Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year-End Round-Up

Au revoir, 2014! What a strange year. It was an improvement over 2013 (not that that was much of a challenge), but at the same time I never would have predicted it would end with me in the place I'm in right now.

Not that there have been any MAJOR life changes for me this year, mind. I didn't get married or have a baby or anything. But I did take on three jobs. None of which were/are full time, so I do have time to sleep, but unfortunately not so much time to read! (Actually, it seems like the only time I *do* read now is when I'm having an attack of the insomnias... and if that happens, I better be reading a good book, because otherwise I'm going to be G R U M P Y.)

As a result of this scheduling insufficiency, I discovered something about myself: I really do need to read on a daily basis. Like if I don't read for a stretch of a day or more (it actually happened... unthinkable) I may legit take someone's head off.

Anyway! Here's the best of what I did manage to read this year. What about you?


the chocolate kiss laura florand
New Auto-Buy Author: Laura Florand
There aren't many authors who are on my auto-buy list these days, but Laura Florand definitely is one. Her novels are perfect tales of romantic escapism that revolve around three of my favorite F's: fairy tales, food, and France. Sexy French chefs FTW.

Favorite Mystery/Thriller: The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer
A smart, fast-paced, perfectly over-the-top book about books, with the feel of an old-timey movie. Loved it!

Favorite Forgotten Classic: I've Come to Stay by Mary Heaton Vorse
This short romantic comedy perfectly captures the avant-garde community of Greenwich Village in the 1910's. It's SO FUNNY and delightful and I loved all the quirky characters. The ending was absolutely perfect. Read it!

Favorite Non-Fiction Book: Craft Cocktails At Home by Kevin Liu
Two words: Science. Cocktails. Kevin Liu uses the scientific method to investigate all the burning questions of the home mixologist, such as: why is it so impossible to make clear ice cubes? How much exactly is dash? Why do we chill glasses before pouring cocktails in them? And so on. A super-must-read for cocktail geeks no matter if you're a newbie or a professional bartender.

Book That Pissed Me Off The Most: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 
wtf book

Uhg. Just uhg.

And speaking of Mockingjay...

Subgenre That I Can't Believe I Keep Reading Right Now: Dystopian Young Adult
Working with teenagers this summer must have affected my brain, because during the second half of the year I was ALL ABOUT dystopian YA novels, a genre I've assiduously avoided for the past several years. It all started with, "Oh, I've been meaning to read Catching Fire," and pretty soon I'm staying up until 7 in the morning reading the ridiculousness that was Allegiant! Oh well, might as well run with it.

neanderthal seeks human penny reid
Subgenre That Probably No One is Surprised I'm Reading Right Now: Quirky Romances
Since most of the quirky romances I've read–and loved!–this year were recommendations from book blogging buddies, it probably won't come as a shock to anyone that many of them count among my favorite reads of the year, like Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and Still Life With Strings by LH Cosway.

Favorite Book Actually Published In 2014: Tie between The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand and Still Life with Strings by LH Cosway
I picked The Chocolate Temptation as my favorite on Book Riot, but actually it's more of a draw. I had a few issues with each book, which stopped me from completely adoring either one. Although I still really really like them!


As you can see, my list is pretty short this year. That's because I read a pathetically small number of books, for me anyway. I haven't even hit the 100 book mark yet; my goal was actually to read 200. Overly optimistic, I admit, but still. The other goals I had for this year–to catch up on the Walt Longmire and Gabriel Allon series–also didn't happen.

Sigh. Book blogger problems.

Anyway, it could definitely be worse. I read some really awesome books this year, my personal life doesn't suck, and hopefully 2015 will be even better! Thanks for sticking it out with me and for sharing your reads and book recs. Happy New Year!


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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: INSURGENT by Veronica Roth

insurgent cover

After turning off and stealing the simulation that was forcing members of Dauntless to kill Abnegation, Four and Tris leave Chicago to escape the Erudite. But with Jeanine still alive and determined to control all the factions, they're quickly drawn back into the city, where Marcus wants to unveil the secret Jeanine was ready to kill for. Will he convince Tris she needs to risk everything to help him?

If that summary made a lick of sense to you, congratulations, you've likely read Divergent! (I know I should probably review these books in, like, order or something, but hey. It's my blog, I do what I want.) I immediately downloaded Insurgent after finishing Divergent, because hellloooooooo, I loved it. Divergent, that is. Insurgent was a bit of a letdown.

First of all, Four. In Divergent he was a total hottie, but in Insurgent there was no chemistry between him and Tris WHAT. SO. EVER. Their makeout sessions read like a microwave instruction manual. And I got sick of his constant whining pretty damn fast. Waaaah, you never tell me every single damn thing that's going on with you right away, waaaaaaahhhh. By the time the storming of the Erudite compound rolled around, I was rooting for them to break up.

the pity train has derailed at the corner of suck it up and move on

The ending in particular was SUPER annoying because there were several things that did not make sense:

  1. Why is Tris considered a traitor to Dauntless? It's not like she's siding with Erudite or helping Jeanine escape; she just wants to make sure the information in Erudite's computers doesn't disappear and innocent Erudites don't die. Where's the conflict with Dauntless here? She's working toward the same goal, just with different priorities.
  2. Why doesn't Tris tell Four about Marcus' plan? For that matter, why agree to help Marcus at all if she's so worried about Four's reaction, especially when Marcus never tells her exactly what he's doing or why it's so important, other than, "It's essential to the preservation of society"? As Tris herself pointed out, their society is already in ruins, so what exactly are they risking their lives and personal relationships to save? Seems unnecessary. And it's not as if Tris is THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who can help him. He can go pick on someone else.
  3. The big reveal at the end (which let me assure you was underwhelming) negates the messages and themes of Divergent, namely that people are more than the places they grow up in, or their families, or their jobs, or their major. You don't have to be just one thing. But the reveal shows exactly the opposite: they're breeding for divergence. In other words, the only reason Tris and the other divergents have different abilities is because their parents belonged to other factions. So that whole thing about people being more than the sum of their parts and free will? I felt like it went out the window.


Not to mention the fact that by the end, I wanted Four to throw himself off a cliff. Let's break down Worst Boyfriend of the Year's actions a bit, shall we?

