Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Mockingbirds, Daisy Whitney

Themis Academy is a school for the exceptional students. Athletes, artists, academics, they're all brought in and placed in a setting where they can thrive. They're trusted to behave in an honourable manner, The Themis Way, and they do.

Which is why, when Alex makes the mistake of getting blackout drunk at a concert and is date raped, she feels she has nowhere to turn. Who can she tell who will believe her? She was drunk, after all.

But then her friends tell her about the Mockingbirds, a student organization formed to enforce the Themis Way the teachers pretend not to notice any infractions of, and the slow process towards healing begins.

This book made me really uncomfortable, and probably not for the reasons you're thinking of. I am an older sister of several voracious readers, and they're always pestering me for recommendations. And as this is obviously an "issue book," (Defined as the main motivating force for a book being written,) I was very concerned with how the issue was handled. On the actual issue of consent, why it is important, and how it is defined, (especially with the recent Sweden/Assange/Rape brouhahah,) I thought the book did an excellent job, especially since the court scenes allowed people to define their terms in ways which looks like tl;dr in most other cases.

But most of the book is spent in saying over and over that adults WILL NOT help you, in a case like this. Several times Alex says she won't go to the Police, because her parents will freak out. Ummmmmmm.

I hope it's clear why that makes me go all snaky. If it isn't, clearly we are approaching things from different angles, and you should disregard this review entirely.

Granted, by the end of the book Alex had come to trust the "cool" new piano teacher, and comes to talk to her when she has an issue, but so much of the book was spent setting up the idea that adults are all in their own worlds that it felt like an aberration, rather than a eureka moment. I mean, one of her teachers actually has her act out an attempted rape scene. So by the time it got to the reveal that maybe some adults are not finks, I had already written them off, along with much of my enjoyment of the book, regrettably. The way all the students rally behind her is good, but the fact that only, in this world, people within three years of her age are to be trusted not to go off the rails for no real reason, made me pull my hair.

And then: SPOILER ALERT: There's the issue of the boy she falls for over the course of the book. The romance is all very nice and healing, if it wasn't for the fact that he's on the board of the Mockingbirds, and is expressly mentioned as supposed to NOT be in any romantic setting with her. And then at the end: EVEN MORE SPOILERS: Alex is asked to be on the board of the Mockingbirds, who have helped her so much. And her first act is to give the boy an unconditional pardon and ask him to be her advisor. Because apparently the code of conduct when it expressly says, "no fraternizing with people under investigation," was a grey area. This would have made me go even MORE snaky, if I hadn't already marked the book up under "not very enjoyable to read." Maybe it's because I've grown up in a Christian, Military family, (you know those military sorts, so wrapped around the axel about codes of conduct,) but I just think that a.) that wasn't a grey area, and b.) would it be that hard to hold of the making out for a few months? and c.) if you break the rules you're very very aware of, shouldn't there be consequences? /END SPOILERS.

So I gave it three stars out of five. I actually didn't "like" it that much- if this was based on liking alone it should be two stars- but I do think it's a very useful teaching book, as long as I made sure to talk about it later. Unfortunately, I'm a very emotional reader and I'm coming from a certain culture and background, so parts of the story swelled WAY out of proportion and coloured my whole experience of reading it. 

With that said, I know the author is a date rape survivor, and that's why she wrote the book, and it was very well done. Alex's reactions and healing process was painfully honest, and it ends well. I would like someone I know to read it, and so they can tell me how I was reading it on a bad day and I totally misinterpreted it, and get my head together! Gosh, Jasmine!

Yes, erm, I'm unsure how to end this. Live long and prosper?

Matched, Ally Condie

Cassia's world is perfect. Everyone is assigned a job which suits their skills and interests, health care, entertainment, recreation and food are provided by The Society, and they live long, healthy lives. If they decide they want to be married, they are paired with their perfect match, selected from the many thousands of possible people looking for a relationship, and they live happily ever after together.

Just look at Cassia's parents! Her mother was from the country, and her father was from the city- they never would have met without The Society introducing them to each other. And now, here they are, entirely happy together.

The story starts with Cassia on her way to attend her Match Banquet. To everyone's surprise and joy, she is matched with someone in her own city, (no moving necessary!) Her best friend Xander will be who she makes her life with, which they are both delighted about. *^_^* (smily face of delight and shyness)

They already know each other so well there's hardly a need for the data slip with the information about Xander, but since it's protocol, they both take it, grinning, and then go home to their lives. Everything has worked out even better than they could have hoped for. It's perfect!

