Saturday, December 24, 2011

Another Supernatural YA

And not a particularly good one, is the novel Switched, by Amanda Hocking. It does have a pretty cover, though:

Read me - I'm like the poppy field from the Wizard of Oz
gone demented

The cover is arresting, and the story is an interesting one. The title of the novel refers to the fact that protagonist Wendy is a changeling, having been switched at birth with a human boy to become a parasite living off of a rich & wealthy human family. Aside from the fact that the novel deals with changelings, however, there is another interesting plot device: Wendy is a troll.

As far as supernatural beings go, trolls have not been done to the extreme in fiction - at least, not yet.

I also know hardly anything about troll lore, other than a few fairy tales, the most notable being The Three Billy Goats Gruff. So it's difficult for me to decipher how much of the mythology of this book has already existed and how much is due to the ingenuity of the author. Either way, the ideas espoused are fascinating.

The writing, on the other hand, is pretty horrific. This novel was previously a bestselling self-published e-book, and the author gets my kudos for successful marketing and sales, but not for craftsmanship. As I've previously stated, the ideas are terrific; the writing, however, is simply not good enough to make the ideas shine.

My verdict: pass on this novel, unless you are only interested in the plot of a novel.

(Switched is slated to be released in early January, 2012.)

On Naked People

Not so recently, I finished reading Ellis Avery's forthcoming novel The Last Nude. The cover, not so surprisingly, has a nude on it:

I have no clothes on.
That's what a nude is.

The Last Nude tells the story of two women, the artist Tamara de Lampicka and her model and lover Rafaela Fano.

The majority of the novel is told from Rafaela's point of view during the period in which she met Tamara, modeled for her, and their relationship came to an abrupt halt. This portion of the novel is interesting, and really portrays a naive young woman growing up in an exotic, new place, and falling in love for the first time.

Some of the writing in this section was fabulous, most of it was merely okay, some of it was downright boring. Rafaela is in many ways naive, yet often the writer manages to make her seem stupid, and I don't necessarily think this is on purpose.

Overall, the story sort of has a detached feeling - or perhaps this is simply the impression I received as an uninvested reader, I'm not entirely sure. I did receive a favorable impression of the story, but as longtime readers are aware, I'm more of a character gal, personally, and so did not become invested in this novel in a manner that will lead me to rave about it.

The latter, far shorter portion of the novel deals with the fact that the area in which Rafaela was living was dangerous during the second World War. And Rafaela is a Jew. Many of the characters peopling this novel, in fact, are Jewish.

This latter portion is what makes me feel that Avery was trying to achieve a very personable novel, with characters that the reader will become emotionally invested in, and failed.

It's an okay read. As I mentioned earlier, this novel is not one that I will rave about. I feel more lukewarm towards it - which is, perhaps, more damning praise than any censure.

Recommended for beach reads or display books due to the interesting cover.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Celebrated Birthday & a Contest in Her Honor

Jane Austen, whom I think we all agree was an amazing woman, as well as an amazing writer, is currently the subject of a contest at AustenBlog.

Click on "currently" above to check out the contest yourself, and ponder how (or if) Austen has influenced your life.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: The Dressmaker

Don't you love how clever and original my blog titles are? I spend so much time sitting at my desk, chin in hand, pondering ways to amuse my readers.
And today, dear readers, I am going to review Kate Walcott's The Dressmaker. The cover for this novel is eye-arresting, with a beautiful purple dress on the cover, worn by a faceless woman (intrigue! glamour!)...

The Dressmaker is an historical fiction, revolving around that famous boat ride on the Titanic. Protagonist Tess is a feisty lass who doesn't want to demean herself any longer in a position of servitude, and consequently voluntarily agrees to temporarily act as lady's maid to the famed dress designer Lucille Duff Gordon so that she can sail the Titanic to a new world, and a new life.
Now, I don't want to ruin the book for anyone, but I cannot discuss this book without some spoilers. So read on, AT YOUR PERIL.

The Titanic, while a beautiful, luxurious boat, has a tiny flaw - it can't hold its' own against a giant iceberg.
This big boat is not equipped to handle ice -
I bet those were some warm drinks...

Now, don't get me wrong. This book was not complete shit. Just the majority of it was shit. There was this weird love triangle between Tess, a sailor much in the same situation as she - poor, trying to make a life for himself in a new country, [insert cliche here], and an older, rich gentleman whom she was incredibly attracted to who treated her like an e
qual. She liked both of them, for different reasons, and always seemed to have green grass syndrome - she was always thinking of and pining for the other gentleman when she was with one of them. This I found very annoying, despite the fact that it's probably pretty accurate.
Then, this novel dealt with some unpleasant aspects of suffering a catastrophe. The fact is, not everyone is a hero. In fact, most people aren't heroes. And most people probably would not be heroes in a situation like the Titanic. Being on a boat that was thought unsinkable, but is, in fact, sinking, would be extremely frightening. Instinct tends towards self-preservation.