  • Instead of supporting Tris when she gets into a fight with Peter, he tells her to calm down. AWESOME, WOMEN LOVE BEING TOLD TO CALM DOWN! Keep that up.
  • Instead of being understanding when he finds out Tris killed Will and that's why she's been freaking out lately, he tells her, "It's not easy being with you." Are you kidding me? Look in the mirror, buddy. LOOK IN A FREAKIN MIRROR.
  • Most hilarious (if by hilarious you mean awful) part: when Four breaks into Erudite and you THINK he's going to rescue Tris, but instead he tells her that he *could* break them out of Erudite at any time, except he needs to do yada yada some such to prepare for the Dauntless attack. So she should just hang in there with the mental torture for two more weeks, and then maybe probably he can get them out. Tris: "I don't think I can last that long, I really can't." Four: "You're a strong M├Ądchen, you can do it." [I may be projecting a bit here.] NO. Tris has to be rescued by fucking Peter. What is even the point of you, Four?
  • When Tris is caught as a "traitor," Four doesn't even attempt to talk to her or offer an explanation for her behavior that would, presumably, save her from being KILLED. To repeat: we're supposed to believe that Dauntless is ready to execute Tris, and because she was helping his dad, Four sees her dying as a completely reasonable outcome to not-exactly-being-a-traitor. For someone who keeps yelling at her to stop risking her life, he seems pretty copacetic with Tris getting executed and/or tortured.
  • Then, twenty minutes after Tris yells at him for being a jerk (finally), Four comes hop-skipping over and says, "You were right. I do know who you are. I just needed to be reminded." COOL STORY, BRA. At that point I would have been like, "I think we need to start seeing other people." BUT NO. Everything magically becomes happily every after ville again, and they kiss and make up. Literally.

i just threw up in my mouth a little bit

I want at least one scene of abject apologies and groveling. To the level that it's so pathetic, it's embarrassing.

Not to mention the fact that the writing style in Insurgent read VERY YA. Like Harriet the Spy. The number of conversations Tris eavesdropped on was ridic.

So yeah. I found this book to be EXTREMELY annoying. But I will say Veronica Roth can still spin a fast-moving story, even when it makes no sense.


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Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

mockingjay cover

After I finished Catching Fire, I tried to read something that wasn't a YA dystopian novel... for about five seconds. Then I finally gave in to my obsession and started Mockingjay.

I knew going into Mockingjay that a lot people on the bookternet were disappointed by it, but I didn't know why or wheretofore. If only I could go back to that time of blissful ignorance. Now I understand completely, though there is no comfort in it. And I didn't even spend a year waiting for this book to come out, imagining way better scenarios than what actually happened!

Going into Mockingjay, here's what I was expecting would happen:

  • Katniss rescues Peeta from the Capitol.
  • She gets close enough to President Snow to kill him, but probably doesn't end up assassinating him. Maybe someone else (Peeta, the Unexpectedly Badass Baker?) does that for her.
  • Katniss and Peeta take on leadership roles in the new government, get married, and live more or less happily ever after.


Here's what actually happened: NONE OF THOSE THINGS.

Oh, and I guess I should say there's going to be spoilers out the wazoo in this review, although the book's been out four freaking years. If you haven't read it yet, and you were planning to read it, um... maybe you should get to doing that.

Okay kids, put on your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Mockingjay starts out okay. Katniss has been "rescued" (or more like recruited?) by District 13, which also took in Katniss' and Gale's families after the Capitol burned District 12 to the ground (OR DID THEY? It would have been more interesting if they hadn't). Peeta is being held hostage by the Capitol and is begging for peace, which 13 interprets as a Benedict Arnold-type betrayal. So, to save Peeta from execution, Katniss agrees to be 13's poster child as long as Peeta is given immunity by the rebellion.

Okay, fine. I enjoyed the James Bond atmosphere of Katniss and Gale receiving fancy new weaponry and outfits, and I liked how Collins set up District 13 as being just as bad as the Capitol, or possibly even worse.

It was when Peeta is rescued from the Capitol that I started feeling little niggles of discontent. Here's how it went down: about halfway through the book, Katniss realizes the Capitol is punishing her by torturing Peeta. It takes her that long to come to this realization? Anyway, she freaks the hell out and 13's like, "If we want to keep using her on TV it looks like we're going to have to rescue Peeta." So they drug her into a stupor and Gale and some other people traipse on over the Capitol to get Peeta and the other Hunger Games contestants who were left behind at the end of Catching Fire. Then they traipse on back and plop him down in the middle of 13.

reading huh?


So just to sum up: They could have rescued Peeta AT ANY TIME, if Katniss had demanded it. But she conveniently didn't, so now Peeta's been brainwashed to kill her. And the whole rescue happened completely off-page while Katniss was unconscious. HOW FREAKING EXCITING.

There is no happy reunion between Katniss and Peeta. She can't deal with him calling her "a piece of work," so after taking more drugs (13 is very free and happy with the benzodiazepines–I found it hard to believe either Katniss or her family would be hunky dory with this considering her mother's refusal to give Gale morphine after he'd been whipped in Catching Fire, but apparently they are. And hey, why expect consistency?) she's off to do more war/TV stuff with Gale.

Time and preachy scenes about "panem et circenses" pass. Finally the rebels are set to take over the Capitol, and Katniss is determined to be part of the fighting. So there's a long section about training and she finally gets put on a unit with Gale and Finnick and some other people. Peeta is also part of Katniss' unit, because that's a great idea. Naturally things take a turn for the FUBAR and Katniss decides to lead the team into the heart of the Capitol to kill Snow. Pretty much everyone dies or is captured along the way, but Katniss manages to make it just outside the Capitol building where, presumably, President Snow lives. That's when her sister and a bunch of kids are killed by IEDs.

LAME, so lame. First of all, the fighting scenes read like Collins was describing one of those single-shooter video games. There was no sense of reality. Secondly, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock's comments on his movie, Sabotage, DO NOT BLOW UP THE INNOCENT LITTLE KID. The audience will never forgive you because you've crossed the line from narrative suspense into base shock value. I feel like that's what Collins did in Mockingjay by killing Prim. IT WAS TOTALLY POINTLESS.

Katniss goes into major freak out mode again (side note: I am so sick to death of female protagonists who start off really awesome and then collapse into emo can't-deal-with-it mode as soon as shit starts affecting them personally. coughOliviaPopecough). Katniss never makes it into the Capitol building to kill Snow, and the rebellion is won completely off page. AGAIN. Meanwhile, she wanders around crying and drugged up. When Katniss does find an opportunity to see Snow, he's like, "Hey, 13 arranged that entire thing with the bombs that killed your sister to expedite the end of the war," and Katniss is like, OH YEAH I forgot I didn't trust that bitch with the perfect hair. So she kills the president of 13 instead of Snow.

Okay, fine (again). But here's where I started getting really pissed off: Katniss is tried for the murder of 13's president, but we never see a single second of the trial, nor do we ever receive an explanation as to how or why she wasn't convicted. Was the defense temporary insanity? Justifiable homicide? Did anyone mention the whole thing with the bombs that killed the kids? I don't know! After the trial, she's shipped back to 12 with a "There, there now, little lady," pat on the head–metaphorically speaking, of course–which she accepts with nary a whimper of protest. In 12, she lives in the Victor's Village all by herself, wallowing in depression, until Peeta shows up. They have a bunch of kids and never leave 12 again. The end.

wtf book?


