Monday, February 27, 2012

A to Z April Challenge

Because I can't help myself sometimes...

The challenge is to blog every day in April (except for most Sundays) and follow a theme: A on April 1st, B on the 2nd, etc. Mine will all be good books (and movies and tv shows and maybe even radio shows).

I'll probably start with An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, and end with....well, Goodreads says the only "Z" book I've read is The Zucchini Warriors by Gordon Korman. Since it's unlikely I'll read anything about zombies between now and April, that may very well be it.

In the meantime, I need books beginning with Q and X. Any recommendations?

The challenge had 100 participating bloggers in 2010. They had nearly 1300 in 2011. Sign up at the A To Z April Challenge web site...

Friday, February 24, 2012

February reading

First television, since all the shows I'm currently watching (except Top Shot) are at or near their season finales, and these shows have a connection to the books I'll discuss:

Downton Abbey

Brought to us here in the USA by PBS/Masterpiece Theater. I was getting a little worried about Downton Abbey, Season Two. I may even have fast-forwarded through the episode where a guy showed up claiming to be the Titanic-lost heir.

I don't mind when people act out of character in any story, as long as it leads to them being more interesting as characters, rather than less. For instance, O'Brien, the lady's maid to Lady Grantham, is an unbelievable schemer. She's much nicer this season, and you can trace it directly back to when she erroneously thought Lady Grantham was planning to get rid of her, and did something horrible she's now plagued with guilt over. This also leads to conflict with Thomas the footman, who used to be her ally in all their plots for advancement, because he has no idea why she's suddenly found a conscience.

I understand why O'Brien and Lord Grantham have changed, but not why Mary or Isobel have. I was worried that several characters were dangerously close to becoming cliches I'd prefer not to see in such a...well, masterpiece. :) Fortunately the show is still fascinating, and I'm looking forward to Season Three.

I'll admit that the acerbic dowager countess is now my favorite character (I didn't have a favorite in Season One, because so many of the characters were so delightfully entertaining and flawed), and I'm finding Bates only slightly less irritating than I did last season. There's nothing more annoying than people who choose to be altruistic by hurting everyone who cares about them. There's nothing selfless about that.

Which is not to say I want him to be different. I've said it before - I don't need to like characters to find their situations fascinating. Playing Bates the valet against Thomas the footman (who is just one big steaming pile of self-interest) makes for good storytelling.

And Parenthood. People who know me may find my loving this show to be rather out of character, but I don't think it is. I don't have or want children, I tend to avoid traditional family get-togethers, and crowds involving 5 to 50 people make me nervous (smaller or larger is mostly okay). But I love Parenthood, for some of the same reasons I love Downton Abbey and Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series. Large families are the biological equivalent of boarding schools and medieval castles as far as storytelling goes. Lots of people with different goals are around each other all the time = great setting for conflict = a good story (which is obviously not the same thing as "story I want to live in real life").

My favorite character in Parenthood is Adam Braverman, the eldest, most responsible sibling who -pretty much - always does the right thing. Which is interesting, because the eldest, most responsible sibling was my least favorite of the Bridgerton siblings (not that big a deal, I liked them all, I just liked Francesca and Colin the most).

Books! After re-reading a crazy number of books, I finally picked up something new (to me).

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
Genre: fantasy

Azoth wants to escape his hellish life in the slums, stealing to pay dues in a street guild where he and his closest friends are terrorized and abused. After mistaking the wetboy Durzo Blint (P4: A wetboy was like an assassin – in the way a tiger is like a kitten) for a kind-looking man, Azoth begs to become Durzo’s apprentice, and enters a world of politics and magic where the dangers are bigger and further-reaching than anything he ever imagined in the slums.

I expected it to be good, and it was. It had many things I love - political intrigue, magic, people who are really good at what they do, impossible choices.

It also had the longest final battle sequence I think I've ever read. After wading through 200 pages or so of blood and gore before reaching "The End", I curled up into a small ball under the covers and whimpered through a minor breakdown over why people are so mean to each other and why we can't just get along.

I know this stunning amount of violence is the direction fantasy is heading (along with many if not most other genres). Brent Weeks is a brilliant writer, one of my favorite authors, repped by my favorite literary agency (because they rep several of my favorite authors), which means I plan to read everything he writes. But because I was expecting violence on the level of The Black Prism (which he wrote after the Night Angel books, and which you should read IMMEDIATELY, if you haven't already) I was a bit stunned by this. I read fantasy despite the violence, not because of it. And I get grumpy when my favorite character is killed.