Only, when Cassia goes to look at what The Society has to tell her about Xander, (heh heh heh,) another face flashes on the screen. And again, this is a boy that she knows. Ky, also one of her friends, who also lives on her street, who she also went to school with. She's reassured that it was just a glitch in the system, which is great, but wait. There are glitches in the system?

The seed has been sown, and Cassia has started to question. She begins to question harder, with more anger, when her grandfather comes to the end of his long and productive life, and dies on his 80th birthday. (Everyone dies on their 80th Birthday.)

Okay, I want to tell you more about this story, but I'm going to stop now, because you deserve to see it unfold with all the well measured care that the author wrote it. I was very impressed with this story, the more so because the only full length review I had read of it said it was internally incoherent and spent too much time explaining the world building. Which I disagree with. ^_^

I thought the voice of the book, as narrated by Cassia, captured her emotional arc wonderfully. At first she's parroting what she's been told, ("Everything is perfect!") and then she's repeating it desperately, ("This is all good, right?") and then she's mocking it, ("Oh, yes, you have our best interests at heart, of COURSE!") and then she's just at sea as to what she does next. What do you do to escape in a world where they track your dreams every fourth night? I was particularly impressed because usually I do not notice things like voices of narrators. I'm all GET ME TO THE EXPLOSIONS. GRRR, WHY ARE THINGS NOT ON FIRE?


Instead, this time I was able to very happily follow along with the more delicately agonizing realizations Cassia is coming to, and what that means to her. And while I'm talking about the voice, I have to mention that there were three times in the book where I just stopped, amazed at how poetically Ms. Condie managed to phrase the moments of wrenching revelation. And using simple words, too! I mean, the reading level for the book can't be that high, in terms of vocabulary. It's "narrated" by someone who lives in a world where art has been simplified down to 100 of everything. And working with simple words, I was still stopped in my reading tracks several times.

Any time a book effects me that much, I am impressed.

And also there were trains and a secret war and sorting things and a strong family which you give up things for. All stories that delight me. You should read this book.

I gave it four stars out of five. I'll be looking for the sequel. Can I have it now, please?

Victory Of Eagles, Naomi Novik

It might be a reflection on my character that it took an alternate history to make me care about the Napoleonic war. But let me tell you, in this story I CARED. I had to bold that to give you the full effect. I got a bit emotional about it.
*Looks at Team Duke of Wellington t-shirt.*
Just a bit emotional.

And yes, the story. Because of reasons in the last book which I'm not going to tell you about, Lawrence and Temeraire are separated. Lawrence is in a jail until further notice, waiting trial for treason. Temeraire is in Wales, chatting up the ladies. IF you know what I mean, and I think you do. Heh.

And then the Eagles land. Eagles, in this case, referring to the standards of Napoleon's army, which just came ashore in force. WHERE IS YOUR HONOUR NOW? England is being routed, because let's face it, the generals are just not quite working on the same level as the French Army. For example, I might not think the most appropriate response to an invading force is to stand around talking how awesome you are and how he's going to turn back at the first battle, but possibly that's just me. And we didn't really want London, did we? Nah, that just took up too much space anyhow. Scotland is much nicer! Breezy!

And I gave this book five stars out of five. I know that seems excessive, give what I rated the ones just before- but hey, I told you I was fickle. I just DELIGHTED in all of this one. ^_^ I loved how finally we got to talk to Dragons other than Temeraire, and all the politics he had to confront and overcome. I especially liked the overcoming, because I'm- just that way. I like to read about people being awesome, is that so wrong? No, no it is not. And while Lawrence's arc made me shrivel up and die inside, it was good for him, I think. Yes, I think of Lawrence chiefly in a motherly way, is that so wrong? And again we say no, it is not wrong.

Let's see, I loved how basically everyone grew a pair and was AMAZING in this book. Including in some cases, growing a pair of consciences, for the empathizing, or a pair of frontal lobes, for the thinking. And the final battle. Oh, the final battle was DELICIOUS.

P.S. I'm sorry this is so incoherent. I don't want to really spoil anything? It just made me happy, that's all! You should read it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Empire of Ivory, Naomi Novik

So I go back to my May drafts, and LO AND BEHOLD. This one isn't written, much less published. Face, meet palm.

