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05 December 2010 @ 08:24 pm
a veritable dumping-ground (#54 - #63)  
The Keys to the Golden Firebird, Maureen Johnson

I was of the opinion that YA fiction was in general very sloppy. Between this and the other YA I've read this week, I'm disinclined to alter that opinion. Was this story good? Well, it had elements that were charming - teenagers coming to the realisation that friendship and loveship aren't so widely separated always has the potential to be charming. However, this book sunk under the weight of the Issues it attempted to tackle, not limited to: grief, teenage drinking, sexual awakening, sibling rivalry and poor parenting. Given that it revolved around three viewpoints and had a lot of action, three hundred odd pages - possibly less - were far too few to give them the space and attention they deserved. Had Johnson chosen one protagonist and one Issue, this would have been a very good book. As it is, it's sketchy and weak.

The character we're supposed to care most about, May, is an almost painful cliche. She's the clever and plain one in a family of beautiful jocks; she goes to a different school because she is just so smart and she's working for a scholarship. I understand that in the States getting into college can be hard, unlike here where you could walk in off the street. If it had been a book about her struggles to attain entrance to a good university I'd have no issue with this part of her character, but it's not. I don't even see why she couldn't have been a jock too.

There was an attempt to inject realism into her relationship with Pete, in that he slept with other girls while liking her. I applaud this presentation of the reality that when it comes to relationships, people take what they can get, not what they want. But it was never followed up! Instead we get a ridiculous movie-ending about Palmer - dear god what a ridiculous name - committing GBH and coercing her sisters into breaking the law. This was trite and unnecessary. Yet I ordered two more Maureen Johnson books before I realised how short this fell of my expectations; maybe she gets better. Hopefully she gets better.

This Charming Man, Marian Keyes

Keyes, for me, is inconsistent. I sincerely love Last Chance Saloon, but when she got to the point of writing a book about writing a book (The Other Side of the Story), I rolled my eyes and dismissed her. Anybody Out There? raised her in my estimation slightly and that, combined with late-night shopping and five euro books in Tesco's, landed me with this.

I admire Keyes' attempt to break free from the chicklit prison with her use of serious themes, but they threaten to overwhelm the story. It's almost as if someone assigned her an essay list: "Write a book about alcoholics. Write a book about miscarriage. Write a book about infidelity." She's extremely rigid in her attempts to bring everything back to the central theme, diverting plots to the point where they become ludicrous and unconvincing. If she'd relax a bit - maybe cut out the awful sex scenes and insist on different covers - she'd do far better in her genre-hopping scheme.

There are three narrators, all of whom are linked through a politician, the titular Charming Man. That's where the suspension of disbelief has to start, because seriously - a good-looking politician? Moreover, a good-looking politician IN IRELAND? Just google-pic 'Brian Cowen' and you'll see why I'm shaking my head. The problem with setting anything in Ireland in general - the Ireland that's making international headlines for being bankrupt, that one - is that it's just too small to support the kind of people that litter chicklit. There's Bono, but there's not a fleet of rockstars such as London might boast. There's rich people, sure, but the middle-class is by far the most populous. It makes my head hurt trying to pretend there's an It social scene that might require anyone to buy off the designer cruise lines.

However, if you're either not from Ireland or are more credulous than I, your main issue might be with the style of Lola's narrative. Ironically she is the funniest and also has the most interesting storyline - running a safehouse for transvestites in rural Ireland, pure gold - but her parts are written in faux-Bridget Jones' minor-word-dropping diaryist. It's not even done well; it's just annoying and derivative.

Where her power as a storyteller shines brightest is in Marnie's tale. She's very good at the bait-and-switch and I, for one, was certainly puzzled as to why the therapist dismissed Marnie after hearing the gin in Africa daydream. No one does alcoholics better than Keyes, who is of course a recovered alcoholic herself. Sadly everything became forced and ridiculous towards the end, when they confronted Paddy. Grace's encounter with him was unlikely in the extreme. Lola was unconvincing as a victim of domestic violence, given the light-hearted jollity of her narrative. It's a shame Keyes couldn't have let go a little more.

Peculiar to a native audience is the annoyance at Keyes' explanations of Irish idiosyncrasies. There's no such thing as a 'deputy Prime Minister'; if you're going to use Taioseach, use Tanaiste too. Always alienate the stupid and those who have no access to a google machine.

Oh, but she can be funny.