Seriously, what the freaking fuck????


  1. So basically at the conclusion of this nonsense, everyone is in more or less the exact same place they were in at the start of Catching Fire, except for Prim (who's dead) and Gale (who was the architect of the bombing that killed Prim). That doesn't make me feel like I wasted my time at all!
  2. Congrats, Collins, you just completely removed any agency from the main character of your novel who's supposed to be a "kick-ass heroine." You know what would be great? A book where the main character actually does stuff instead of wallowing in drugs and self-pity, or acting out emotionally instead of using her intelligence, or following that up by just doing whatever other people tell her to do. What a great message, keep this shit up.
  3. There was no emotional closure whatsoever. Sorry, I don't consider pushing babies out of your vagina closure. Katniss never acts proactively for her own happiness or fights for justice for Prim, and her confrontation with Gale over the bombing was lame. He was just like, "Did I have something to do with that? IDK. *shrug* So... this is going to be an issue between us now, right?" YA THINK. She also never confronts either Gale or Peeta for the numerous hurtful things they said about her during the course of the novel, for instance, "Katniss will pick whoever she can't survive without." What in the name of beejesus is that supposed to mean? I would have thrown a crowbar at both their heads.
  4. And speaking of Katniss choosing between Peeta and Gale, she never actually does! Gale gets some fancy-ass job in District 2 and never visits–which admittedly is understandable, since he killed her sister with his bloodthirsty warmongering, the asshat–and Peeta just kinda shows up. So the conclusion to their story is essentially: Hey, you're here, I've given up on life, let's have babies together.

The ending of Mockingjay was THE ACTUAL WORST. I'm not even being hyperbolic. I was so upset when I first finished it I couldn't sleep, and I was depressed for DAYS afterward. I have no idea what the hell Collins was thinking with this novel, but I feel like it betrayed every fiber of trust and time I invested in the series. I want to burn the shit out of it. I want to forget I ever read it. I want to rewrite the whole book into something that's actually decent.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that reason I had such a strong negative reaction to the end of Mockingjay was that, despite the supposedly "happy" ending, the novel is actually a tragedy, and a cynical one at that. On the micro level, it's the story of a woman who is systematically beaten down, used until she's completely empty and has lost everything: her friends, family, home; but even worse than that, her sense of self-identity, strength, and authority. In the technical sense Katniss survives The Hunger Games: Game On with a Vengeance, but in terms of her personality I feel like Katniss was completely erased, and no one noticed or cared.

On the macro level, the people who act without conscience or morals during the course of the novel, like Gale and Plutarch, are rewarded, while those who try to save lives or demonstrate caring for other people either die or are rendered completely powerless and irrelevant.

I mean the world's hard enough as it is guys. It's fucking hard enough as it is.


THE ACTUAL WORST.


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

catching fire cover

Welcome to The Hunger Games All Stars: the Peeta Bread Boy show! Having survived the Hunger Games thanks to some quick thinking on Katniss' part, Peeta is baking his feels and painting, because he's the sensitive artist type. Meanwhile, Haymitch is drinking his feels and Katniss... no one's quite sure what Katniss is doing. Luckily she has Peeta! Peeta makes everything better, as evidenced by this graph:

x y peeta graph


As you can see, the amount of time Katniss spends with Peeta is directly related to how likable she is, and in Catching Fire she and Peeta spend a lot of time together. So much time, because President Snow isn't convinced they're really in love. BUT THEY ARE YOU GUYS. They just don't know it yet.

Anyway. It took me a long time to read Catching Fire because I was meh about The Hunger Games–both the book and the movie–and then I discovered through a Sesame Street skit of all things that Peeta and Katniss go back to the Hunger Games. At first I thought they were joking, but then the Internet confirmed that they weren't. At which point I was just like, "Yeahhhhhhhhh. Nope."

Like seriously, back to the Hunger Games? The first time wasn't enough? It then took me a good long while to even work up enough fucks to watch the movie. I would consider watching it, and then I would remember they go back to the Hunger Games, and I would decide to do something else like wash the dishes. Surprisingly, however, I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit when I finally did watch it; and when I hit on a I've-been-meaning-to-read-that jag recently, I decided to pick up the book as well.

Like the movie, Catching Fire the novel is a big improvement over The Hunger Games the novel. For one thing, there's a lot of Peeta in it. I've said before that Peeta's the heart of the series, and this book is probably the most emotionally resonant of the entire trilogy. Peeta's totally sweet and swoonable and I just want to hug his little face.

kiss you and love you and hug you to death


Aside from Peeta, there's a lot more wry humor in Catching Fire than I remember being in The Hunger Games. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I find myself in the position to console them. Since I'm the person going in to be slaughtered, this is somewhat annoying.

Yes, it's great to have allies as long as you ignore the fact that you'll have to kill them.

I really can't think about kissing when I've got a rebellion to incite.

Good call. Remain focused.

"My nightmares are usually about losing you," [Peeta] says. "I'm okay once I realize you're here."
Ugh.

That last quote is my absolute favorite. It's the perfect summation of Peeta and Katniss' relationship.

There are also cool new characters introduced in Catching Fire, like Finnick and Johanna, who for some reason reminded me of Katy Perry (also, why is she the only person with a normal name?).

So yes, I finally get why everyone was so obsessed with The Hunger Games after Catching Fire came out. It tells a much better story (although there are some boring stretches when Peeta's not around), with more humor and personality. It doesn't feel stiff or mechanical like The Hunger Games did; it actually reads like a human being wrote it! I enjoy books by humans. And while most cliffhangers annoy me, this one's a killer.

Next up, my review of Mockingjay!



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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Movie Review: NIGHTCRAWLER


Originally released: 2014
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Based on: the script by Gilroy

Lou Bloom is a petty criminal living hand-to-mouth in Los Angeles. His hobbies include ironing, watering his plant, and watching old movies. But Lou isn't bummed—he wants to better himself in life, and he has no doubt he can do it if he can just find the right venue. Soon, he does, and becomes the best ambulance chaser—aka "nightcrawler"—in LA.

nightcrawler movie poster


Nightcrawler is a pretty good film, although I definitely wouldn't class it as an intentional crowd pleaser or blockbuster. That's not the filmmakers' goal here. Instead, Nightcrawler is a complex character study that makes you think and leaves you with a vague feeling of unease. The first half of the movie is slow, but by the second half, a murder and an increasingly complex plot deliver on the thriller aspects of the story.

