Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Hangovers and The Secret History

Help! I’m in the throes of what can only be described as a “book hangover”—that space between novels where I can’t quite bring myself to abandon the world of the book I’ve just finished to start reading something new.

The book in question is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Yes, I know that it’s Tartt’s new release, The Goldfinch, that’s garnering so much buzz recently. I’d heard so many wonderful things about her first novel, though, that I felt compelled to read it before checking out the new one. As an added bonus, it also came highly recommended for its strong sense of atmosphere. This is something I’ve been seeking in my reading lately (see last month’s The Night Circus), so I was eager to give The Secret History a look.

My first impression: How did someone not recommend this book to me sooner?

The Secret History is a thriller on its surface—a sort of murder mystery in reverse, where readers discover the murder of a young student at the hands of his friends in the opening pages, and then backtrack to chart the course of events that lead to the murder and its aftermath. Its real power, though, comes not from the murder plot, but from the protagonist’s gradual decay as he becomes enveloped in the turmoil of one of the strangest and most seductive friend groups I’ve seen portrayed in a novel.

Narrator Richard Papen is an outsider in every sense of the word. He’s just as out of place with his unsupportive, working class family in California as he is in the snooty, upper crust, liberal arts college he attends in New England. Almost immediately, Richard becomes drawn to eccentric professor Julian Morrow and his exclusive ancient Greek program. Julian operates largely outside of college jurisdiction, and demands that his hand-picked students take classes only with him for their entire tenure. Despite warnings about the practicality of these studies, Richard becomes enamored with the cool, untouchable Greek students—scholarly and stoic Henry, charismatic twins Charles and Camilla, shrewd and flamboyant Francis, and pompous jokester Bunny—and he soon finds himself joining their ranks. 

Richard’s a little Gatsby, a little Pip. His clear desire to belong and his self-acknowledged fascination with aesthetic beauty and artifice create a believable descent into trust and complicity with the rest of the group, even as red flags begin to emerge. Tartt excels at presenting characters who intrigue and even evoke a kind of sympathy from the reader, despite the fact that these characters are fundamentally rotten individuals. Much like a Walter White or a Tony Soprano—though younger and often significantly more angst-ridden—Tartt’s group of young adults will occasionally display the barest flashes of morality or kindness or helplessness just at the moment when you begin to genuinely hate them. Choosing Richard, who is not exactly “pure” from the outset, but who experiences perhaps the most dramatic moral decline, as well as having the most objective vision of events, is key in achieving much of this balance. His excitement at being included within this exclusive group, to finally rewrite his own life story into something more glamorous and interesting, is predominantly what makes his actions believable and even relatable (if not wholly sympathetic).

I mentioned earlier that I came to this book for the atmosphere; and damned if that isn’t why I stayed! Tartt’s writing is gorgeous, her prose lush and evocative. Descriptions of the New England landscape abound, portrayed with the same sense of fierce and somewhat terrifying beauty with which the Greek students become so obsessed. The students themselves are wonderfully anachronistic. They dress sharply, their speech is eloquent and old-fashioned, and they eschew modern pursuits for lawn games, cards, and discussion of antiquity (apparently any history past Greek and Rome is unimportant, as one particularly strange and funny moment finds the unflappable, brain-the-size-of-a-planet Henry totally shocked to discover that man has walked on the moon). While set in the late 80s, the book has a timeless feel to it that I absolutely loved. What can I say? I’m a sucker for any novel that includes bookish students drinking bourbon out of teacups.

While the third quarter sags a bit with some slow scenes (the murdered friend’s funeral is dragged out for what feels like a hundred pages), the final section moves quickly and the entire first half is absolutely riveting—like, can’t-put-it-down-for-300-pages riveting. Some of the content encroaches a little on “Lifetime special” territory (I’m talking alcoholism, drugs, abuse, incest, orgies, you name it), but the writing consistently elevates the material, especially in conjunction with the novel’s major themes. The result is a strange hybrid of literary fiction and salacious page-turner that is just the most delicious sort of combo I could imagine.

Seriously, this is one of those rare books where I’m torn between “I wish I’d written this” and “Thank goodness I didn’t, or I’d miss out on extreme pleasure of reading it.”

