that we're getting to the point where men recognize slut-shaming too.

As for the rest of the week, it's been surpisingly not very sexist, right?


Actually there has been potentially the biggest blow-up ever over rape-culture and what constitutes sexual assault.  It started when someone on tumblr posted a Kickstarter project that's basically a "how to sexually assault women" manual, but they call it "picking up women."  Oh rapists, you're so stupid sometimes.  But information on redditt, supposedly directly from the book is very rapey.
“Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”
If anyone is confused THAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.  Let me repeat.  TOUCHING A WOMAN WITHOUT CONSENT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.  The guy who created the kickstarter also talks about how he went up to a random woman in a club, pushed her against a wall and started kissing her.  THAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.  Do I need to be clearer?  If you want to touch me you need to make sure that's okay with me?  Otherwise I'm calling the fucking cops.

Here is a starting place to read about how this got noticed. 

Here is content from the actual book  

Raw Story covers this crap well 

As does Huffington Post

When people deliver a petition, Kickstarter CONTINUES TO BE ASSHOLES - They are pretty much "Like oh that's bad! But we'll let it be funded. We need that $800 and don't want to deal with making complicated moral decisions." (It shouldn't be that complicated, but alas)

Seanan McGuire summarizes my feelings quite well:


Kickstarter posted an apology that was by all means a good apology, especially since it came with a policy change that will prevent this in the future.  However, I don't understand how it took so long to actually apologize or why they were so rude to the petitioners.  But still, even though this project got funded future projects like this will not get funded.
Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.
Read more here

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Teeth (review)

4.5/5 stars

Teeth (Goodreads | Amazon) is my first Hannah Moskowitz.  You always remember you first, right?  If so, Teeth was an exceptional choice.  For me this book just worked.  It's a simply and sparse, yet beautiful book, the story of an island that could exist, just maybe.  To me that's magical realism at it's best, a place that is our world but not quite.  Or is it our world? Could it actually exist?

Rudy's life changes when his family moves to this strange island.  Even to him, it sounds ridiculous, an island with magical fish that heals whatever ails you.  But his little brother has very serious cystic fibrosis and they're out of options.  What they need is a miracle, even a miracle as ridiculous as a magical fish on a strange isolated island.

As the only teenager on the island, Rudy feels isolated.  He misses home, misses his friends, misses having a life then feels guilty for missing all those things because against all odds, his brother is getting better.  He's torn between loving this fragile little thing that is his brother and wanting a life of his own, a real life.

In the same day Rudy meets two people his age.  Diana, the only other teenager on the island locked away in her mother's house, and Teeth.  His relationship with Diana and Teeth could not be more different, with Diana they become friends almost by default, whereas Teeth draws him in.  The thing about Teeth is, he's not quite human, not quite fish but somewhere in between.  Rudy sees himself in this scared, lonely and confused boy, and despite his better judgement he can't quit seeing Teeth despite the danger.

Teeth makes Rudy think about life and what's important.  He finds himself thinking about all the deep shit because he's suddenly faced with a world that's so much more complicated than he ever imagined.
"He shakes his head. "They're hunting the Enkis. I know that. And I get that. But . . . we're special."
"The reason they want them is because they're special. Anchovies aren't going to cure anyone."
"That's not the special I mean." He catches another fish and hugs it to his chest. I'm trying to be gentle. "They're only special to you because they're yours." "I could say the same thing about that cute kid you were holding."
Well, shit.

The beauty of the prose is not that it's complex or prettied up.  Instead it's simple, and just reeks of authenticity.   Moskowitz writes what needs saying with as words few possible, never adding unnecessary flair and letting the power of the characters and realism of the words, even on this fantastical magical island, speak for themselves.

Very rarely does a book sweep me off my feet like Teeth did.  After reading this novel I felt ready to burst, I was so filled up with the story and emotions that it seemed a pity that the book must end and real life must begin.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Deadly Cool (review)

3.5/5 stars

Deadly Cool (Goodreads | Amazon) is the type of read you need sometimes.  It's a fun, girl-solving-mystery story that's not trying to be anything else.  It's good, solid, reading fun without pretense.