This novel made me think about the people who weren't heroes. The ordinary people, the ones who said: "I'm not against other people living, but I don't want to die." The ones who did not go out of their way to help save other people, the ones who did not selflessly go down with the ship, playing music, or patiently waiting in a tuxedo.

The ones more like me.

Of course, Tess was one of those annoying goody-two-shoes, who is like: "It is my personal responsibility to save every child on this ship -" Very valiant; not necessarily the most interesting of characteristics, however.

Heroes, after all, tend to be most interesting when they're rescuing you. Possibly tend only to be interesting when they're rescuing you, unless they are extremely well written.

I liked the way this novel broadened my thinking. I hated Tess, who frankly can't live up to the name usurped from a Thomas Hardy novel...

Well, except for this BBC miniseries adaptation, which manages to make Tess of the D'urbervilles seem like the most boring story ever...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Response: Regarding the Holidays

So today, Shelf Awareness featured this quote in its' (week)daily newsletter:

"Technology is ruining the holidays. A download is a dud gift (dudload?). When you give a 'real world' book to someone you are saying, 'I am totally in love with this book and think you will be too,' or 'The sentiment in this book reminded me of you,' or 'Here, this is a journey you will never forget.' A book is a personal gift--something uniquely picked out, inscribed, and physically presented to another person. It has emotional and actual weight. I am not saying there are not other good gifts out there (a ukulele comes to mind), but with a book you don't have to: mortgage the home, guess bra size, learn to sing, or find out too late that they are allergic to nuts. That is why I think the book is the best gift you can give. It is economical, beautiful, hours of entertainment, thoughtful, and can last (both physically and in the mind) a lifetime."
--Steven Salardino, manager of Skylight Books, Los Angeles,
Calif.,from the bookstore's latest e-newsletter

& I must say, I do not necessarily agree with the thesis.

To begin with, a gift is a gift. I am one of those people who truly does believe it is the thought that counts. At the moment, I am exceedingly poor. My friends are very poor. For some people, the purchase of a book - hardcover or paperback - is simply more than they can afford. If someone gives me a card, I am grateful that they thought of me.

This is the issue with saying that a download or a gift card or anything else is not a "real" gift - it's ungrateful and it's pretentious.

Receiving anything - electronic, handwritten - is something of which a person should be appreciative. And while it can feel more meaningful to receive something that was hand picked by someone else who is thinking of you, it can feel exceedingly annoying to receive something that has been hand picked by someone else which you already own and/or which shows that person obviously knows nothing about you.

I once received a sweater 2 or 3 sizes too large with a ruffly neck. I was 20. & this was not a cute ruffle - it was too large, of knitted fabric, and the wrong color, to boot. I was glad to receive a gift, but mortified that the giver thought I was that much larger than I actually am, and at the realization that it was, in fact, possible for me to look like a grandmother at 20-years-old. All I had to do was wear that sweater. (I'm shuddering now just thinking about it.)

Receiving a gift is always nice - receiving a gift that has been "hand picked" by someone who did not take the time or make the effort to get to know you kind of defeats the purpose.

So if you're thinking of someone, but it's difficult to figure out the perfect gift for that person in between working 3 jobs, taking 12 credit hours, and raising a couple of kids, is it really so wrong to purchase something that gives the receiver some flexibility? (This is not me, by the way - only two jobs; not in school again yet; no kids... Just a random example.)

If you purchase a gift card, that means that the receiver can purchase whatever they want at the location for which you purchased that card. If you receive a download, that means that there are more options for where to obtain, read, etc. this gift - all you need is a computer. Maybe you can simply carry your gift around at all times, on a Smart Phone. (I can't - I always abuse my phones, and so don't bother to purchase a nice, expensive one - but maybe you can...)

I understand where this bookseller is coming from - he sells books, and he wants to make it sound appealing for other people to sell books, too. But I think it's ridiculous to claim that technology is ruining the holidays. The fact is, some e-books are nearly as expensive as the hard copies, and will not be purchased anyway. Yet there are some very great e-books out there which are less expensive, and therefore more fiscally feasible for some people to obtain.

A gift which results in more variety, as well as encourages literacy should not be looked down upon. Period.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Fake Blog Post

aka, a link to a review I did as a guest for AustenBlog.

The review was for a murder mystery that made numerous allusions to Persuasions entitled Murder Most Persuasive. If you haven't read it yet, you really should.