So I figured I'd take some recovery time, and look for a book I'd been meaning to read for a while, a regency romance with magic in it, and more importantly, no killing.

I went looking for that book, and instead stumbled on

To Love a Thief by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

I think what drew my attention was that the blurb seemed so similar to another book I read and liked recently: Law-enforcing aristocrat falls in love with hot criminal. But in this case, Gideon's plan isn't to reform Lily into a non-criminal so much as to use her talent for making herself whatever she wants to be. He wants her to become a lady, and make the woman he really wants jealous.

Folks, I think I may have just found a new favorite Regency Romance author (along with Courtney Milan, Julia Quinn, and Tessa Dare). I love, love, love Julie Anne Long's voice. Lots of wit, humor, setting, adventure. Not to mention similes and metaphors that do exactly what they should do: emphasize their point rather than distract you from it.

 I'd intended to read To Love a Thief and then read Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks, but somehow I found myself reading

The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

Madeleine Greenway is a mercenary who can retrieve anything someone's lost (e.g., if you gave your wife's necklace to your mistress by mistake, and need it back asap). She's been paid to retrieve Colin Eversea from the gallows, and does so at the very last moment, using explosions and a riot. But when she takes him to the drop-off point, someone tries to kill her.

I'm not crazy about the cover, but I love the writing:

P84 quote:

“He had one of those chins what…” One of the innkeeper’s hands went up to squeeze his chin into two little folds. “…a chin what looks like an arse.”
“A chin dimple? A cleft?”
“Not cleft so much as dented, Mr. Eversea. And blue eyes. Went nicely with his costume.”
Dumbstruck silence followed this observation.
The innkeeper sighed. “It’s me wife. If ye gets yerself a wife one day, Mr. Eversea, ye’ll come ou’ wi’ things like that, too, mark my words, mark my words. ‘This matches wi’ that or with this,’ and so on. They talk like that, women do. She makes me look a’ things and give opinions. She’ll turn me into a girl yet.”
This seemed unlikely, but all Colin said was, “Blue eyes and an arse chin. Thank you, that’s very helpful, Mr. Croker.”

P323 Quote (after a group of soldiers have just been ambushed and disarmed by the criminal they were chasing)

Their three muskets lay in a row on the ground like fallen comrades.

And then I stayed up until 5:30 this morning reading the third book and trying not to giggle (or sniffle) too loudly, while my long-suffering husband pretended to sleep through it:

Like No Other Lover by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

I really, really like the heroine of this book.

Cynthia Brightly has committed the unforgivable sin for the belle of the London season. Her rich, titled fiancĂ© breaks off the engagement, and no one in society will receive her, except her friend Violet. She retreats to Violet’s country home, with only five pounds to her name and nowhere to go, determined to use this last house party to find a husband before the scandal catches up with her.
Miles, Violet’s brother, was utterly dismissed by Cynthia while she was still the most desirable debutante. Now that his older brother has disappeared and Miles is the heir to the Redmond fortune, he delights in putting Cynthia in her place. Except things don’t go quite as planned, and he finds himself offering to help her find the husband she needs – in exchange for a kiss.

P10 Quote (after Miles overhears Cynthia (who he's been drooling over) say something really cruel about him to someone else):

The shock, when it arrived, was unnatural and nasty: as though a butterfly had landed on his wrist only to sink fangs into it.

P41 Quote:
The room exhaled Redmond wealth and history and comfort; the way a church always seems to exhale peace and prayers.

With these books I realized I may have just stumbled onto another series based on a family (see, there is a tie-in to all those tv shows). Not just one family, but two feuding ones, the Everseas and the Redmonds. I really, really hope that's the case. Nothing bores me more than cookie-cutter villains, and if the Pennyroyal Green series actually follows two large families, making them heroes of their own books, which makes the other family the villain, then I'm hooked.

So now I'm reading Shadow's Edge, and trying to decide whether to also go on to the third Pennyroyal Green book. I probably will. Along with the book I originally went looking for,

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal....
Genre: umm...Regency fantasy?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Random Day: January Books

You know how they say if you have a question, ask; because probably ten other people have the same question and are just too embarrassed to admit it? Don't. I was in a class today, and a hexadecimal question cratered my brain. So I asked for clarification, and the instructor wanted to know who else was confused. Turns out the class has seven engineers and two math tutors. I guess I'm the comic relief.