I have a love/hate relationship with teen detective novels. I always want to love them, but often the reasons they don't call the cops or try to solve the crimes themselves is so completely illogical that I find myself banging my head against the wall.  Where so many books fail, Deadly Cool doesn't.  When Hartley discovers, the "virgin" queen of the Color Guard dead in her boyfriends closet her first reaction is to call the police.  She doesn't dawdle or debate what to do,  but runs out of the house and dials 911.

Hartley doesn't want to be Nancy Drew, but when it becomes clear that the cops have focused on her now-ex-boyfriend as the only possible subject and he turns to her for help, she stumbles into teenage detective work.  While Josh may be many things, mostly a cheating asshole, he isn't a murderer and Hartley is determined to help him uncover the real killer.
"Holy effing crap that sucks!"
I turn to her, "Effing?"
Sam shrugged. "What?"
"We're censoring now?"
"Kyle says I have a mouth like a trucker."
"You do have a mouth like a trucker. It's one of the things I love best about you."
"Kyle says it's not very feminine."
I rolled my eyes towards the ceiling, "Yeah, I'd be taking femininity tips from a guy who lives in his football jersey." 
The teen-speak is cute and clever, but sometimes a tad much.  Overall I like the voice but could've done without the text-speak.  Sometimes there is such a thing as too much realism.  This book toes the line but does it with enough humor that I can forgive the occasional text message spelling. For the most part Hartley is a smart heroine but near the end, she does behave stupidly, putting herself in the position of heroine-in-danger.  But I've never met a teenager who didn't act rash and daft at times, so it's easy to forgive.

Deadly Cool is a fun, quick read and sometimes that's exactly what you need.  If you're looking for a book with a sense of humor, a girl detective and a bit of adventure, I recommend this book.

On an unrelated story note, I'm somewhat bothered by the fact that the mother is one of those "health food nuts" gluten-free types.  As someone who is gluten intolerant (not celiacs, thank goodness), if you're going to have the mother be gluten free could you at least make it so that she's not the stereotypical yoga, soy, health-food fanatic, but someone with actual Celiacs disease?  You see, us GF people get mocked a lot on TV and morning shows, so we're a tad bit sensitive of that particular portrayal.  *steps off soapbox*

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sexism and Feminism in Geekery round-up 3

Why yes this feature is back! Is it a weekly thing now? Probably not but there's so much great conversation going around on the topic that it seems a pity not to share some of the links.  We're still dealing with the aftermath of the Great SFWA Sexism Incident of 2013 and there's a lot of great articles that I didn't share last week (and probably more than I could share).

Chuck Wendig wrote an excellent list that is so excellent you need to read it fully.
On the other side of things you have slut shaming, where women are made to feel lesser for their sexual choices (or, worse, for being sexually assaulted). It’s easy when criticizing covers (as above) to make it sound like slut shaming: “Those women are too sexy on those book covers, they should be all covered up LIKE PROPER MENNONITE MOTHERS.” The difference, I think, is between being sexual and being sexualized. The former is under the character’s (or author’s) control — the latter is controlled by someone else. Criticizing the sexualization of women has merit; criticizing the sexual nature of women is fucked up (and is slut shaming).
Read more here

Also apparently I somehow missed Seanan McGuire saying smart things about this whole issue. (And I don't know how I missed this since I stalk follow Seanan McGuire everywhere online.
As for the appearance thing...yeah, people often like to be told when they look good. But women in our modern world are frequently valued according to appearance to such a degree that it eclipses all else. "Jane was a hell of a science fiction writer...but more importantly, she was gorgeous according to a very narrow and largely male-defined standard of conventional beauty."
Read more here

