Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard


Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard
Rating: A childish story take/ And with a gentle hand/Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined/In Memory's mystic band; so many out-of-the-way things; curiouser and curiouser; a very difficult game indeed; thus grew the tale of Wonderland.

Splintered

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

In which I first judge a book by its cover:
Love. Perfect. Gorgeous. Haunting. The colors, the illustrative qualities, how well it represents the chaos and beauty and imagination of the story... It's totally gripping. I love illustrated covers, and this one is one of the best. I adore the way the vines are gipping at her hair. And OMG I just saw the key.

In which I then judge a book by its insides:
If you can't tell from me rating this book all in quotes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I'm kind of a big fan of Lewis Carroll. There's always a mix of excitement and trepidation for me when I hear about new adaptations or interpretations. Few of them manage to capture the true nuttiness, sense of chaos, and boundless imagination of Wonderland, and even fewer can inject their own unique ideas into it and still make sense. I'm happy to say that I think Splintered thoroughly delivered on both counts.


It's a very tall order. But she rises to the occasion.

Of course, the main attraction of Splintered is Howard's version of Wonderland, and boy is it messed up. In the best way possible, of course. It's dark, gothic, and creepy. The madness here is not the fuzzy, nonsense insanity of Carroll's Wonderland, but more wild. The White Rabbit is actually the White Rabid, a creepy zombie-esque creature with antlers; Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are actually insect-like twins who guard the realms of the dead; and the Caterpillar is actually a sexalicious, black-winged package of swoon named Morpheus.

But what really helped me enjoy Wonderland and all it's harrowing adventures was how well grounded Alyssa's real life is. I've read some fantasy books where the main characters leaves for the fantasy world too soon, and we don't get invested in her life and her relationships. This isn't the case here. I was so invested in Alyssa and her unique situation.

Even without the Wonderland aspects, I've never read any story quite like hers. Her best friend Jeb, a hottie extroardinaire with a heart of gold and a fully fleshed out personality (YAY for love interests with personalities/backstories/piercings!), is dating someone else. Her mom is in an asylum, which takes a horrible toll on both her and her loving father. There's a long line of insanity infecting the women of her family, stretching all the way back to her great-great-(I forget how many greats)grandmother, the one and only Alice Liddell-- a.k.a Lewis' inspiration for the famous tale. But in this version, it's not just a tale. Alice really did go to Wonderland, but obviously, things didn't go so well.

I loved how convoluted the plot was, and all the different reveals. It's like, I had just gotten a handle on the situation when suddenly BAM! New twist. PSYCH! Everything you thought is wrong. I'm usually pretty good at seeing reveals coming, but most of the time reading Splintered I was like like "!!!!! No really !!!!" One twist about her mother was, I think, a little convenient, but I still went with it. It still played.

Totally the experience of reading this book.

I loved Alyssa as a heroine. She struggles with light and dark, madness and sanity, imagination and reality. She's an artist and a skater girl and also bugs and flowers talk to her. A. Mazing. She doesn't know who she's supposed to be, or whether she'll go crazy like every other female in her family, or if she already has. But she's clever, and totally comes into her own.



But the characters who really, truly captured my heart, were, of course, Jeb and Morpheus. *faints dead away*

Oooh. Hot boys, you say? Yes please.
I mean. I don't even know how to talk about them? I don't have words or thoughts or a brain? I am too in love with fictional characters? Jeb is Alyssa's hothothot human best friend, and Morpheus is this winged Cockney imaginary best friendish type thing Alyssa never knew she had. It's kind of a battle between them, but so much more complicated. It's more like... a battle to have both reality and Wonderland inside her. Or something. Just read the book. You'll get it.


Me when the book was over and I had to say goodbye to my fictional boyfriends

Lastly, the writing. It manages to be both real-- as in Alyssa feels like a real, modern teenager-- and gorgeous. It's lyrical, and visual, and I could see Wonderland so clearly even when it was so confusing. Those images, guys. I mean... I just... wanted to sketch it all, like Alyssa. The whole thing is like a piece of art. I don't even know how Howard can possibly be so creative and invent those kind of pictures in her head. I'm so glad I read this book, because now I get to have them in my head too.