The Kildare bypass is the best thing to ever happen to Bridie's extended family, as many of them live in Dublin but love Uncle Tom's cabin. It knocks forty-five minutes off the drive, Bridie's dad says. But what do I care? I am thirty-one and, if I don't kill myself, am likely to live another forty years. I can spend all that time sitting in a traffic jam outside Kildare and it will make no difference to anything.

Best way to keep depression at bay is to get out and about and take short walk. Quite funny really when you think about it. Because when you're depressed, the last thing you want to do is get out and about and take short walk. Tablets far better.

So sexy, he was almost feral creature. As if had been brought up by good-looking wolves.

Julius thundered in and reappeared shortly. "I don't think he's coming. Someone in Waikiki has fucked up."
"Oh man." Alex shook his head sorrowfully and his sieve fell off. "Someone will have to sit on the fucked-up step."

We both sat on the little kerb and in my head I said, "Take good look at him, Mum. Now, not your fault you had to die and leave me but really need your advice. Afraid to trust own judgement after de Courcy. What you think about this cranky trannie who lives on other side of country?"
Voice in head answered, "He is not cranky."
"Yes, but -"
"He is not trannie either."
"True -"
"Admittedly he does live on other side of country, but is very small country."
"Please do not mention Kildare bypass."

Tales of Enchantment, Patricia C. Wrede

Bought this because I liked The Princess, the Cat and the Unicorn, which I already own in another anthology. I thought nine more short stories by her would be more of the same. NEVER WAS I MORE DECEIVED. Hit and miss is the way to best describe this collection ... mainly miss.

One Day, David Nicholls

This book is rocking the Twilight and Harry Potter boat, but the main impression I was left with was irritation that Nicholls never put a comma after 'well' in dialogue.

Their names were also irritating - try saying 'Emma Morley' and 'Dexter Mayhew' out loud. The name Dexter has an unfortunate association with lunatic cartoon scientists and cult hit TV mass-murderers; it doesn't convey what Nicholls wants to convey. All the names have this 'grabbed hastily and at random' feel to them. A small thing, but it threw me.

The conceit of writing about the events of the same calendar day every year wears thin extremely quickly. Nicholls doesn't fall into the trap of having significant events happen on each of these days, but perhaps it would be better - at least for the story - if he had. The whole of Emma and Dexter's backstory is consigned to fleeting references in flashback paragraphs, which weakens their already weak lovestory. We miss important details like how Dexter came to fall in love with Sylvie and why he stayed with her when he was afraid of her and didn't consider her a friend, just an attractive travelling companion. We miss Jasmine's birth and the first time Emma and Dexter actually slept together - surely an vital point in their otherwise curiously chaste relationship.

Most of all we miss just what it is about Emma, a frumpish woman who always wears black dresses to go out, or Dexter, a raving alcoholic, that we're supposed to be so fascinated by. I neither got a good grasp of their characters or personalities - Emma is apparently beautiful, yet the sparse descriptions include frizzy hair and NHS specs - or got to a stage where I gave a damn what happened to them. Twenty years is just too long. There's a reason few books narrate a longitudinal history of one person. Life lived is different to life written. Life written should follow Wilde's rule of the good ending happily and the bad unhappily, at least if it is to make for compelling reading.

And, oh god, killing off Emma was such a cheap trick. Don't explore the intricacies of boring suburban life or failure to conceive, just knock 'em out and make the gullible weep. I was so underwhelmed by this whole book there should be a new word for it. I finished it on call and left it in the res for any comers.

Huge, Sasha Paley

Incredibly slapdash tale of two girls who find love and friendship and lose pounds at fat camp. I seriously wondered if it was sponsored by the products it placed, constantly, randomly and unnecessarily. I bought it because the TV show was so good and I missed it. Bad move.

Miles Errant (Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance), Lois McMaster Bujold

Unfortunately I read Borders and started Brothers early this year and abandoned the anthology till now, so I only have a vague recollection of the former. I do remember that it was stunningly well done.

I feel bereft, now that I have left the world of the Vorkosigans (and more to the point, left the next installment in my flat). Miles has that effect on me; it's one I don't remember since my HP heyday.