Simply awesome.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Reading Roundup

Happy Halloween! My October booklist just happens to be appropriately uncanny (coincidentally or subliminally?), so I figured I’d do a quick reading roundup instead of breaking down the reviews separately. Here’s what I’ve been reading this month!

THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern

Wow, is this book gorgeous. The premise—two magicians caught in a lifelong duel to produce increasingly enchanting illusions amidst the backdrop of a nocturnal circus—has a timeless, fairytale quality to it. The story itself is simple, narrated with a sort of dreamlike detachment as it progresses through an engaging if not unpredictable plot. But the writing! I selected this book specifically looking for examples of well-developed, atmospheric setting; and this is exactly the arena in which Morgenstern demonstrates her own magic. The descriptions of the circus itself—mysterious, hypnotic, and beautiful to its visitors—are stunning, full of evocative detail and conveyed through highly sensual prose. I could only describe this to my friend as “wordporn” while reading it.* The language and syntax mirror the dark, lush dreamscape of the circus; and if it’s perhaps a little over the top for your typical novel, it works wonders within the context of this one. I’ve read some complaints about the development of the central love story; but without giving away too many spoilers, I personally found it to be perfectly resonant with themes regarding art, illusion, and the way in which people perceive themselves and others through the conduit of art. Apart from a small section at the conclusion that felt a little didactically ham-fisted, this novel had me completely engrossed from beginning to end. I only wish there were a real night circus!

*Note: wordporn is not to be confused with erotic fiction; it applies to the sensuality of the language itself rather than the content of the text!


 Wicked Gentlemen was my dark horse selection for the month. I don’t read many books these days without a friend/family recommendation or some publisher hype, but I stumbled on this one through a Goodreads search. I’ve been researching examples of non-hetero, primary protagonists in genre fiction (specifically fantasy and sci-fi), where the protag’s sexuality is a part of his or her character without being the character’s defining feature or the focus of the novel. This one fit the bill! The novel is a modern-ish, alternate history fantasy with mystery and crime elements. The protag is a Prodigal, part of a race of demonic descendants who live among normal humans but are threatened by a theocratic government. He’s also a private detective, and his services are quickly tapped by an Inquisitor (a cop/priest) following a series of brutal murders and the disappearance of the Inquisitor’s sister. This is a classic case of “love the characters, couldn’t care less about the plot.” If you can get past some “broken protagonist” angst, the two main characters are incredibly sympathetic and likable. Their relationship develops slowly throughout the novel in a way that is natural and fun to read. My issue was that, while the relationship was clearly not the main focus of the novel, I found myself far more interested in how the characters were developing within and between themselves than I was in the actual plot. The mystery starts out intriguing, but runs out of steam shortly before what should be the final sprint toward the conclusion. The world-building also falls a bit flat, but has enough potential that I felt cheated to learn that there are no sequels that might better develop it—especially since I so enjoyed the premise and the characters.

THE UNCANNY, essays by Sigmund Freud; translated by David McLintock; Introduction by Hugh Haughton

I read a few snippets of this collection in college and have been 
planning ever since to read the entire volume. It’s obviously not light reading, but I think it would be fascinating to anyone interested in psychoanalysis who has never seen Freud apply his theories explicitly to art/literature/creativity in general (something English majors may have personally done in critical theory-focused classes, but which I imagine few others have). His examination of how the uncanny manifests itself not in the great unknown, but in mysteries far closer to our homes and inner lives, is stirring and intensely thoughtful. The Penguin Classics edition has an introduction by Hugh Haughton that includes specific portions prefacing each of Freud’s essays. I found these very helpful. Also helpful was my pad of sticky notes, which I was glad to be using to mark pages when I decided that the book cover was too damn creepy to look at anymore. Pro Tip: Post-Its work great for hiding scary covers!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hey, Assbutts! It's Supernatural Tuesday!

{Obviously. Also, see #3 on my Wish List.}

Supernatural’s 9th season premiers tonight! I was seriously late to the game on this show, but now I can’t get enough of Team Free Will doing what they do best: “Saving people, hunting things…the family business.” 