Here is another article that gives examples of what has happened to female writers and science fiction events.  It's pretty terrible.
The first person I met was a famous science fiction writer, the Guest of Honor. He asked me what I did, and I told him I wrote steampunk paranormal romance. He scoffed and said that in the grand pyramid of writers, I was the bottom level. That I wasn't worth, and I quote, "the shit on his shoe" because I didn't have quality science in my books and just wrote "vampire porn". He said that women like me were ruining his genre.
Read more here

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Follow Friday - Poem time

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
 Question: Activity: Spine Poetry. Create a line of poetry with your book spines (take a picture). Not feeling creative? Tell us about your favorite poem.
Guys I've had a DAY. When I woke up my water heater was leaking into the coat closet in my apartment and on the way to work car stopped working for 20 minutes at the gas station. This happened ALL BEFORE 8 a.m. So my creativity is drained. Done. Gone.

But I do have a favorite poem.
Whose woods are these I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep;
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 
I used to think Robert Frost just wrote tralalala pretty nature poetry. But then in college I wrote a paper on this poem. Then I realized Robert Frost knew what he was doing.  He used so many elements of poetry and language in this poem.  And I love the last 4 lines. As an outdoors person and a dreamer they mean a lot to me personally.

Another poem I love is Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. For me, this poem captures death and grief perfectly.  The ending is my favorite.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Read full poem here

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Far Far Away (review)

4/5 stars

At first I thought Far Far Away (Goodreads | Amazon) was a cute borderline middle grade book about a lonely outcast boy with a ghost best friend.  But I was wrong.  Far Far Away is something more complicated than that, toeing the line between young adult and middle-grade, but not quite either.  The early parts of the books are sweet and oozing with sentimentality, the latter parts drip with creepiness.  This book is like a good old-fashioned fairytale, seems like it's for children but the longer you look at it the creepier it gets.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in a strange little town Never Better.  As if his mother skipping town and his father never leaving the house didn't make him enough of an outcast, Jeremy can also hear ghosts.  Luckily for him, the ghost is the famous Jacob Grimm--yes of the Grimm Brothers--who keeps him company and gives him encouragement.  The relationship between Jeremy and his ghost is sweet and believable.  They need each other and care about each other.  Nobody else can hear Jacob except Jeremy and nobody understands Jeremy but Jacob.  In each other they find solace and a place to belong.

Things start to change for Jeremy when he's befriended by Ginger.  She is everything Jeremy is not, loud, boisterous, full of life and popular.  But despite stereotypes, Ginger has a kind and caring soul.  What might have originated as pity, grows into friendship and maybe even first love.  It has all the stumbling tenderness and sweetness of first love.  Best of all it builds slowly and is never quite defined.

But this book takes a turn for the creepy.  I cannot say more about that because it involves spoilers, but just remember this is a fairytale, specifically modeled after the type of tale the Grimm Brother's told.

This book, narrated through the eyes of Jacob Grimm, is original and unique.  It's hard to define the genre as middle grade, young adult or even adult because it's the story of a boy but told through the eyes of a very old ghost.  In some ways like fairytales themselves, it's ageless.  It's about both of them discovering themselves, finding freedom in being themselves and their adventures in a town that doesn't quite seem to be real.  This is another recent read that falls into more of a magical realism than fantasy category, which is a fictional resurgence that I can get behind.  The juxtaposed otherness of Never Better, yet it's similarity to every small town, create an delightfully creepy atmosphere that could be anywhere, real or not, and anytime.  That backdrop and the fairytale-esque story combine to create an enjoyable and creepy read.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tiger Lily (review)

4/5 stars

Tiger Lily (Goodreads | Amazon) is a slow moving character driven book.  A lot of the story focuses on the relationship between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan, yet somehow that does not detract from the experience.  As someone who generally cannot cope with slow-moving romantic books, Tiger Lily stands out as something entirely different.