Now in the last book, a lot of spoilery stuff happened. Which I'm not going to tell you about. I'm saving my spoilery reviews for the next book. :D Heh. Heh. Heh.

Anyways, just about right after Temeraire and the crew left for China in book two, dragons in England started coughing and sneezing. Which fast acquires the tone of a national emergency when the dragons just don't get better. Instead they start drowning in their own lungs, and did I mention they have no medicine for dragons? Yeah. Bad times when your air force is all in-operational. That is, at least, how the powers that be see it. The dragon crews we've all come to know and love see it, naturally, in a bit more of a personal light. "Our friends are dying and we can't do anything about it."

 In pure desperation, Temeraire and some other dragons we know and love are sent to Africa. So that maybe they'll find medicine? Or maybe the climate will cure the cough? Or maybe- something. Quarantine?

There is a real sense of desperation behind this trip. And to my mind, it never really lifts off. There's barely a purpose, people are just eating things madly, running away, sailing endlessly, despairing and dying. You know. The general cheerful stuff. There is some nice things about Africa, but I didn't enjoy that as much as my friends. Possibly because I found it kinda super creepy. Ahem. Though on the other hand, telling the giant meat-eating-but-intelligent beast that he's related to you, and you don't eat your family,  DOES seem like a pretty good idea. However, Lawrence just tired me, and the girls were awkward, and Temeraire was painfully innocent, and the only ones who were awesome were the crews. And I read books like this for the awesome people! So I gave it three stars out of five.

Why is it still December?

You may have noticed my continuing, obsessive desire to read Beth Revis's Across The Universe. This is an obsession you should share. Or at least pretend to share, and then you can give me your copy. The hard cover has a reversible dust jacket, okay? With ship schematics. I am crying tears over the sheer awesomeness of that, right now.
Dust Jacket one way-
-Dust Jacket t'other way.
And this blog post is brought to you by the fact that Ms. Revis, bless her soul, is having a EPICNESS OF EPIC IS EPIC giveaway. We are talking One Hundred Prizes.

67 Mini swag packs
15 Button swag packs
15 ARC packs. 
2 ARC and Watch packs
1 Hardcover, Signed, First Edition swag pack of PURE AWESOME.

And it's international. So you should go enter. Because something this awesome deserves to be celebrated and adored and talked about. And entered for.

Black Powder War, Naomi Novik

Note: I thought I had this reviewed in May. FAIL. TERRIBLE FAIL.

So in the last book, our jolly crew started heading home from Asia. Everyone is VERY happy to be free of the political machinations of the Chinese Court- BUT LOOK, over there in the hills! Yep, that is Ms. Political Machinations herself, Lien, the white dragon. How will they get home NOW?

Most of the book, at least the way I remember it, deals with decent people getting caught up in dishonourable politics, and what happens when technology changes. With Lien *Spoiler* teaming up with Napoleon *End!Spoiler* the game has shifted mightily. Now everyone is dealing with brilliant tacticians who just aren't thinking in ways they're used to. And if they're not prepared to change the way THEY deal? Well- there's the ocean. Armies are traditionally run into it right about now. Do you have your escape armada lined up?

While this book was interesting, and I enjoyed it... I gave it three stars out of five. It just didn't have the crackly magic of the first Temeraire book. It was better than the second, that's for sure! But not by a whole lot. Plus, it was just DEPRESSING. Hello, here's a war- I mean a rout. Sigh.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Over the past year I've become interested in Debut authors, as I think is evident from the sidebar, with it's 2010 Debut Challenge piece. :P And I've ALWAYS loved SF and dystopian fiction.

So I definitely started following The League of Extraordinary Writers. Five 2011 debut authors writing SF about dystopian futures? YES PLEASE. And if those authors are Beth Revis, Julia Karr, Angie Smibert, Elana Johnson and Jeff Hirsch? YES PLEASE+500.

And now this week they're giving away prize packs based on the books, AND author copies of the books. Obviously winning this would make my YEAR, and because part of the requirement to enter is to post about the contest I am a generous person, I'm telling you to go enter. :D


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nano 2010- After Action: Let's not do that again.

It's entirely possible that I misspelled my title. I can't get it to not look wrong, now
This nano was an experience I was not expecting. I have devoted my life to writing in November for the past two years, (my family can attest to this) and word count has never been the issue. I mean yes, I usually burned out at about day 25, but I was already at 66,000 words, or some such thing.