{Or, perhaps more accurately: "Manly brooding, eye-fucking each other...the fan-servicing business." Ahem. For reals though, this show is the best.}
I was sad to hear that the incomparable Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick and scribe of many of SPN’s best episodes—for instance, Season 5’s “The End” and Season 6’s “The French Mistake”—left to write for Revolution. Nonetheless, I have faith in Jeremy Carver and the current writing team to play out the ramifications of Season 8’s strong finale. The promos that the CW’s been running feature more Abaddon action, the introduction of a new angel played by Battlestar Galactica’s Helo, and the trials and tribulations of the newly-human Castiel. Our favorite Horseman even makes an appearance! 

{How exactly does one go about conveying one's love for Death? Seriously, I just want to eat fattening, delicious food with this droll motherfucker.}
Carver reportedly has a story arc planned through the 10th season, but that will not for one second deter me from selfishly coveting some checkmarks on my own Supernatural wish list!

From the reasonable to the reasonably ridiculous, here’s what I’m hoping for in season 9.

Top Five SPN S09 Wishes – (BONUS) Now By Category!

#1) Biggest Character-Related Wish: Epic Villainy
Remember how delightfully disturbing Ol’ Yellow Eyes was? Not since Azazel has SPN brought on a truly epic Big Bad. Lilith only really had the season 3 finale to shine; Lucifer was underutilized (and, c’mon, honestly kind of likable); Dick and the Leviathan were visually creepy-cool but otherwise dull; Eve’s potential was quashed before it could play out; and I am beyond sick of the “Oops—I’m the bad guy!” Cas card. Crowley is a truly fantastic character and came into his villainous own in season 8; but I don’t really see him as a Big Bad on the same level as someone like Azazel. He’s too fun and cuddly to be truly frightening, and now, of course, he’s even more in the gray. Sidebar: I am immensely looking forward to this development. Let’s hope for more HBO references. “You know nothing, Moose Winchester!” Aaaanyway, my fingers are so crossed that Abaddon will turn out to be as epic a villain as she has the potential to be. SPN needs more well-developed and consistent female characters. I would love for an epically evil, badass knight of Hell to be one of them!

{Girlcrush status.}

#2) Biggest Feels Wish: The Return of The Samulet
C’mon, I can’t be the only one still incredulous about the fact that both Sam and Cas just let Dean toss the amulet in the trashcan. It’s been so many seasons since then, so I know it’s not likely to return. But seriously, guys…couldn’t Sammy have fished it out and tucked it away somewhere? Pretty please?

{Remember the Christmas special? All the feels!}

#3) Biggest Resurrection Wish: Bring Back Gabriel, Already!
Yes, I love Bobby. Yes, I love Team Free Will. Honestly, though, the writers should take Dean’s advice: sometimes, what’s dead should stay dead. There are no stakes involved when we anticipate that the brothers will always be resurrected; and continuing to bring back a character like Bobby only cheapens the poignancy of wonderful episodes like “Death’s Door” (for this same reason, I’ll also be bummed if we see Meg again). If they’re going to resurrect characters, I’d rather see someone like Gabriel come back. Richard Speight is a fan favorite, and the Trickster episodes were consistently among the best. Gabriel was arguably the most interesting character on the show with his hilarious but deadly antics and his complex backstory/development. Maybe it’s because I just re-watched “Changing Channels,” but I would seriously love to see this guy back in the fold!

{My sentiments exactly.}

#4) Biggest MOTW Wish: No Bland Standalones, Please
I know that there are fans who still favor the Monster of the Week episodes. I am not one of those fans. There is nothing worse than having the story arc stall at a critical moment for the brothers to go hunt some random vampire. Murderous mannequins? The terrible episode with the man-witch and the familiar? The random mythic gods and goddesses? Please stop. Just stop. If there must be a MOTW, I would rather it be a funny episode, a la “The French Mistake” or last season's "Hunteri Heroici." I’d also be okay with a truly creepy episode, something that mostly disappeared after the first season. “Woman in White,” “Bloody Mary,” “Something Wicked”…as much as the show improved when the myth arc picked up, I did really enjoy those genuinely spooky early episodes. Although I know it wasn’t a popular episode, I also didn’t mind the found-footage werewolf episode, “Bitten,” in season 8. I’d rather see something intriguing: a unique format, a frightening episode, something meta or funny (or both)…or not have a MOTW episode at all.