The preview for Nightcrawler actually makes Gyllenhaal's character, Lou, seem much more sympathetic than he is in the movie. There is no redemption for this guy; he's a freaking psycho. His complete lack of morals and human sympathy, coupled with his dogged sense of persistence, are what make him the perfect ambulance chaser. It would be giving him too much credit even to call him despicable—he is completely unfeeling, cold, and self-absorbed. As the movie progresses, Lou is presented with opportunities to pull back and let go that any decent human being would take, but that's just it—he's nothing close to a decent human being.

It's pretty obvious even without watching the movie that TV news doesn't come off favorably in Nightcrawler, although the way Gilroy's script critiques modern news is more subtle and layered than I was expecting. My editor at Pulp Now is always talking about how mainstream news doesn't provide any context, and that's certainly the case in Nightcrawler. They not only don't provide context, they deliberately avoid it, because without context the world is more terrifying. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, never mind that the home invasion was the result of a drug deal gone wrong, or that ebola's only killed one American so far.

But there's also a connection in Nightcrawler with the way news is consumed in the age of the internet—there's a constant barrage of images and information passing by our eyeballs everyday, and everything and everyone is a potential commodity. Like Claude Monet, Lou is just an eye; unlike Monet, he consumes and profits from what he sees instead of interpreting it into something else.

I was also surprised by the themes of corporate greed and irresponsibility that run through Nightcrawler. On paper, the movie's plot is a success story: a poor nobody who can't get hired to save his life moves to the big city and finds success. But the way that success is achieved is closer to something out of Citizen Kane than Forest Gump. Becoming a freelance "photojournalist" offers Lou a chance not just to be self-employed, but to employ other people. When he hires an assistant, it's with astonishing alacrity, and the person he hires is desperate: on the edge of being homeless, willing to do ANYTHING for money, including turn tricks. Lou initially tries to take Rick on as an intern (I think we all know what that means), and then reluctantly offers him $30 a week. The corporate nonsense that Lou spouts at Rick on an almost-constant basis, which will probably sound familiar to anyone who's ever been employed, is designed to differentiate the two of them and remind Rick of his place.

Even worse, to Lou, his employees are simply expendable objects—he'll pay them if he has to, but only as much as he has to. And when they outlive their usefulness or "take away his bargaining power"—i.e. pull the same stunts he does—he gets rid of them. Literally. By the end of the movie, when he's assembled an entire team and gives them a pep talk about how he'd "never ask them to do something he wouldn't do himself," it's cruelly ironic because we know that there's absolutely nothing he wouldn't do if it meant he'd turn a profit.

nightcrawler challenger car


As for the performances, I could talk about them—Gyllenhaal's ability to make his eyes go completely blank is riveting—but the real star of the movie is Lou's Challenger SRT8 392. That car looks downright delicious, let me tell you, and the chase scene near the end was absolutely amazeballs. I love it when filmmakers take a trope like a car chase and turn it completely on its head, which is what happens in Nightcrawler. Now that's entertainment.

Nightcrawler is definitely what I would call a thinking person's thriller. If you can handle a slow start and a completely unlikable and unsympathetic main character, you'll be in for a great payoff at the end.



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Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Evolution of a Book Blogger


wave of nostalgia


This week, book bloggers all over the interwebs are participating in #BloggerBlackout to protest not just the actions of Kathleen Hale, but the tacit approval of her trip to crazy town by her publisher and The Guardian after she published her "article," Am I Being Catfished? (the answer to this question, which people have been treating as rhetorical for some reason, is: NO. YOU'RE NOT BEING CATFISHED. Catfishing is where people pretend to be someone/thing they're not in an **online relationship**. The book blogger you stalked was pursuing neither a personal nor a professional relationship with you. She was simply reading your book and offering an opinion about it online to people in general, not even you in particular).

I'm not necessarily participating in #BloggerBlackout (cuz... what exactly am I going to black out around here), but I decided to brave the perils of carpal tunnel syndrome and write about a topic that's been on my mind lately, namely how I got to this place where I spend a major portion of my life blogging about books and other things. I've been thinking about it not just because of Hale, but because in order to know where you're going you need to know where you've been. And it feels as if both this blog and book blogging in general is at a turning point right now. How we move forward will dictate how our community forms in the future.

So, if you can forgive a bit of navel gazing, here's the story of a book blogger (me).

understanding star ratings by xkcd


It all started with Amazon.com reviews, which I began writing in high school. They were ungrammatical and only a few hundred words each, but I was personally quite proud of them. I was obsessed with my Amazon reviewer ranking and would check it on a daily basis (this is where my antipathy for Harriet Klausner started—her reviews were all four or five stars, and sometimes it was obvious she hadn't even read the book. Yet she's Amazon's number one book reviewer?? Enraging).

Anyway, my Amazon review phase didn't last very long. For some reason I lost interest in late 2002. My posted reviews gradually become fewer and far between, until my last Amazon review for a book I read for my thesis.

After 2002, years passed without much online activity on my end. I'd answer e-mail and check my Amazon book recommendations once a day, and that was about it. Then, in 2006, my friend convinced me to join the pretty-much-obsolete site Xanga.com. She told me I would love it, and I did. At Xanga I mainly blogged about personal stuff, but also talked about books and movies off and on. I was frustrated by some aspects of Xanga: I really wanted to blog more about art and books, but the interest in those subjects was sparse. However, I did make several very good friends there, some of whom are still blogging today, like Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads, Anaraug from Adventures in Thing Making, and Ruth from Booktalk and More.

My other major activity online during this time was checking Amazon.com and authors' websites for information about new releases. Yes, it's strange but true: I used to be obsessed with new releases and cover reveals. I even had an elaborate calendar that I kept updated of what books were coming out when, and I'd usually read a book within a week of its release date. I say this was strange not because I consider it odd behavior, but because now I couldn't care less and read maybe one or two new releases a year. It could happen to you!

Anyway, it was through an author's website (I forget whose, but I think it was Anne Stuart's) that I came across the now-defunct Romance Novel TV in early 2008. I loved it. Romance! And TV! The site combined two of my favoritest things. After devouring all the videos, I went to the message boards, where I found something I didn't even realize existed: a community of people who loved discussing, making fun of, and rhapsodizing over romance novels as much as I did. Many of the people I met on the message boards at Romance Novel TV later started their own romance blogs, including Katiebabs from Babbling About Books and More, Kati D (who now writes for Dear Author), Kristie J from Ramblings on Romance, Etc., and Orannia from Walkabout.