Moving on...

I read some amazing books last month, and I wanted to bask in the euphoria a little longer, so rather than try new books, I just reread old ones that I already love. Silly; I know. On the other hand, I tried a new movie and wished I hadn't. The movie is based on a totally hilarious book, but it seems the screenplay writer didn't actually get the appeal of the book. I'm assuming it didn't last much beyond opening weekend.

So on to the stuff I did like!

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Genre: YA

I know this is THE book John Green's been writing for something like a decade. But for me, THE John Green book will always be An Abundance of Katherines, a book I love so much that I hand-pimp it to anyone who talks to me for more than eight minutes, yet which I identify with so personally that I can't even write a blog post about it.

But I can see the brilliance of The Fault in Our Stars. I liked the characters. Yes, even the flawless love interest. I don't get the appeal of "manic pixie dream girls" who pepper stories written by men ( Zooey Deschanel, who is amazing, plays that role a lot. Weeds, 500 Days of Summer, and to a lesser extent The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and New Girl, from the 2.5 episodes I saw), but I do get the appeal of the hot, cheerful boy who always says unbelievably witty, brilliant things with perfect timing. That version of unrealistic love interest doesn't come up nearly often enough. In fact, the only other examples I can think of are all womanizing rakes from regency romances, a character trope I despise.

I'm babbling about Deschanel and regency rakes in order to avoid talking about The Fault In Our Stars. Because it's about kids dying of cancer. It's amazing. I cried and I laughed and I felt awful for laughing. I know many people have lived this story in their own painful, unique way. I think only John Green could have written about it like this.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Genre: literary/magical realism

Celia and Marco have trained their entire lives for an epic duel set up by their instructors, and the black-and-white Night Circus is the magical battle field. Despite their growing love for each other, leaving the fight is physically impossible, and only one of them can win.

This is one of very few books I've read that hurtled towards such a terrible ("terrible" as in "depressing", not "badly-written") end that I couldn't even begin to imagine how the author would resolve it. And then she did, and it wasn't tragic or ridiculous or eye-roll-inducing. It just made perfect sense. The world-building was amazing. And the magic seems to have no discernible rules, and yet feels completely believable.

Tangent: I've heard a lot about the tortured artists who supposedly make up the bulk of the writing world, the people who suffer for their craft and whatnot. I have to say Erin Morgenstern is my idea of what a writer would be if I were making one up. She's quirky and adorable and takes cool pictures and says cool things and does cool stuff. Authors tend to be very...normal. Which is not at all surprising. It just doesn't fit with the popular narrative. Oscar Wilde and J.D. Salinger and the like were so unusual that they've come to define what people picture when they think "writer".

The Future of Us by Jay Ashby and Carolyn Mackler
Genre: YA

It's 1996, and Josh gives Emma an AOL cd so she can log on to the internet. Except once it's installed, it logs them on to Facebook, fifteen years in the future. From the updates, they can see that 2011-Emma hates everything about her life (with good reason), and 2011-Josh is rich, successful, and married to the hottest girl in school. Emma's determined to change her future, but everything she does changes Josh's future, too, and he's not happy about it.

I'm so glad I've found another book by two authors! There's another I want to write about, and I couldn't think of any books to recommend along with it. I'll leave discussions of the merits/issues in this book to other reviewers, but I thought the concept was fascinating. I graduated from high school at the same time as the kids in The Future of Us, so the nostalgia factor totally works for me. I'm not sure who the target market is, though - one of my friends is in her early twenties, and was completely unmoved by the premise, which makes sense to me. I can only assume teenagers would feel even more so. But the book definitely reads like YA. On the other hand, I loved Ready Player One, and I certainly don't remember the 80s.

Okay, here's a list of all the books I reread this month:
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon
Eye of The Labyrinth by Jennifer Fallon
Lord of the Shadows by Jennifer Fallon
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Among Friends by Caroline B Cooney

All speculative fiction or YA. Well, Among Friends would probably be sold as middle grade now. I'll have to do a post on Among Friends at some point. It's crazy, going back to that book 22 years after I first read it, and seeing how much my sympathies with specific characters have changed now that I have an adult perspective.