I'm not sure how much I liked Brothers or Mirror Dance. I can see objectively that they are brilliant - Mirror Dance perhaps borrowing a little from Ender's Game in the unconsciously violent nature of Mark, and Brothers certainly predicting the bait and switch in Goblet of Fire. I suppose Mark was all things to all people: Miles' unlikely nemesis, Cordelia and Aral's second chance, Galen's puppet, Ryoval's torture victim, Illyan's replacement (I imagine). I had to remind myself that Bujold has managed rape scenes before to stomach the one in Mirror Dance, not because it was so horrible, but because it seemed so unlikely. Then again, I don't know much of the psychology of rape victims, so perhaps I should instead say unnecessary. Particularly when Elena, of all people, becomes his sworn Armswoman later in the same book ... perhaps it's because with Miles, we never see his initial struggles, the ones who shape who he is and how he reacts. We don't see much of Mark's either, but what is charted is his rocky road to becoming a decent person. For me that road took one too many detours.

I did love Cordelia, though!

"But mostly," she said, "because someday Countess Vorkosigan will ask me what I did for her son."
"You're planning to trade Baron Bharaputra for him, aren't you?"
"Mark..." her eyes were dark with a strange ... pity? irony? He could not read her eyes. "She'll mean you."

"Killing you was the entire reason for my existence. Two years ago I was all primed to do it. I endured all those years of Galen for no other purpose."
"Take heart," advised the Countess. "Most people exist for no reason at all."

! !!!

"Birthdays are sort of a non-concept, for me. What do you call it when you take someone out of a uterine replicator?"
"When I was taken out of my uterine replicator, my parents called it my birthday," she said dryly.

I feel very keenly the foriegnness of the Countess. Barrayar (aka Imperial Russia, amirite?) is, due to the Time of Isolation - I'm sure not a coincidence - very like Earth, or the near history of Earth. I can understand their motivations. But Beta Colony is so, so different. It's efficient and practical and moral and right, but these are four things most humans are not, and especially not in combination. The best word I can use for her is: alien. She is alien. But awesome.

"In fact, since no one is perfect, it follows that all great deeds have been accomplished out of imperfection. Yet they were accomplished, somehow, all the same."


"Lead on, love. Vorkosigans Victorious."
Vorkosigans Convalescent, was more like it, Miles reflected, following. But you should see what the other guys look like.

Bujold very effectively shows us snatches of worlds - Beta Colony and Jackson's Whole, mainly, but also places like Sergyar, Cetaganda and Athos - that sum them up completely and yet leave me wanting more. More detail! More depth! Beta Colony can't just exist as the perfect antithesis to the brutality of Barrayar. It deserves its own story.

Of all the Dendarii Taura had never, even in the most frantic moments, addressed the clones with anything but politely-worded requests. She now had all the air of a fairy-tale heroine trying to make pets of wild animals.

Man, that was the sweetest image.

I can't wait to read the next one ... I brought home Miles, Mutants and Microbes, being under the impression that it was next (and delaying the one I'm most impatient for, Miles in Love). However, it contains Labyrinth, which is already in Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, Falling Free, which is an Ethan of Athos-style connected non-Miles novel, and Civil Immunity, set after Miles' wedding. DID I EVER MENTION HOW MUCH I HATE SPOILERS. DID I.

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

jehnt recommended this to me and I read the first few pages on Amazon. I was expecting to like it much more than I actually did.

It was a string of conceits held together by not very much. (For those of you only just tuning in, 'conceit' in this context is my NEW FAVOURITE WORD.) I especially liked the genetically engineered puffins, but ... there was no POINT to them. The stupid names that Terry Pratchett can carry off were not carried off here - Acheron and Styx Hades? PLEASE. Jack Schitt. Felix Tabularasa?! Are you kidding me? Thursday Next seems mild by comparison.

Then there was the overexplaining. Why is Thursday Next called Thursday? This could be a mystery for the ages ... but no, it had to be explained. The reason? There is no reason. Why is Acheron such an asshole? Again, his motives could have remained a mystery and thus retained their power. Instead we're told he just likes it. So again, no reason. That's a lot of things happening for no reason in a book this size.

I found Fforde unconvincing as a female narrator. For one thing, this book doesn't pass the Bechdel test - unsurprising, given that Thursday is the only female in her workplace, and the only other two main female characters are her mother and aunt, with whom she only talks about her father and uncle. Here is a woman who is thirty-six, single and of unprepossessing features. I would be happy with a plain older protagonist who was comfortable with her relationship status - IF that was sold to me. It wasn't. Then again, Thursday is sketchy as a character, full stop. When she finds out Snood was her old lover and died for her, she barely turns a hair. I doubt having the feelings of an iceberg was intentional, so I put it down to sloppy writing.