One of the stars of Romance Novel TV, Sarah, had her own blog before anyone else. It was a small review site you might still be familiar with called Smart Bitches Trashy Books. SBTB is not a site I frequent a lot anymore, but when I first came across it, it seemed like the most amazing thing since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

See, before the internet, the only critical discourse you could find about romance novels was published in more or less industry controlled magazines. Basically, the reviews were just four or five star pablum—much like Harriet Klausner's—that were NOT TO BE TRUSTED. I mean, there's differences in taste and then there's, "Were you high when you read this novel? Because there's NO WAY someone with an IQ above 90 and a middle school diploma would think this was a good book." My point being, Sarah and Candy at SBTB told it like it was. If something was crap, they mocked the shit out of it. If something was amazing, they cheered for it. And if something was problematic, they discussed it. This was NOT available before the internet, at least not to me.

In the meantime, Ruth on Xanga was linking to these new things called "book blogs," such as Bookish Ruth, and I personally was itching for a place where I could indulge my desire to write about books more in-depth (and get more readers who would care about such a thing) than I could on Xanga. So in late 2008 I bit the bullet, signed up for a blogger account, and started a book blog called Heidenkind's Hideaway, which eventually I retitled Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books. My first post was a five star review of My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne. My second post was about my favorite scary books (in November—timely as always), and I was off and running. Soon I was participating in Twitter hashtag discussions like #RRTheater and blogging events like the 24 Hour Readathon and Bloggiesta.

I take you through this narrative to demonstrate two things: one, book blogging *is* a community. We didn't just pop up out of nowhere. We have a long history with each other, with books, and with critical discourse. At the same time, the community is diverse. We pull from different sources but come together, not just in our love books (because plenty of people who love books don't become book bloggers), but in our desire to talk about them.

Secondly, I wanted to show how my history with book blogging informs my reviews. I grew up out of the romance blogging community, which  in the early years was antagonistic toward the traditional romance review outlets. People may say reviews are for readers and whatnot, but for a long time that wasn't strictly true. I'm guessing more industry professionals than readers subscribed to Romantic Times, so is it any wonder their reviews were more of a feel-good gesture than an accurate representation of what the books were about and how people engaged with them? Sure, your book is a bestseller, but you remain blissfully unaware it's because people think it's a hilarious pile of shit until Goodreads or Twitter status updates come along and rip your illusions to shreds (and not coincidentally, it was actually Harris' GR status updates that set off Hale off, not any review. She didn't write a review of Hale's book, unless you consider a two-word "fuck this" a review... which I guess it is). Reviews are one thing, but the way people engage with your product on a critical or emotional level isn't "for" anyone, whether they be readers or writers.

And that's what book blogging was in the early days. Think of #RRTheater again (which eventually became #romfail), where Jane from Dear Author would download the Friday freebie from Ravenous Romance and then live tweet it. That was critical engagement! And it was freaking hilarious! Reviews on SBTB were fun!

That's why I started writing reviews and why this blog is *still* mainly reviews, despite the fact that popular wisdom says reviews don't get a lot of clicks. My blog isn't about clicks, or getting free books (although that's always nice), or even writing reviews "for readers," for that matter. It's about engaging with books, having fun, and sharing that with other readers. When I stop having fun, when it stops being about something, I'll stop blogging. Until then, I'm not going to let the fuckers bring me down. No one should.


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Readathon Wrap Up


The touching story of an apparently homeless and car-less woman with a proclivity for waking up in bathtubs.

This song seemed very appropriate around 8 o'clock last night. I also think I have more believable street cred than Ke$ha does in this video, which makes me feel better about myself.

Moving on...

The Readathon is over! Predictably, I didn't get much reading done once I sat down in front of the TV after dinner. But I did cheer for a few hours, so it wasn't a total waste.

Here are a few pics from my adventures in Readathoning yesterday:


The t-shirt I wore to remind myself what I was supposed to do for the day. I have no idea why it's flipped around. Dang phone.


Sofie keeping me company while I read Full Dark House and drank tea on the porch.


Cheering on the other Readathon-ers with a little martini.



And now for the end of event meme:


1) Which hour was most daunting for you?

Probably hour 11 or so, after I'd finished my first book and was feeling really tired.

2) Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

From this Readathon, no. I think anything by Laura Florand would be good, though.

3) Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Things seemed to go pretty smoothly this year. I can't think of a thing y'all could have done better!

4) What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

The Instagram feed was fun. I didn't participate in any minichallenges, so I can't speak to that.

5) How many books did you read?

I finished two books and started three books.

6) What were the names of the books you read?

Finished: The Genius and the Muse and It Happened in Egypt
Started: The Hundred Foot Journey, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Full Dark House


7) Which book did you enjoy most?

Probably Full Dark House, although I'm not even 10% into it yet, so still reserving judgment.

8) Which did you enjoy least?

The Genius and the Muse. It was so stupid and boring. There was a good book in there somewhere, it just wasn't *that* book.

9) If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

I guess just have fun with it and don't get overwhelmed. When I saw all the people I had to cheer for, I was like, "This is going to take FOREVER!" But actually it took less than two hours and I still had time to comment on a few of my friends' blogs, too.

10) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I would love to participate again! I'll definitely do a mix of cheering and reading, and I'd like to focus more on minichallenges next time. I completely neglected them this time around.



Thanks to everyone who made the Readathon happen this fall—you guys are amazing and I had such a good time! See you in April.


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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Readathon Mid-Event Survey

Benedict Cumberbatch reading

Oh hai. Did you know there's an entire Tumblr devoted to Benedict Cumberbatch reading things? You're welcome.

Anyway. I've been informed we're midway through the Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon! I am, like, SO TIRED YOU GUYS. I need tea or something.

Here's what I've been up to since my last update:

  • A lot of Instagramming.
  • Skimming through that boring book I mentioned last time.
  • Playing "Who wants the stick?!" with the dogs. Surprisingly enough, EVERYONE wants the stick.
  • Listening to playlists on Amazon Prime. I started off listening to the reading playlists (they have them for different genres like romance, crime fiction, etc.), but I found them really literal and unimaginative. So I switched to Ke$ha and More, and now I'm on Foster the People and More.
  • Burned all of the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban audio CDs to my computer. I may listen to them later.



There's a mid-event meme for these types of things, or so I've heard. Let's get to it!

1. What are you reading right now?

The Hundred Foot Journey, but I think I'm going to switch to something else for a bit. The battery in my iPad is dying.

2. How many books have you read so far?

I finished The Genius and the Muse and It Happened In Egypt. I was currently reading both before the Readathon started, however.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I really don't know. I think I'm going to give Full Dark House a shot.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not really. It's nice to have a day to oneself once in a while.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

I think how tired I am right now, considering I slept in! I really have to drink that tea.



That's all for now. I'll return for updates in a few hours. Hope your Readathon is going well!



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Readathon Start Post

readathon

Hey, everyone! As promised, here I am, up at the crack of noon (technically 11:30) and rarin' to go.

Let's get started with the opening meme for today's Readathon:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Colorado, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Hmm, maybe The 100 Foot Journey?