 {Still giggling over Castiel's critical analysis of Roadrunner and Coyote.}

#5) Biggest Fandom Wank Wish: Dean Can Dig Elvis
Human Cas develops an interest in music, and he takes an especially strong liking to Elvis. He’s riding shotgun in the Impala with Dean. “Can I put something on?” he asks when Dean’s Metallica cassette finishes. Dean raises his eyebrows and shrugs, because really, since when does Cas listen to or even care about music? He’s curious to see where this is going. Cas flicks through radio stations until he hears the syrupy croons of Elvis. He grins and settles back into his seat. Dean can’t help but smirk. He’s about to make a snarky comment about Cas’s choice in music; but his companion is smiling contentedly, head bobbing gently along to the tune. Dean swallows his sarcasm and just shakes his head and laughs. So Cas likes Elvis, huh? Okay. Sure. Dean can dig Elvis.  *Aaaaand fandom explodes.*

{Not sure if Misha Troll-ins, or just a coincidence... But no, I would not recommend reading "Twist and Shout" unless you like your fic fundamentally traumatizing. If you don't know what "Twist and Shout" is, please ignore my ramblings and carry on.}

 In conclusion: Crowley.

{Really, let's just have every episode be about Mark Sheppard being handsome and sly. Cool?}
Enjoy your pie and purple nurples. Happy viewing!

Image/gif sources:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

I’d like to begin my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by giving you a bit of context.

Reasons Why I Read The Cuckoo’s Calling
·      Its author, rooky novelist Robert Galbraith, was revealed to be none other than J.K. Rowling—personal hero and queen of my heart—writing under a pseudonym.
·      I don’t usually read mysteries or thrillers. I thought it might be beneficial to my writing to branch out.
·      J.K. Rowling wrote it!
·      As much as I adore Harry Potter, I really, really could not get through The Casual Vacancy. I thought, “Maybe that was a fluke. Maybe I’m not British enough to get it. Maybe this one will be different. I should really give her one more shot…”
·      I recently watched BBC’s Sherlock and was craving more detective funsies in the absence of a third season.
·      Joanne Kathleen bloody Rowling! Seriously, guys! I love her!!!

In other words…yes, my massive fangirl, bordering-on-worship, nerd crush on J.K. Rowling is pretty much 100% of why I picked up The Cuckoo’s Calling. Please do not let that fact deter you from reading it, though, because—in all honesty—this is just the sort of detective story that you will love curling up with on a rainy day with some tea and a blanket, dreaming, if you’re anything like me, of running around the misty streets of London with protagonist Cormoran Strike.

Private detective Strike is my favorite protagonist that I’ve read in a long while. He’s a war vet, burdened by a messy family history, current relationship issues, and the nuisance of a partially amputated leg. The way in which Rowling describes him—he’s hulking, hairy, and not much of a looker; a far cry from, say, Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynously dreamy Sherlock—is endearing and somewhat reminiscent of a familiar Rowling character. I couldn’t help but picture him as a younger, surlier Rubeus Hagrid! For all of his physical and psychological wounds, though, Strike manages to float above the typical tropes of misanthropy and emotional wallowing. His skill in reading people, his awkwardly sweet (platonic!) interactions with temporary secretary Robin, and his skill in piecing together the crime make him an endearing and believable hero.

The mystery itself concerns supermodel Lula Landry’s death. When the gorgeous but troubled Lula takes a swan dive off her apartment balcony, the police conclude that it’s a suicide. But Lula’s wealthy brother smells foul play, and hires Strike to investigate. In typical Rowling style, a colorful cast of characters is introduced as Strike wades through the people and places connected to Lula during her last days of life. The mystery unravels slowly but logically. There are no completely ludicrous moments, and the resolution doesn’t come from left field. There’s no, “Aha! It turns out she was murdered by the postman who was mentioned in one sentence on page 17!” here. I was able to predict the ending, but I didn’t feel that it was too obvious or that the conclusion came too early in the text. Then again, I’m not a mystery reader and I also wasn’t trying particularly hard to guess where things were going; so some fans of the genre might have a different experience.