Told from the perspective of Tinkerbell, the tiny little fairy who follows Tiger Lily everywhere, this is a different take on Peter Pan.  This book takes place in the almost-real-world, a version of Neverland than can be reached by normal ship and aging is considered a disease.  Rather than focus on Wendy and the Lost Boys, this book focuses on Tiger Lily--found in the forest, an outcast among her own people and a tomboy in a world where she's expected to become a woman.  I enjoyed that this book dealt with, subtly, the sliding scale between femininity and masculinity.  Tiger Lily is fully a girl, but has boyish tendencies like hunting, that make her feel like an oddity. Her adoptive father Tik Tok, is a man who dresses like a woman.  The village accepts him, especially since he is their shaman, but struggle with Tiger Lily's otherness.
Still, the longer I was around her, the more I could see the colors of her mind and the recesses of her heart. There was a beast in there. But there was also a girl who was afraid of being a beast, and who wondered if other people had beasts in their hearts too. There was strength, and there was also just the determination to look strong. She guarded herself like a secret.
Peter Pan is the Sky Eaters arch-nemesis, lurking in the forest, more legend and fear than fact.  When Tiger Lily first meets him, he drags her into the woods against her will before she escapes.  But she sees Peter for what he really is, just a boy.  A brave, foolish, often rash boy who will make your heart ache.  Both are oddballs, outcasts.  Peter has created his own society, but he chafes at the expectations and struggles with knowing himself  Their relationship is more of a competition than anything you'd traditionally call a love story. But for Tiger Lily, it works because Peter accepts her as she is and doesn't expect her to become feminine or womanly, but wants her just as Tiger Lily.

Strangely, Wendy is almost a villain in this story.  Not because she is a bad guy, but because she is the antithesis of Tiger Lily.  She's all dainty and feminine, needing Peter rather than needing to beat Peter.  From the perspective of Tiger Lily, Wendy is the enemy, a reminder of everything she's not, especially when Peter shifts his attention to her.

This book has a plot, the familiar Peter versus Captain Hook storyline twisted to involve Tiger Lily and a much darker version of Smee.  But I would not say this book is plot driven. It's more internal, the story of Tiger Lily coming to terms with who she is, how she fits into the world and facing her personal demons.   The writing is unpretentious but poetic, capturing the solemness of Tiger Lily perfectly.  This book is unusual and unexpected, but wholly satisfying.  It is the story of deeply flawed people, co-existing, colliding and knowing themselves better as a result.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sexism and Feminism this week

And it's back! Another report about sexism in the geek and book world.  I just couldn't resist. Maybe I should make this a regular feature on my blog.

Sexism and Sci-fi: Strange Bedfellows

If you've been on twitter and follow any science fiction authors you've probably come across the SFWA drama.  If you haven't I'm here to give you links that'll get you in the loop.

There are so many posts and rebuttals and blogs commentating on it that I had trouble figuring out where the drama even began. It started with a SFWA bulletin cover, an essay about the sexed-up covers for SFWA, rebuttals about how the response essay was censorship  then chaos as everyone had an opinion.  Here is a pretty good synopsis (that is also fairly brief) for those wanting the basics. 

Ann Aguirre talked about some of the sexism she's seen in science fiction circles.  Her blog post is excellent and appalling in almost equal measure.  It's important for well-known authors to come out and say "This is what happened to me."
At that con, I watched a respected male SF author get sloppy drunk and make women uncomfortable, fans and writers alike. I was one of them. I watched a respected SF writer break an elderly female fan’s heart by refusing to spend a minute talking with her. He was everything brusque, self-important, and rude. I consoled her afterward. I had a respected SF writer call me “girlie” and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER. When he realized I was not, in fact, his coffee girl, he didn’t apologize. And once we got into the panel, he refused to let me (or anyone else) speak. He interrupted me. He talked over me. He responded to questions that the audience asked me, when they asked me, by name, and he wouldn’t respond to the moderator, who was also female.

Read it all here

And here is the tweet that won the internet this week for me, especially when it relates to bullshit like sexism in science fiction. Seriously, since the first science fiction book was written by a woman (a very young woman even) I think it's time we put the "sci-fi is for men" thing to rest.