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I didn't prep any snacks. :( I guess the leftover sandwich I was going to eat for lunch? I wish I'd made something ahead for breakfast, like this baked omelet in bread from Full Fork Ahead, but I didn't. Oh well. Next time.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

As of last night I'm one of the new digital editors for my local indie mag! Hooray! It's very part-time—20 hours a week at most; I'll probably work more like 10—but I'm happy to get some newsroom and editing experience under my belt.

Also, back to having 3 jobs! Yayyyyyyyy?

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Well, I hope to actually finish a book this time around, if not 2! I'm debating whether to try to finish my current read, The Genius and the Muse, before moving on to one of my Readathon books. It's kind of boring and I was actually just using it as a placeholder until I could start a new book for the Readathon, but last night it got marginally interesting. Idk. Maybe I'll just skim through it.


And now I'm off to read for awhile, barring distractions from Twitter and Facebook. See you all in a few!


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Friday, October 17, 2014

Readathon Readathon Readathon!

readathon

Hello! Is anyone still out there? I hope so. I know it's been really quiet here lately, but working 3 jobs will do that to a person. Fortunately, my "square" job (which was actually seasonal) ended Tuesday.

I say fortunately not because I was glad it was over--I was actually a little sad--but because that means I can participate in the Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon! For some reason I thought the Readathon was last weekend (when I was working) and that I wouldn't be able to participate, so I was doubly excited when I realized I'd actually be off! With zero obligations to anyone! Yeehaw!

Anyway, my plans for the Readathon are to wake up late (I'm super tired--strangely I've been busier since my job ended than when I had it), read until about 7pm or so, then watch Doctor Who and cheer until bed time.

I don't have any snacks prepared this time around, because time. I haz none. I'll probably go for leftovers and take out and alcohol. But I have been putting thoughts into my Readathon stack!

Here's what I've been thinking of reading:

the shadowy horses susanna kearsley

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads gave me this for my birthday. It sounds really good!

the hundred foot journey by richard c morais

The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thoughts gave me this one for my birthday. Its sounds like a fun, fast read that's perfect for the Readathon.

as the crow flies craig johnson

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson
I'm kinda in the mood to read Craig Johnson right now, and this is the next book in the series I have yet to read.


I know that's not a lot of books, but realistically I never finish books during the Readathon anyway. So I'm looking at it more as a great book to start reading for the week. If I manage to finish it in one day I will be really proud of myself!

If you're participating in the Readathon, good luck and happy Readathoning! I'll be back to check in later on Saturday.


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: SIX OF HEARTS by LH Cosway

six of hearts cover

When street magician and illuuuuuuuusionist Jay Fields walks into the law offices of Matilda’s father, little does she know Jay will change her and her father’s lives. Although her father refuses to represent Jay against a newspaper in a libel case, it just so happens he has a room to let in their home, and Jay is in need of a place to live. As Matilda and Jay spend more time together, their mutual attraction becomes undeniable, but Matilda senses there’s more to Jay’s libel case than meets the eye. Will Matilda still want him once Jay pulls the curtain on his final trick?

I do enjoy LH Cosway’s novels, but Six of Hearts just didn’t come together for me. It’s a good thing this novel was obviously a revenge story (I’m a sucker for revenge stories), or I might have drifted off to another novel before I finished it.

My biggest problem with Six of Hearts was plausibility. I had a very difficult time buying into some of the things that happened early in the book—for example, the third bedroom that Matilda’s dad was trying to rent. It was way too convenient, not to mention weird. Or like when Jay easily convinced Matilda to go to a casino to “make money” for a sewing machine she’d been saving up for—one doesn’t gamble to “make money,” unless one is planning on cheating. That’s just common sense, and I found it difficult to believe that Matilda, who was clearly a planner and conservative spender, would so easily agree to risk her savings that way.

And then there was Matilda’s refusal to recognize Jay’s attraction to her, which was INSANELY obvious. I mean, I get that she’s shy and not very confident, but 200 pages was way too long to drag that shit out, especially when the guy in question was taking her out on dates, spooning with her in bed, acting all jealous when she saw other guys, etc. etc. Newsflash: HE LIKE-LIKES YOU, GIRL. YOU’RE JUST BEING STUPID NOW.

I also didn’t find the main characters to be as well-drawn as in previous Cosway novels like Still Life with Strings and Painted Faces. For an illuuuuuuusionist, Jay didn’t seem to do many tricks. I did like that Matilda had a hobby—dressmaking—but the sewing machine was the only prop to support it. There were no dress forms or mention of fabrics and where she stored them, and her descriptions of fashion and clothing was cursory at best. Niggling little details, definitely, but they bothered me.

That’s not to say the book is bad—I adored the basic concept of Six of Hearts and Cosway kept me engaged through the whole novel, even when I thought it was being a bit ridiculous. But I also suspect that, in the hands of a more skilled writer, this story could have been amazeballs instead of just okay. For example, if Arthur Conan Doyle had written this novel, he’d have had me convinced one thing was going on when it was actually a completely different thing. If Alexandre Dumas had written Six of Hearts, the plot would have unfolded with the precision of ticking clock and I’d have been blindsided by how Jay set it all up.

Neither of those scenarios happened here, and I feel like EXPECTING those things to have happened is reasonable because Cosway references the work of both those authors in the book. It was like she was aware of how she could have played with the similarities between magic and great storytelling, but instead of actually trying to do that she focused most of her energies on the relationship between Jay and Matilda. And while I did like them together and thought they had great chemistry, I didn’t think that alone was enough to support the entire novel.

So, somewhat of a mixed bag for me on this one. But Six of Hearts is still a better and more interesting read than 80% of contemporary romances out there, so worth the buy I’d say.



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Monday, September 15, 2014

Two Gabriel Allon Novels by Daniel Silva: THE HEIST and PRINCE OF FIRE

As most of you probably know by now, I'm a big fan of Daniel Silva's work. It all started with 2013's The English Girl, one of the best thrillers I've ever read. After finishing that novel, I decided to dig into Silva's backlist and, unintentionally, started reading the Gabriel Allon series backward. But recently I broke with that trend and skipped both ahead and backward, reading Silva's latest—The Heist—and 2006's Prince of Fire practically back-to-back.

Unfortunately I wasn't terribly impressed with either of them.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Silva's series follows the adventures and misadventures of Gabriel Allon, the greatest spy of all the times. Born to a Holocaust survivor, Allon was recruited by the Mossad after the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. His job: hunt down the members of Black September and assassinate them. Allon, who originally wanted to be an artist, couldn't paint original pieces afterward and instead became an art restorer—an art restorer frequently called in by the Mossad to take care of shit-head terrorists because HE'S THE ONLY SPY IN ISRAEL. Or something.

prince of fire cover


In Prince of Fire, Allon is restoring an important altarpiece in Venice, when he's called back to Israel. His information has been leaked, possibly to the son of one of the Black September men he assassinated. Even worse, the man gunning for Gabriel has figured out where his wife, Leah, is hidden.

Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thoughts told me I should read Prince of Fire next, and I can kind of see why. This is the book where Allon's core team is formed, and so far the only one I've read where Leah plays a big role in the action. Honestly, the way Leah is treated in this book infuriated me. See, Leah keeps reliving the same day—the day her and Gabriel's son died in a car bomb explosion—over and over. Why? Maybe it's because she's hopped up on meds and doesn't do anything but stare out an asylum window all day, who knows! Meanwhile, Gabriel is cavorting with his nubile young lover, Chiara, half a continent away in Venice. Channeling Mr. Rochester much there, buddy?

That's bad enough, but then Leah actually leaves the asylum for a while. And she actually starts getting better! Imagine that. Like, she starts interacting with her world some more and pulling herself out of her fugue states. At least until Gabriel gets ahold of her and sticks her back in another asylum. This is one kidnapping where I was rooting for the bad guys to get away with it.

And don't even get me started on Chiara, who is beyond annoying in this book. If the guy you're in love with is 1. married, 2. promised to marry you, and yet still 3. isn't divorcing his first wife, then there's a problem. The fact that Gabriel pulled the "Leah needs me right now," card quite frankly boggles my mind. At least Chiara left him, although I could have done without the tearful goodbye and Gabriel's attitude of self-sacrificing nobility.

grumpy clint eastwood
Uhg. Get off my lawn.


After finishing Prince of Fire, I resolved to not dig into Silva's backlist any farther, except maybe to read the first Gabriel Allon novel. The books are just getting to be too annoying.

I was, however, still really looking forward to reading Silva's latest release, The Heist. Silva's novels have gotten progressively better over time, so if the trend continued The Heist was shaping up to be completely amazeballs.

Obviously my expectations were really high. Too high.

the heist cover


In The Heist, Gabriel is back in Venice, once again restoring something. Art restorers gonna restore. He's waiting for Chiara to give birth and for Uzi's term as Boss Guy of Israeli Intelligence (I don't know the official name) to end so that he can take over. It's like a mini-vacation, if you will. And then the Boss Guy of the Carabinieri Art Squad (again, don't know the official name, but you get the idea) shows up and "asks" Gabriel to look into the mysterious death of an art collector. Gabriel can't get one moment to himself, I tell ye, NOT ONE MOMENT.

Anywho, after walking around the crime scene for, like, thirty seconds, Gabriel figures out Fancy Art Collector Guy (again, not the official title) was actually and very unsurprisingly Stolen Art Smuggler Guy. And the game is afoot. Will this all tie into a Middle-East terrorist plot to blow something up? This is a Gabriel Allon novel, soooooooo: probably, yes.

The Heist wasn't a bad novel by any means, but so much of it felt like a retread. The use-an-art-smuggling-ring-to-find-terrorists element was extremely reminiscent of the same device Silva employed in The Fallen Angel. Gabriel uses a Muslim woman to gain access to terrorist bank accounts, just like he did in Portrait of a Spy, and said woman is kidnapped, just like she was in Portrait of a Spy (running tally of women kidnapped in this series so far: 4). Even minor characters from The English Girl make a reappearance. And yes, I did like those characters in The English Girl, but there's no reason for them to be in The Heist. Like Christopher Keller literally has nothing to do; I kind of even forgot he was there.

To be fair, I thought Silva executed all these elements more skillfully in The Heist than he did in his previous novels, but it felt a tad phoned in. The Heist had no anima, no oomph. Bridget told me that Silva had trouble finishing the book and only did so because of pressure from his publisher, which if true would explain a lot. Even with the lack of inspiration, however, Silva is still on top of current politics in the region, and what he has to say is still extraordinarily relevant. It's just not terribly new.

The Heist is a novel where the main character is waiting—waiting for his new life as a father and Intelligence Director Guy (I should really look these titles up) to begin and his old life as Broody Super Secret Agent Man to end. Accordingly, it feels like the author is waiting, too. Hopefully whatever Silva is waiting for will happen between now and his next book.





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Friday, August 15, 2014

Giveaway: Bookish Swag from Gone Reading!


book text art poster

I enjoy bookish swag as much as the next person, so when Brad Wirz from Gone Reading offered to let me try some of their products and host a giveaway for a lucky reader of this blog, I was definitely in.

Basically, Gone Reading is a retail website that sells every kind of book-related item you can imagine, from t-shirts to journals, to those posters made from the text of a book. Even better, Gone Reading donates 100% of its profits after taxes to literacy charities like READ Global and Ethiopia Reads. Everybody wins!


jane austen handbook cover


So what did I get from Gone Reading? As some of you might know, on occasion I ask myself what would Jane Austen do, so I requested The Jane Austen Handbook, which claims to tell me what Jane Austen WOULD do, although not in as esoteric a sense as I usually imagine (and considering how gorgeously bound the book is, it was actually very reasonably priced).

jane austen tattoos

I also got a collection of Jane Austen temporary tattoos because I couldn't help myself. I can finally realize my lifelong dream of tattooing Colin Firth's face on my butt.

Some other nifty items on Gone Reading I was tempted by: a Shakespeare finger puppet theater set, an Edgar Allan Poe bobblehead doll, Shakespearean insult bandages (basically band-aids with insults on them), a personal library kit (I know I'd probably never use it, but it's still pretty cool), and a book text poster of Pride & Prejudice.

So, as mentioned earlier, Brad is offering one lucky reader of this blog a $25 gift card to Gone Reading! To enter, just comment here with the item you'd buy if you won the lottery (the lottery to win the gift card, not the Powerball or anything... although, hey, if you want that much stuff go for it). If you can't comment because Disqus is being stupid, shoot me a tweet @heidenkind with the hashtag #gonereadinggiveaway. For my readers who don't live in the US, make sure Gone Reading ships to your respective countries here before you enter.

This giveaway will run from August 15th-22nd. I will choose the winner using random.org and notify them by replying to either the winning tweet or comment, so be sure to follow the comment thread here! If I don't hear back from the winner within three days of the announcement, a new winner will be chosen.

Good luck to all!



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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: STILL LIFE WITH STRINGS by LH Cosway

still life with strings cover

^^Terrible book cover.

Jade makes her living as a Dublin street performer and symphony bartender. After a one-night stand with the symphony's new violinist, Jade and Shane start falling in love, despite the fact that Jade made it clear she was not interested in being anything other than friends. Because reasons. Will Shane be able to convince her to change her mind?