And then this year I opened up my doc, and I felt like I had adequately drained myself dry if I could wrench 500 words from my chest and shove them onto the page. It was HAAAAAARRRRRRRRRDDDDDDD. *dramatic drape across the couch*

I can identify two reasons why this was so desperately painful.

  1. I was trying not to completely fail at work. I'm leaving in December and moving into the big city, and I want to go out on a high note, not on a "good grief, what is WITH that woman?"
  2. I didn't have a plot. 
Reason one is pretty self explanatory. But it led into reason two, as well. You see, when I went into my last two nanos, I'd spent eight or five months thinking about the story. I knew who my characters were, I knew how the plot started and ended, if not the middle, and I knew the political structure of what was going on. (This is important when my default is to make people a. work for the govt, or b. rage against the govt.) So when I went, "Oh, I'll just put people on a train and make them talk to each other," I did have material to work with. This time I- what DID I start with? 

Oh yeah. I knew one MC woke up with no memory, another MC thought she was going mad but really she was telepathic and in scene two she's going to be recruited by a government security group, and my other two MCs were going to escape an assassination attempt and, uh, survive. While all of this is terribly shiny, it isn't really what you would call a PLOT. And with me spending my time while working thinking about (shockingly) my work, I didn't have any time to MAKE a plot. 

So then for 50,000 words, I basically flailed madly around trying to figure out who was important or not, and why people were doing things and if that was important, and HOW ARE THEY ALL CONNECTED? It was my finest moment. (Not really.) Fortunately after about 20,000 words I was able to recognize that I had whole sections that totally contradicted each other, so basically this wasn't a usable first draft. From then on it was able to be a world-building exercise, so my flailing was in broader and less coherent stripes. :D 

Even so, by the last day I was 10 thousand words behind. Which led to amazing things like this. 
Hmmm, his name was breathed pretty distractingly into his ear. Hmmm. Hmmmmm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. The hmming here represents what’s happening because I can’t tell you Peter’s internal monologue. But I’ll do some stage directions.

AMBROSE: Put one hand on the back of Peter’s head, and rove around there. With the other arm, the one with the hand holding the knife, hang it down Peter’s back so that you hold yourself up with your elbow. Also, stand on your toes so you can knock teeth with him more efficiency. Also, make sure to knock teeth. Objective is to trade tongues, and you should try that diligently. It’s possible that the latch for your tongue is in his lips, so be sure to bite those several times. Otherwise, use your imagination. And your hips.

PETER: Do what feels right to you. NOT LIKE THAT- oh. Okay. Well, um. Yeah. We’ll take an intermission and you just- you do that. Okay.

When we left our anti-hero, he’d been breaking the law regarding legal ages for consent in the prep kitchen of a restaurant. (Peter is underage.) And when we return, Peter is STILL breaking the law regarding legal age for consent...

And he’s just produced handcuffs. I”M TOO YOUNG TO SEE THIS. *hides face while the cuffs levitate into the air by themselves, catch Ambrose’s hands and lock them behind her and hold her there while Peter steps away* Wait, what?

Yes, Audience, you read that correctly! (Audience? What are you doing in here watching freaky sketch happen? Not only many of you underage, there are sharp thing in here! You may become injured!) Peter mentally handcuffed Ambrose, and much more shockingly, he STEPPED AWAY. And it’s not just to admire the view with her shirt hanging open, though that was definitely a useful side effect of it. “Sorry, Ambrose, the Queen’s going to be paying for your meals for a while. You’re under arrest for illegal shellfish use, and use of mock firtute.”

“... and I don’t use mock firture!” Ambrose finished in angry, pretty tears. “It’s real!”

“That’ll have to go to a panel of experts to decide.” Peter said in his best tortured hero look, caught in the grip of virtue and following it nobly. Also, I hate myself. “But I know a holding temperature for mock eff when I see it. Did you really think you were fooling anyone?”

“You were fooled.” She glared. Breathing hevily, too! Well done, Ambrose, but Peter’s the virtuous hero, he’s too strong for you. He’s- um, Peter. Eyes up here. *snaps fingers* PETER. Eyes UP.

“I was having a little fun while we were waiting for the backup to get here.” Peter smirked. “Thanks for the entertainment, by the way, honey.”

This is the first make-out scene I've really written with more of an "that looked complicated" write-off. I think I'm going to go back to that method.

But yes, due to complete madness and some creative use of punctuation, I finished Nano!

Now I just have to re-write everything.
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