Significant attention is also paid to themes of social inequality, media obsession, and the “price” of fame—again, familiar territory for Rowling—but I found that these themes toed the line between being strongly developed and preachy fairly well. It’s interesting, too, to consider the difference between Rowling writing about (Harry’s) fame when she was still an unknown writer, versus her new insights on it as one of the most well known and sought after writers in the world. At one point, she remarks that “[Strike] had never been able to understand the assumption of intimacy fans felt with those they had never met.” I know that if I met JKR, my first instinct would be to run up to her and hug her silly; and I’m sure many other people feel and have felt the same. I can only imagine how strange it must be to exist on the receiving end of that sort of love and respect, coming from people who know you only through your words.

Of course, many of her insights into the lifestyles of the rich and famous are also downright hilarious. One of my favorite characters, fashion designer Guy Somé, has this to say about Lula’s rock star boyfriend:
“I’ll tell you,” he said, without pausing for an answer. “It’s that wounded-poet crap, that soul-pain shit, that too-much-of-a-tortured-genius-to-wash bollocks. Brush your teeth, you little bastard. You’re not fucking Byron.”
Air snaps! All the air snaps!

My one complaint is a bit ironic, since it concerns a characteristic of Rowling’s writing that made the HP books so wonderful. Rowling takes the time to describe absolutely everything, in painstaking detail. This is fantastic when she’s world building in a fantasy novel, but it can really tank the pacing when we’re dealing with modern day London. I’m all for detail, but I don’t need paragraph-long descriptions of the surroundings or of random people on the street who will never be discussed again. Some streamlining could have benefitted the pace and tone of the narrative. On the other hand, Rowling-writing-for-grownups has the benefit of lots of decidedly un-HPish descriptions that are relentlessly fun. Take, for instance, this simile: “…when her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.” You never get to see Harry thinking something like that!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel and was left with that same cozy feeling I always get at the end of a J.K. Rowling story. There’s something about her writing that makes me want to crawl up inside it and just snuggle in the words. I still love you, Jo! I’d happily read more Cormoran Strike novels. Keep ‘em coming!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Erotic Alien Hairdressing: My Rather Long Review of The Bone Season

The moment that Samantha Shannon’s debut novel—the first in a planned series of seven—came onto my radar, I knew I wanted to read it. The press-hyped comparisons to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series caught my eye, but the description of the book itself reeled me in. It was characterized as a dystopian, “New Adult” novel, with fantasy and speculative fiction elements, set in the future (though involving a bit of alternate history) in London and Oxford. Um, hello. Sign me up! The fact that the book was penned by a recent Oxford graduate only added to the appeal. I am typically inclined to support talented young, female writers. Those writing in my preferred genres get bonus points!

{Or, as my boyfriend would call it, "The Boner Season."}

A Few General Comments:
I read the book over both legs of my recent trip to Michigan. My primary reaction? This is a series—and a new author—with real potential. I was impressed by the quality of the world building and the overall vibe of the book’s smooth blend of dystopia and fantasy. Some readers have whined of plot holes and unanswered questions (be warned that the book does end on a cliffhanger), but I have patience and faith. The first installment of any series tends to be a starting point from which the world, the characters, the story, and even the writer’s talent take root and grow. As a new author, Shannon’s craft will no doubt mature with her series as it progresses through the remaining six volumes.
I’ve also checked out a few interviews with Shannon, who seems humble, passionate about her writing, and generally a cool chick. In this Q&A, she talks about her HP-love and anxiety over the press’s insistence on comparing her to Rowling. Then she highlights the Benedict Cumberbatch calendar hanging in her room. Samantha, let’s be besties! I will definitely be awaiting the next installment in this series, and cheering for Shannon’s continued success.
And now: a few notable strengths and weaknesses, plus some juicy bits that I want to discuss about The Bone Season. Potential light spoilers, though I've censored anything that might give too much away. Skip the “juicy bits” section at the end if you haven’t read the book.