Last year I read and enjoyed LH Cosway's Painted Faces (you know, the book with the drag queen hero), so when I saw Still Life with Strings on sale, I was more than willing to download it. On the surface Still Life with Strings sounds more conventional than Painted Faces—the hero is a musician, and the heroine *is* a street performer, but it's more of a hobby than a full time job. However, I'd go so far as to say that in their own ways Shane and Jade are more unique, and more fully-realized, than Freda and Nicholas from Painted Faces, with a lot more chemistry and a more believable relationship arc. I stayed up until 5 in the morning reading this novel—on a work night, no less—and as much as I enjoyed Painted Faces, I think Still Life with Strings is 1000x better. You all should definitely give it a try.

First of all, the characters. Both Shane and Jade are different and isolated in their own ways, the reasons for which we discover gradually over the course of the novel. Jade's had a hard life, but she maintains her sense of humor and balance through "street performing" as a living statue. I've always wondered why someone would do that, and Cosway makes it sound surprisingly fun and creative. As for Shane, he's definitely an odd one—which actually fits in well with what I know about musicians—and I loved that he spends a good deal of time during the course of the book playing music, writing music, and talking about music. Unlike in some romance novels I could name (coughLickcough), the fact that he's a musician isn't just a hook. It's a part of his character and central to the story.

And speaking of music, the way Cosway incorporates it into Still Life with Strings is brilliantly done. It's not easy to write about music in a way that's unique and interesting, and SHOWS us its importance and effect on the characters, but Cosway does it through imagery and Jade's imaginings, and it totally works.

Still Life with Strings DOES contain several of my least favorite romance tropes: first of all, one night stands that turn into true lurv. So entirely likely, not. However, in this case I found it believable. The trope I had the most problem with was the one where the heroine refuses to start a relationship with the hero just to drag the book out, then changes her mind and says they can be fuck buddies but they won't be "in a relationship." Yeah, it kind of made me roll my eyes a bit, as did the fact that Shane's like, "Sure, we can just be friends. Whatever you want." And then immediately starts hitting on Jade again because HE CAN'T HELP IT. But it was more well-done than in It Happened One Wedding—I mean, there *are* reasons why Jade doesn't want to be in a relationship that apply to every guy out there, not just Shane. Not entirely logical reasons, mind you, but reasons. I also liked the fact that even though Jade was hesitant to get into a relationship with Shane, she was still sexually aggressive and confident. And honestly, Shane and Jade had so much chemistry I was willing forgive the occasional lapse into probably-would-never-happen town.

Another thing that I found kiiiiind of ridiculous and annoying were Shane and Jade's awkward Facebook chats/texts. UHG PEOPLE. I don't want to read pages and pages of characters texting, messaging, or emailing unless it's 1. necessary, and 2. interesting. Okay? Like those things aren't tedious enough in real life (and incidentally, my social media discussions are usually way more interesting than Shane and Jade's).

But aside from that, Still Life with Strings was a really creative and different romance. There are a lot of things going on in this book—mystery, magical realism, Dublin's indie art scene, both Shane and Jade's messy and complicated personal lives, music, class conflict—but it all comes together without one element overwhelming the others. I might have enjoyed Painted Faces, but Still Life with Strings has turned me into a LH Cosway fan.




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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review: SECONDS by Bryan Lee O'Malley

seconds cover

It's probably not totally obvious, but I am a huge Bryan Lee O'Malley fan. I loved his first graphic novel stand-alone, Lost At Sea, and I think Scott Pilgrim might have ruined me for all other graphic novel series. It was that amazeballs. So to say I was looking forward to Seconds would be putting it mildly—I've been wound up like a spring waiting for O'Malley's next project for YEARS.

Was it worth the wait? Well...

The start of the comic is actually pretty strong. The main character, Katie, is the head chef at a hip restaurant named Seconds. She's the queen bee of the place, but she wants more. To that end, she's opening another restaurant across the river, creatively named Katie's. However, the old building is a money pit and renovations are dragging on and on and on, so in the meantime Katie's stuck at Seconds.

Katie isn't the best person. She's selfish, oblivious to the people around her and their feelings, and like many people who work in top kitchens (I'm guessing, based on all the reality TV chef shows I watch), she's a ball buster. But O'Malley manages to make her sympathetic, especially when she uses the mushroom a house elf gives her to rewind time and save a shy waitress from a serious kitchen accident.

Of course, once Katie finds the elf's stash of mushrooms, she uses them to rewind time and erase really stupid stuff like staying up all night watching Breaking Bad on Netflix. Would any of us do any different? Probably, because I'm assuming y'all aren't assholes. But I think we can all understand the temptation, despite the fact that Katie's constant rewinding is obviously going to fuck up the space-time continuum.

Here's the thing with Seconds: it's good, because it's by Bryan Lee O'Malley. But it's not as good as either Scott Pilgrim or Lost At Sea. O'Malley's strength—aside from his visual style, which is slightly muted here but still evident—lies in creating characters that are at once really quirky and yet totally identifiable. As I said in my review of Lost at Sea, I KNOW these people. That's not the case in Seconds. Katie's well-drawn(ish), but the secondary characters? Not so much. I was particularly annoyed with the whole love triangle between Max, Katie's cool ex, and Andrew, the chef she trained to take over for her at Seconds. What either of these bozos see in Katie, or vice versa, I have noooo idea. Their personalities, if one could call them that, were interchangeable, and Katie didn't seem to think of either of them as more than convenient bed partners. I didn't care which guy she wound up with because it didn't really matter, and I was kind of irritated she did settle with one of them by the end of the book.

The story also starts getting really boring and repetitive about 2/3rds of the way through the comic, especially since the solution to the whole problem seems really obvious. Everything is fixed too easily, with too little consequences, and as a result the themes of Seconds—responsibility, patience, growing up—aren't effectively fleshed out.

There's also nothing original in Seconds like there was in Lost at Sea and Scott Pilgrim. It's very self-referential, which COULD be amusing, but turned out to be annoying instead. Just because a joke worked—and brilliantly—in Scott Pilgrim doesn't mean it will work here. There's not enough distance between the two comics that fans of O'Malley will pat themselves on the back for remembering the reference, which is really the only reason to insert jokes like this:

bread makes you fat joke in seconds
You should be sorry, O'Malley.

Keep in mind that I'm being hyper-critical here because I expect a lot out of O'Malley, and for good reason. Seconds is by no means a terrible comic. But does it stand up to O'Malley's previous works? In my opinion, no. If you're starting out with O'Malley, I wouldn't recommend Seconds; and if you're already a fan, you probably already bought it anyway. I just hope O'Malley can shake off whatever malaise he's got himself mired in and give us something with more energy and a more developed storyline for his next project.




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