Then there's internal inconsistency. Why does Rochester need money for the upkeep of his house when only places named in the book exist for him? As long as Bronte didn't write him as starving or destitute, apparently he's not - so what exactly does he spend his ill-gotten gains ON? What happens to his children in this place out of time? In another vein: the presumption that only altering the original manuscript will harm the plot is useful, but not terribly convincing, because first of all: how many original manuscripts actually still exist? And how many of them are exactly like the finished product? What draft are we talking about here? Surely Fforde, as a writer, should know better than to present the idea that all books fall from their authors' fingertips perfect and complete, first go.

This is a world where the Crimean War has been fought for 130 years, where Wales is a Communist Republic and different schools of art riot against each other in the streets. All lolarious in theory because they are so very unlikely, but the people in the world don't think so; they just live there. Ergo most of the charm is sucked out of the turnabouts. Mainly I was left wondering why I didn't get to read the story of Thursday's dad and his mission to ensure the existence of Shakespeare.

... see, this is why I'd never cut it as a proper reviewer. This book didn't feel right to me, didn't flow, had no life - but that's not a technical criticism, it's a purely idiosyncratic one. It's certainly more original than a lot of stuff out there, but regardless, it left me cold.

Suite Scarlett, Maureen Johnson

This is a shade better than The Keys to the Golden Firebird, but is equally unmemorable and contains what's rapidly becoming my most hated plot-device of YA: random and unsubstantiated hatred for rich people simply because they are rich.

I feel Johnson doesn't do herself justice in rushing to close up all the stupidest parts of her plots while leaving the most interesting by the wayside.

Johnson is irritatingly content to merely scratch the surface of the family dynamics she creates. Marlene, her illness and the way her family responds to it are fascinating. Not fascinating: Mrs Amberson throwing money around with no hint of its source. (Details like that always bother me ... maybe because I know that to spend a lot you have to work a lot, in most cases at least, and there was no sign of Mrs Amberson working at all.) Spencer's trials equally didn't move me - I think he should have gone to culinary school, or one better, become an electrician. The world needs another starving actor, fictional or otherwise, like it needs another heroine trying out her writing chops. SIGH. Can't these authors give their characters another hobby, like macrame? I would far rather have seen a plan to save the Hopewell Hotel from bankruptcy than one to save Spencer's useless 'career'. I'd also pick a Chip than a Spencer any day: at least Chip could provide for his children. Spencer would probably make them dance for pennies.

The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner

I am genuinely beginning to think I lack a certain reading blindspot that makes YA palatable and even enjoyable for many readers. This book was praised to the skies on Amazon and on lj. I bought it off the back of that, without being given the chance to 'Look Inside' on Amazon. If I had, nothing would have parted me from my four pounds or whatever it was. (Amazon may be mercenary in other countries, but in bankrupt and eternally ripped off Ireland, it's far cheaper than bookshops.)

This book was just so very, very boring. I didn't mark out any passages that intrigued me, that delighted me with their style or made me smile - because there were none. It's essentially the tale of a horseback trip across a watered-down and corrupted version of Ancient Greece. (Why Turner felt she needed to or indeed could improve upon the myths and Ancient writers is absolutely and completely beyond me.) There's a twist in the tale, sure, but it's cramped into about five pages at the very end, at which point I was bored and disinterested, but curiously hungry for cheese.

I did wonder about the cover: a pair of dirty hands clasping an amulet. Comparisons with Twilight are, in this case, deserved - in that they would both function well as cures for insomnia.

Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon

I actually prefer the title Jews with Swords ... although for the exact reasons he explains in the afterword, sadly.

I did like this, but I can't muster up an emotion stronger than that. Annoyingly, I was spoiled for Filaq's big reveal by some self-righteous ass on Amazon reviews. I dearly hope that hell exists just for these people.

I enjoyed Zekilman a great deal. A doctor was an interesting change from the usual characters on these quests, as was his technique of anaesthetising enemies. I actually bought the interaction between himself and Filaq, too; I just wish there was a little more space devoted to it.

"I want him to suffer," said Filaq. "To hurt, to writhe in pain."
"You and God have a great deal in common," he said.