Feminism and Young Adult aka Jezebel vs. Maureen Johnson

This is considerably LESS controversial.  It's good that we're talking about feminism and young adult fiction.  However, the conversation about this could be better, more aware of the existing works and  a lot less self-promotional.

Here is a questionable part of this "How to" aka Jezebel Readers Buy My Book piece:
As a so-called “young adult” (a marketing euphemism that somehow always reminds me of the various genteelly squeamish terms for pregnancy)...
First if you don't believe YA is a thing why are you writing it?  For me and many others, this reads as talking down to young adult readers and writers.  From reading her article a couple of times, it looks like she's read very minimal YA, just the required reading of Twilight and Hunger Games are referenced.

If we're going to talk about feminism in YA then actually talk about feminism in YA.  Don't pretend like you're Lewis and Clark going into brave new territory, but acknowledge the work of those who came before you.  Ask on twitter for recommendations for YA feminist books and I'm sure a few will come back.  Feminist YA writers isn't a new thing, unless you've only read the problematic paranormal books that we're trendy for awhile. There's a lot more to YA than sparkly vampires.  Talk about E. Lockhart (my favorite feminist YA writer, LOVE HER), Tamora Piece, Libba Bray, etc.  Talk about the writers who made me comfortable with the word feminism (Long story. The first feminist I met was not somebody I wanted to emulate).  Talk about all the great messages and variety of heroines represented by books that deserve more readers.  Don't just sell your book, sell that feminism is for young adults as well. Heck, I think teenagers need feminism and if I was ridiculously wealthy I'd be gifting every teenage girl the E. Lockhart collection because I think feminism belongs in YA literature.

If you want to read the whole Jezebel article here you go.

Okay this is my second sexism and feminism report on the blog.  Do you want me to try to make this a regular feature? 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Follow Friday - Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
 Question: Have you broken up with a series? If so which one and why?
I'm worse at breaking up with books than boys. Boys I've broken up with, series...not so much.  If I've committed past one book it's VERY HARD for me to stop reading.  There are lots of series that I read one book and then decide not to continue, but that feels more like a blind-date than having a relationship with a book.  Last year I tried to break-up with a TV show, Vampire Diaries (read about the break-up here) and I came back (which wasn't so bad because this season was pretty good). I briefly thought about breaking up with the Jacky Faber series, but just took a rest and came back. 

Once I read book two, normally you've got me.  There are probably some series I've broken up with in the past but honestly I cannot remember any off the top of my head. There definitely haven't been any in the past couple of years from the looks of my goodreads. Will it happen at some point? Probably. Has it? Doesn't look like it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Wall (review)

3/5 books

The Wall (Goodreads | Amazon) is a book with an ambitious idea, write a fictionalized version of the Israeli/Palestine conflict.  In some ways this is a good idea, take the problem out the context of our world to look at with fresh eyes.  However, that's the type of idea that has to be executed with an excellence that this book lacks. It's too obvious that this is a thinly veiled Israeli/Palestine conflict.  Even worse, it's pretty obvious which side of the wall is which side.  Add on top of that overly simplistic characters that tend towards either black or white, rather than the more realistic shades of grey, and you have a novel that doesn't really work for me.

Joshua, the protagonist, moves to Amarias with his mother and stepfather after his father is killed in his required military service.  He doesn't quite fit in his new town and his step-father is a religious, stern man who doesn't even try to understand his stepson.  Joshua is drifting, playing soccer with his best-friend David (who he would admittedly not even like outside of his new town) and just going through the motions of life.

Until Joshua finds the tunnel.  The tunnel leads under the wall to a world that feels completely different from his home in Amarias, despite being less than a mile away.  Here he encounters immediate hate from a gang of boys, fleeing through streets until he's rescued by a girl named Leila who helps him find his way back to the tunnel again.  From there, they form an accidental friendship when Joshua goes through the tunnel again to deliver food to the hungry girl who helped him. Joshua develops a relationship with her family and her father almost becomes a surrogate father to the lost boy despite the wall that separates them.