·      Beautiful world building! We get the dystopian Scion London (a little 1984, a little V for Vendetta); the clairvoyant-run crime Syndicate; the Sheol I penal colony, based in the abandoned grounds of Oxford; the Rephaim, a powerful race of humanoid creatures who run Sheol I; the Emim—aka “Buzzers”—a species of flesh-eating creatures that threaten humans and Rephs alike; and, of course, the whole gamut of clairvoyance, complete with diverse abilities, practices, and even a sort of social caste. There’s also a nice bit of alternate history thrown in to accommodate for the rise of clairvoyance and how this event shaped the sociopolitical landscape of Shannon’s world. My favorite aspect was the whole concept of the aether, the sort of mystical spirit-force that voyants tap to use their powers. Although Shannon does not dwell on religion in the text, there are some definite spiritual-verging-on-religious connotations to the relationship between humanity, the Rephs, voyance, and the aether. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the overall mythology of the series as it progresses.
·      The primary players—both protagonists and antagonists—are interesting and likable. Paige is suitably feisty as a heroine. I’m occasionally on the fence about the parade of Katniss Everdeen clones being marched out in the name of feminism or whatever—yes, we certainly need strong female characters; but the idea that only ass-kicking, surly, tomboyish, warrior women can be considered “strong” is ludicrous and demeaning—but Paige also has a softness to her that Shannon occasionally reveals. I hope that her character will continue to develop outside of the “courage” and “romance” arenas of her personality. Warden, too, shows signs of complexity beyond many of his genre counterparts. He exhibits touches of the ubiquitous Byronic hero, but Shannon tempers these with enough redeeming qualities to prevent him from being an asshole (for the love of God, YA writers of all genres, take note of this). The primary antagonist, Nashira Sargas, is an ice queen; but I’m interested to learn more about her motivations, her backstory, and particularly the history behind her relationship with Warden.
·      This is not paranormal romance and there are no love triangles. It’s always refreshing to find a genre novel that devotes time to developing characters’ relationships (romantic or not) without turning into a romance novel with some plot thrown in haphazardly. A habitual offender, as much as it pains me to say it because I still love her to death, is my girl Cassandra Clare. Both her Mortal Instruments and especially her Infernal Devices series begin with inventive world building and engaging premises, which are sabotaged by her inability to resist devolving into increasingly melodramatic romantic plotlines, usually driven by irritating love triangles. What results is a work that can be read as a potentially interesting story that is continually stalled and/or underdeveloped at the expense of long and repetitive love scenes; or a romance novel that is bogged down by extraneous plotting. Shannon avoids this by preventing the romantic aspects from overshadowing the more important plotlines. The only “romance” at play here is slow moving and plot related; and it is definitely not the primary focus. There’s no forced love triangle to annoy or divide her readers. For those who enjoy a little kink, there are some transgressive elements to the romance (power differential, interspecies…). Just don’t expect some Fifty Shades nonsense!
·      She makes references to my favorite books, so I will love her even if her future books are turds. Frankenstein? Check. The Turn of the Screw? Check. I’m going to go ahead and assume that a randomly mentioned spirit muse dubbed JD is the ghost of John Donne. No one try to convince me otherwise!

{Seriously, Samantha Shannon, let's chill and geek out about books together sometime!}