In general I liked the wry and long-suffering way he presented religion.

while no one could know the mind of God, the Almighty had in the past shown a marked tendency, in his view, to ratify public opinion.

the rise of these warring stepchildren of Judaism, the followers of Islam and Christianity, who in violation of God's desire and teaching and above all his good sense would rather kill than haggle.

"I don't save lifes," said Zekilman. "I just prolong their futility."

Yeah, I REALLY enjoyed that dude. I think I'll have that line tattooed on my forehead.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill ♥ | The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt | Un Dun Lun, China Mieville | Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel &hearts | This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes | Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons ♥ ♥ | Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers | Crime and Punishment, Feodor Dostoevsky, The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard ♥ ♥ ♥, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard, Love's Shadow, Ada Leverson, The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie ♥ | The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton ♥ | I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett, Flipped, Wendelin Van Draanen, The Return Journey, Maeve Binchy, Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer | Pompeii, Robert Harris, Amanda's Wedding, Jenny Colgan
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full of medium-sized evilaidara on December 5th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
You might want to give the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud a try. (Starts with The Amulet of Samarkand. I find it a lot more "adult" than most YA, and quite hilarious, as well.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 6th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've heard of it. I just wish they'd scrap the YA category altogether, and force its writers to either write well or GTFO.
Neeryneery on December 5th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Trying to figure out the proper order of the Vorkosigan novels almost gave me an OCD nervous breakdown. Half the lists out there are incomplete, or in the order the books were written in instead of the internal timeline, or just wildly random, plus there's a "novel" that's really just a collection of short stories named after one of said stories. The Vorkosigan Wikipedia page saved my sanity.

Beta Colony can't just exist as the perfect antithesis to the brutality of Barrayar.

Have you read Shards of Honor yet? Only a little bit of it is set on Beta Colony, but that bit does a pretty good job of showing the scarier side of their insistence on sanity at any cost.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 6th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC)
I went by the omnibuses (omnibusii?) even though that nearly did me in too. Someone gave me a timeline and it spoiled me, which made me nearly frantic with rage.

It's been about three years and Shards of Honour/Barrayar have fused for me - but do you mean the part where girls are sterilised until they can get an authorisation to make a baby, pending personal and financial stability? Because I thought that was a FUCKING AWESOME IDEA OMG :D :D :D
Neeryneery on December 6th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
No, I meant the part where people decide that it's not sane for Cordelia to have grown to like Aral, or object to some military thing the Betans did in the war (IDK, it's been a while since I've read it) so clearly she's been subconsciously programmed by the Barrayarans, and they're going to put her through some sort of deprogramming without her consent. It doesn't go into detail about what they're planning to do to her, but it seems to be more along the lines of brainwashing than talk therapy. Cordelia ends up having to nearly drown the therapist in her aquarium to escape.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 6th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
Huh! That, I do not remember. (Although when it comes to Barrayar, they're nearly right.) I wonder if in the end of it all, Bujold will pull a massive unreliable narrator on us and have Aral be the tyrant most people think he is. :O!
Neeryneery on December 6th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Also, I just spent like five minutes pondering how to correctly pluralise omnibus, and nearly broke my brain. I'd go with omnibuses - I mean, it's a Latin word meaning "for everyone", I don't think ti was meant to be pluralised any more than that in the original language.

Yeah, this is the kind of thing my brain gets stuck on when I should be studying neurology. /o\
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 6th, 2010 11:28 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this is the kind of thing my brain gets stuck on when I should be studying neurolog.

Whereas for working in neurology, all you need to know about is acopia and psychogenic seizures ... real pathology is vanishingly rare. :P
Kat: [libgirl] gileskyasuriin on December 5th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)

I have to say that I pretty much loved The Thief, (I read it a couple weeks ago). I've heard from a lot of people though that they found it boring and liked the second book better. I finished the second a couple hours ago and found it a bit harder to follow politically, but I'm also not very politically minded. I can't really pinpoint why I liked both books so much but I think I actually found the mythology part interesting and really enjoyed the characters. But again, that's just me.

In any case, I'm sad that your YA experiences haven't been good, especially since it's my specialty :\
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 6th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I dunno - I spent the time of my life that's apparently now considered my 'young adulthood' reading heavy-duty chicklit and fantasy. Perhaps if I'd come at them at a younger age, when I read more slowly, I'd have appreciated them more. Now they just make me impatient. It's not like I pick them randomly, either; I go by recs that float on my flist. Then again, it's very hard to please me with books in general, as this whole taglist proves.