A novel that teaches tolerance and about how the whole world can be "our people" not just those who think and look like us, is a nice idea.  However here's where the execution goes awry.  Rather than making the people on Joshua's side of the wall complex, we only see sad caricatures that are more monster than men, whereas both Leila and her father are excellent examples of people, rescuing Joshua more than once, and choosing peace in the face of perpetual violence.  Aside from a passing mention of his dead father the reluctant solider, Joshua's side of the wall needed more depth. There is no real discussion of the fear that has made his stepfather Liev a monster, he just is a monster without explanation. Also not explained is why Joshua's people imprison, kill and fear Leila's people.  That lack of worldbuilding is a disservice to this type of the story. The conflict needs to be developed and both sides should have fair shot at telling their stories.  For this story to work, it needs complex villains because otherwise the book seems to simplify what is truly a very complicated situation.

There were times that I enjoyed passages of this book and enjoyed what it was trying to do.  The problem is that it didn't do it very well.  Certain subject matters require more than your average storytelling ability, they need more knowledge, more background, more complexity, just more than this book actually gives.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wildwood Dancing (review)

3.5/5 stars

Part of me wants to give Wildwood Dancing (Goodreads | Amazon) a higher rating that 3.5 stars.  That part loves the Eastern European setting, the wildwood, folklore and that 5 daughters are the protagonists of this book. But I just can't. Maybe I have just read too many Juliet Marillier books.  Somehow I managed to predict every major twist in this book. And it wasn't one of those things where I knew right before the heroine knew.  I knew AGES before the heroine or anyone knew so it was frustrating seeing Jena, stumbling around when she's supposedly smart and sensible, when the answer is right in front of her face.

Also Tatiana's illness was an issue for me.  A girl withering away for love? Please.  She was not eating or drinking because she misses her One True Love.  In my world we call that anorexia and it's not romantic at all.  The fact that nobody would call a doctor or really talk to Tatiana about what she was doing to her body really bothered me. They walked around the subject on eggshells rather than dealing with it.  I know not all characters are strong heroines, but I have trouble swallowing a character who is so damn weak, especially when the problems of her behavior and the message it presents is never fully addressed.

Those two pretty big issues aside, I really enjoyed this book.  The Eastern European setting gives it a wonderful sense of place and folklore.  Piscul Dracoli feels rich and real. Despite there being five sisters, each girl manages to stand out as her own character, especially Iulia and Paula. The two main characters, Tatiana and Jena are actually the ones I struggled with, not because they weren't distinct but because they both made me angry at times.  The book kept telling me that Jena was sensible, but didn't really show it.  For someone who is so sensible and practical, she's not bothered at all by going off into a fairy portal every month and seems overwhelmed by maintaining the house during her father's absence.

Overall my impression is so mixed.  I love folklore and I love all the different creatures we get to meet. I love the idea of monthly trips to the Other Kingdom.  I enjoyed the struggles of the sisters to remain autonomous in a time when women were considered more property than person.  The story, despite being predictable, was enjoyable.  At times it hit all the right heartstrings, especially with Jena's pet frog Gogu (who can speak in case you're wondering how a frog hits the heartstrings).  He was probably one of the best aspects of this novel.  But I'm bothered, particularly by Tatiana's illness, and the predictability of this book.  It's probably still worth reading, especially seeing so many other reviewers rave about it, but don't expect a perfect novel because this is by no means perfect.  

Fantastic narration.  Kim Mai Guest managed to make distinct and different voices for all five sisters, an amazing feat since they were all young girls from the same region without much to differentiate them vocally.  The accent was just enough to give the listener a sense of being in Eastern Europe without making the book hard to understand.  There was a point in the middle where the accent briefly seemed to lessen, but that could just be my imagination.  If you're going to read this audiobook is a great way to go.