·      Some structural editing would be helpful. Especially in the first quarter of the book, there is a jarring lack of balance between exposition and action. Two large information dumps that occur early in the text are helpful in giving the reader the necessary background information (I know some have complained about finding these sections confusing or “too much” in terms of new info, but I didn’t find this to be a particular issue), but stall the plot to a noticeably irritating degree. There’s also a temporal detachment that makes it difficult to gauge how much time has passed between certain events. I was surprised, late in the book, to learn the time span from beginning to end; I initially assumed that things transpired over a much shorter period of time. Just a few more quick time references throughout would have better clarified the speed at which certain characters and events were developing throughout the story.
·      Some of the supporting characters are underdeveloped. On the one hand, we have some truly fun and vivid secondary players—namely Jaxon Hall, a charismatic crime boss who reads like the love child of Fagan and Long John Silver, with the style and panache of Gilderoy Lockhart. I want more of him, please! On the other hand, we get characters like Sebastian and Liss, friendly but downtrodden types who are meant to inspire pathos in both the reader and, especially, in Paige. The trouble is that these characters are not fully drawn enough to resonate. Seb, who seems intended to inspire a substantial portion of Paige’s emotions and actions, gets so little development that he seems like an afterthought. I couldn’t buy her emotional investment in a character with so little “screen time.” While Paige’s connection to Liss is totally believable, Liss herself is not particularly interesting at this stage in the text. There were a slew of other secondary characters who came and went with little lasting impression, but I was not as bothered by these; both because many these characters seemed more plot-necessitated, and because I expect that the ones that matter will be developed in future books.
·      Do we need to hear things from Paige’s point of view, or would third person narration be more effective? First person narration is so popular because it generates a certain ease in both writing and reading. However, it also sets limitations on the prose. This was my first foray into the “New Adult” genre; and I was anticipating a coupling of YA’s high-interest narrative and a more literary, adult style of writing. Be warned: while The Bone Season follows older characters (Paige is in her twenties), it reads exactly like a YA novel. I think this has less to do with the caliber of Shannon’s writing than with the decision to have her protagonist—who is neither particularly bookish nor overly eloquent—narrate the series. Apart from the world-specific jargon, there isn’t much in the way of artful diction or syntax. It isn’t as distracting as Katniss’s pervasive sentence fragments in The Hunger Games, but it was noticeable enough that I repeatedly wished Shannon had made the short leap over to third person limited. As a SPOILERY side note, highlight to read: Perhaps it also would have eliminated one of the few minor details that really irked me—when Paige’s first encounter with Warden leads her to immediately note what a hottie he is. We could have been alerted to the fact without being ushered into the obvious, “Welp. I guess no matter what happens from here on out, they’re probs gonna hook up at some point!” I fervently thought that that one, tiny moment undermined much of the beauty of how slowly and ambiguously their relationship progressed.

The Juicy Bits- Random Other Musings
**Highlight to read, but beware! Spoilers abound! Don’t read this section if you haven’t read the book!**

·      Erotic Alien Hairdressing—or, that moment when the fact that your lover is putting your hair into an updo is more bizarre than the fact that your lover is a different species. I’m not going to lie, here. The moment when Warden started intricately dressing Paige’s hair had me literally laughing out loud. I totally get the intimacy of the moment. I even thought it was pretty hot. But the image of this giant, sexy, non-human warrior playing hairdresser with his big ol’ man hands was more than a little funny.
·      What’s going on under Warden’s skirt? Can he and Paige actually get it on? Samantha Shannon indicated on Twitter that yes, Rephs do in fact have the ability to reproduce with one another. However, we never see any Reph children described in The Bone Season. I wonder why? The more important question is obviously whether or not Rephs and humans can do the dirty, as many readers are clearly anticipating some cross-pollination! I think it’s safe to assume that they are anatomically similar to humans, as I doubt Bloomsbury would be very happy if Shannon gave them tentacle dicks or something of the sort. Given the fact that Rephs are repeatedly described as being exceptionally tall, I’m also going to go ahead and assume that they are pretty hung. Could this present some anatomical challenges? Also, what does it say about me that these are the main questions I have lingering after book one? No—please—don’t respond to that! As long as Shannon doesn’t devolve into Breaking Dawn type ridiculousness, I think all will be good.
·      I DO have a theory about who and what the Rephaim are. I previously mentioned my interest in the aether. It’s probably too early in the game to make solid predictions, but I’m going to guess that the Rephaim will turn out to be some sort of pre-Adamite form of humans. Perhaps they will be similar to Nephilim, given their stature and attractiveness, but within the "theology" of her world, where the aether acts as a sort of nirvana-as-God force and they're, like, this connected but unique offshoot of that. Just my two cents, though.
·      Where are the damn Buzzers? For such an important threatening force, the Emim sure don’t seem to make many appearances. I’m really hoping for more Buzzer action in book two…plus a more detailed description of what they look like and where they come from. Their initial description reminded me a bit of these creatures called the Crekka in my own series-in-progress—reptilian humanoids who eat human flesh and are also named for the sound they make—so I’ve been picturing them somewhat like that. Or are they more like zombies? Or maybe wendigos? Give us the deets, Samantha Shannon!

