Monday, June 2, 2014

Ave Atque Vale, TMI: City of Heavenly Fire Review

City of Heavenly Fire is the sixth and final installment of YA bestseller Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series. While I still wish Clare had ended with the excellent conclusion of the original trilogy, CoHF is better than the previous two books combined. Much of the clumsiness and stale fanservice of City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls are traded for the deft mix of action and wit-tempered angst that made the original books so fun, bringing the series to a satisfying close. 

As usual, there’s a good balance between the main plot and the character arcs. There are no huge surprises in store, but Sebastian Morgenstern is a suitably deranged villain (I can’t help but picture him as a young, bleached-out Ramsay Snow) and the conflict propels the reader quickly along. While Clare’s numerous romantic subplots are often in the foreground, she is surprisingly at her best here when she explores other types of love—familial, and platonic. For instance, as invested as many readers are in Alec and Magnus (and yes, this ‘ship remains in focus), the most poignant and best written of Alec’s scenes instead explore his relationships with Simon, Jace, and his father. The concept of parabatai remains one of the most interesting facets of Clare’s ‘verse, and there are ample hints here that it will play a primary role in her forthcoming series, “The Dark Artifices.” (For the record: I’d put my money on a Parabatai-in-Forbidden-Love scenario with new characters Emma and Julian, but I wish someone would encourage Clare to ease off the romance peddle and try something else—she would really be great at it!).

There are some good payoffs to be found here for fans of Clare’s Victorian Shadowhunter trilogy, “The Infernal Devices.” Particularly satisfying is a logical and plot-related fix-it for the somewhat ludicrous “twist” at the conclusion of Clockwork Princess

{My actual face upon finishing Clockwork Princess.}

And for readers who followed Clare’s ascent from the depths of fandom…well. Let’s just say that there is a sex scene that reads so blatantly, awkwardly, and wonderfully like the beginning of mediocre fanfiction smut that said readers are warned not to eat or drink anything they might choke on while reading this particular scene, because they will definitely be howling with laughter.

(I say this purely from a theoretical standpoint, obviously!)

The book’s only real shortcoming is that it’s unnecessarily long. A number of the action sequences feel superfluous. It isn’t so much the writing itself, but the issue of the Shadowhunters being so OP. There are casualties, but very rarely does the reader have a true sense of dread over the protagonists’ fates. The other issue here is that there’s a significant chunk of the book devoted to setting up “The Dark Artifices.” A gaggle of new and mostly interchangeable kid characters are introduced in the beginning and returned to throughout in what feels like exposition+. Their interactions with Clary and co. are limited enough that I skimmed the majority of their segments, as I do not intend to read TDA. Likewise, the battle scenes are easily skimmed without missing much pertinent information.

Clare has demonstrated a habit of pouring out the angst only to mop it up in an overly-rosy conclusion, and there’s no difference here. I imagine that fans will be divided on this point, particularly in regards to the fate of one of the protagonists. However, I do think there might be something to be said for happy endings in a YA market saturated by downers. Of the popular YA lit I’ve encountered in the past couple years, I think the most upbeat ending could at best be described as “bittersweet.” Ultimately, my eye-rolling at the ending was paired with an understanding that, in a classically escapist genre, sometimes young readers could use a break from the gloom and doom.

I may have purchased City of Heavenly Fire out of my begrudging loyalty to Cassandra Clare and the fact that I had a six hour flight ahead of me, but I can’t stress enough how pleasantly this book surprised me. Whether it was my low expectations after the underwhelming CoFA and CoLS, or the fact that Cassie never fails to deliver on writing my favorite brand of sassy one-liners, I devoured this one. A satisfying end to uneven but fun series. Ave atque vale, TMI.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I have a (somewhat-self-imposed) April 1st draft deadline, so I'm currently immersed in a writerly fog. I've just hit that point where I'm starting to feel fully enveloped in my characters and story. It's a wonderful and terrifying moment. On the one hand, I just want to hole up in my writing cave and bang away at the keyboard; but on the other, I'm feeling preemptively guilty about all the people and things I will inevitably blow off over the next couple months in favor of hangin' with my imaginary friends. Flipping this switch on and off is a personal struggle. Once I settle myself into the world of my novel, I hit a remarkably productive writing groove that makes it difficult to pull myself back to the real world. This, I think, is the real reason why I needed this year to focus solely on writing. I need to bring myself to this place in order to create good work, but lord knows I'm not getting anything else done while I'm here!