Alright. Enough for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Bone Season! Feel free to drop a line if you want to talk books or argue about whether the spirit “JD” was supposed to be the ghost of John Donne (it totally was—right?).

{Do my insect metaphors arouse you?}

Friday, September 20, 2013

Look, Ma--No Kitchen Fire!

My culinary domesticity typically begins and ends with the delightful recipes that I reblog to my Pinterest boards and subsequently never revisit again. However, this morning had me feeling inspired to cook something cozy and Fall-appropriate.

Back home in PA, my mother is presently baking a Jewish apple cake for a semi-annual Oktoberfest party that I will be super disappointed to miss tomorrow. Needless to say, I am obscenely jealous. This fact, coupled with the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies we’re experiencing in LA this morning, compelled me to make a real, honest-to-goodness hot meal for breakfast, including salsa-scrambled eggs and apple cinnamon bread.

(The fact that I’m proud of this accomplishment should tell you a little more about my cooking skills.)

The bread came from a cute bag and mix kit called “CozyTote” that my mom gave me a while back, and it actually turned out pretty delicious! The only additional ingredients required were eggs, oil, and water. My kind of recipe, indeed.

{"Look, Ma--no kitchen fire! Woohoo!"}

It ended up a bit drier than I prefer—I’m also still figuring out the quirks with my new apartment’s oven, which is a bit wonky—but still totally edible. Achievement! I added some (plain) cream cheese to it during my taste test, which turned out to be a solid choice. Then again, I’d eat cream cheese on just about anything, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt. ;-)


Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What An Astonishing Thing A Book Is

I studied English (among other things) in college, and then I taught it to students. Books have always occupied a substantial space in my life; but for what feels like a very long time, required reading has displaced personal reading. The books I read because they spoke to me were few and far between. I missed the feeling of immersing myself in a novel, getting lost in its world, because even the books that interested me needed to be read with a deconstructive mind. What points will I highlight in my paper? What passages will I critique or question in class? How can I help my students dismantle the text, and which parts will I have them study before they piece it back together? Where is the intersection between enjoying, engaging, and internalizing?

These were important questions, but they failed to satisfy every corner of my book-loving heart. To remedy this, I made a resolution to read at least one new book--a book I had never read before, not just an old favorite--per month, selected and digested entirely for my own pleasure. I had a shaky start. January was a rough month, during which the only new book I read was the one I taught to my students. My pathetically early failure did inspire me to stop making so many damn excuses, and I began carving out space. Even if I waited until the last weekend of the month to curl up all day on the couch, book in hand, the attitude of viewing my reading-for-self as a requirement rather than as a reward actually helped me to find the time to get it done.

(Incidentally, I've heard this strategy repeated ad nauseum in terms of getting oneself to the gym. I never fared so well with that one, though. Books before biceps, man! Or whatever.)

Nine months down the road, I'm doing great with my resolution! It's much easier to find time to read these days with my shiny new schedule; but I'm still weirdly proud of my ability to find reading time in say, April, when I changed students and syllabi three times and was also re-reading/teaching various novels and plays to those students. Making the time to read was well worth the effort. It reminds me of being kid, coming home from the library with a stack full of books and tearing my way through the pile throughout the next week. It feels like coming home.

Here are some of the novels I've read so far this year. You'll notice that they span a variety of categories, genres, and lengths, which is exactly the kind of refresher I've needed. My top three picks are starred! Click on the titles to link through to the Amazon pages for more info.

January: Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie - Jordan Sonnenblick
February: The Fault in Our Stars - John Green*
March: The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
April: City of Thieves - David Benioff*
May: The Red Garden - Alice Hoffman; and Beautiful Ruins - Jess Waters*
June: Love Walked In - Marisa de los Santos
August: The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
September: Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; and The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
Incidentally, I've also been lurking in the fanfiction world again recently. Typically, I would not add a fanfic to this list; but I have read a couple novel-length standouts in the past few months that might be worth including. One in particular was so affecting that I wrote a proper review of it last week! When I'm done being traumatized by the story, I'll perhaps clean it up and post it on here...because, really, how could I not give a big, fat, fanfic shout-out?

Happy reading! =)