I am keeping up with my reading, though any reviews will be indefinitely delayed due to my writing frenzy. Perhaps in April? There are a few half-written reviews in my drafts folder from the tail end of 2013, and I'll have some more to add for the new year. So far, 2014 has included a quick and enthusiastic reading of Hugh Howey's Wool Omnibus, and about a third of Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea.

Speaking of reading...I just sent out my first "teaser" for the novel to be beta read! It's only the first couple pages, and I only sent it to my mom; but this is the first glimpse anyone else will have of what I've been working on, and I'm excited to finally get a little feedback. Writing in a vacuum is incredibly weird and frustrating. However, I've been hesitant to share anything besides a full draft for fear of ruining the magic of reading the complete story, as it's meant to be read. I don't want to spoil any surprises. This particular selection is about as spoiler-free as possible, though, so I'm hoping to make my mom happy and get a little positive feedback to cheer me on.

As Chuck would say,

...but also awesome. =)

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Year, New Goal

Happy New Year!

The past couple months have been a whirlwind of traveling and hosting. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend the holidays with so many people I love.

{Yes, even this weirdo.}
Now that I'm settled back in LA, I am:

1. having a really difficult time not constantly bragging about how much warmer I am than my poor Northeast-dwelling peeps (sorry, guys! I really am trying!)
2. really, really excited for what 2014 has in store.

I'm typically awful at making New Year's resolutions, mostly because they're often a setup for disappointment. Nothing rubs the salt into one's wounds of inadequacy like continually failing to do the things you already sucked at doing in the first place, right?

Last year, though, I decided to brainstorm a few small, positive changes I could make in my life, and then pick one to focus on that would be both manageable and meaningful. I resolved to read one book each month, selected only for my personal enjoyment and relaxation (ie, books read for school/teaching don't count). I not only stuck to this goal--even during those crazy few months back in the Spring when I changed teaching loads and even school buildings like four times--but exceeded it! Reading for pleasure was one of those little things that had gradually slipped away over time (perhaps ironic for a liberal arts major and English teacher?), and reintegrating it in my life proved surprisingly meaningful. It was a welcomed escape from the stresses of my job and hectic life, it introduced me to worlds, words, and writing styles previously unfamiliar, and it helped refocus me on some deeper personal goals that I'd been putting on the back burner for literally years.

In 2014, I'm aiming for a similar type of resolution: small changes in my daily routine that can lead to simple yet positive boosts in my overall quality of life. After brainstorming a few options, I think I've settled on something surprisingly...well...domestic. This year, I'd like to make more of an effort to maintain my living space; specifically, I'd like to do more cooking and cleaning.

Shocking, I know!

Here's the situation, though:

1. I work from home. I'm in my apartment nearly 24/7. It's suddenly really important to always feel comfortable and clean here, but also surprisingly difficult to switch from the "I'm at work and should be working" mentality to the "Damn, I should probably move from my desk/computer and take stock of the state of the rest of my apartment" mentality.
2. Also living here is my dear, sweet boyfriend: the world's most lovable slob. We've lived together for a couple years, but this is the first time we've both been here more or less every day for an extended period of time (he used to travel during the week as a consultant). "Exponential" is a word that comes to mind when contemplating the increase in messiness.
3. The bf eats at work during the week, so I mostly "cook" meals for one. Often, this ends in me realizing, "Oh shit, it's 7:30? I'm starving!" and making a PB&J. I also despise grocery shopping more than any other chore, which leads to unsurprising stretches of barren refrigerator syndrome.

So...while I'm definitely not striving to be the next Martha Stewart or anything, I would like to make some sort of regular cleaning schedule I can easily stick to--and maybe even *gasp!* get my boyfriend to help with--and to make an effort to actually prepare a hot meal that doesn't involve microwaving at least a couple times per week. Nothing too crazy. I am supposed to be some sort of "adult" now, after all. ;-)

(Naturally, this goal is separate from my 2014 writing-related goals. Since this is now my actual JOB, though, I'm treating those less as resolutions and more as necessities--as they should be!)