Edit to add: While this is and reads as a standalone novel, I can see that there is potential for future books with Alyssa and the denizens of Wonderland, to which I say PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE yes I approve yes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever


hosted by The Broke and Bookish

I think the level of hate I am capable of holding in my heart for fictional characters is not healthy. I'm honestly a pretty cheerful person (no, really), but I am alarmingly prone to rant as well. Which is why I was afraid when I saw what this week's Top Ten Tuesday subject was. I was all, "Oh, great. I'm probably going to rant again."

Guess what? I ranted. I can't help it. Trigger my inner grumpopotamus and STAND BACK, 'cause thar she snarks! It's like a geyser of negativity! You just can't stop it!

Which is why I must preface this with a little warning. I am not known for pulling punches, and I certainly don't do so in this list. My feelings for these characters are my feelings only, and they are only for these characters and CERTAINLY NOT for the readers of these books. I don't think people who love the books I don't like are stupid or wrong. If you love these characters, that's fine! I love you. I don't want to insult you and I really hope I don't offend you with my curmudgeonly ways.

Also, a lot of these characters happen to have a lot of redeeming qualities, and I like a lot of the books they appear in. I don't hate all the characters I've listed; these were just the ones I was most frustrated by. Some I do hate, though. I can't help it.

I get a bit spoiler-y, so if you come across a character from a book you haven't read, you may want to skip over that one.

1. Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries
I love Mia. She's a lot like me. But sometimes she's so dense I want to reach through the pages and shake her. She actually spends an entire book freaking out about whether her boyfriend is in love with her or just loves her. Mia. Girl. If a teenage boy trots out the L word-- particularly that teenage boy-- YOU'RE SOLID. JUST RELAX. Unless your hair makes you look like a moose. Then it is time to panic.

 




2. Molly Bartolucci from Undeadly
Molly frustrated me so much I felt compelled to rant for quite a while about her. She is dumb as a box of rocks and talks like her brain has been replaced with a cell phone. She is incapable of solving simple mysteries and apparently does not care if her actions lead directly to the deaths of several of her classmates. The DEATHS. Of her CLASSMATES. And she only ever worries about her boyfriend.

3. Lavender Brown from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Lavender Brown, kindly step away from Ronald Weasley. AWAY, I SAY. Don't make me crucio your ass.

And I happen to not give a flying hippogriff.
Honorable mention goes to Ron Weasley for sixty-percent of HBP and his HORRIBLE BETRAYAL in DH, even though I love my Won-Won.

4. America Singer from The Selection
Well, mostly I was frustrated by her complete lack of personality. Then I was frustrated by her inability to appreciate the fancy clothing being flung at her. "I'm a simple girl! I like simple things! Like jeans! And constantly talking about how un-beautiful I am! Even though I have two boyfriends!" Then I was frustrated because I wanted her book to be better than it was, but that wasn't her fault, I guess.

5. Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre
Stop literally every single thing that you are doing. Yes, I'm talking about the part where you are a total ass to Jane for two hundred pages, including dressing in drag and pretending to be an old gypsy lady for God knows what reason, and then you're all, "Just kidding! I was pretending to not care about you to make sure you loved me! It was a test! You passed! LOL, wasn't that fun? We shall be married in the morning." Yes, I know you love Jane. No, you should not marry her. Why, you ask? Really? WHY? I'M PRETTY SURE YOU KNOW WHY, MR. ROCHESTER. I AM PRETTY SURE YOU ARE AWARE OF WHY THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

 

6. Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings
I will be mean to anyone who is mean to Samwise Gamgee. Dude. He was willing to leave the freaking Shire, get attacked by orcs like a hundred times, scale all manner of tall things, and endure the never-ending lunacies of a withered, bug-eyed schizophrenic, all for you. The least you can do is be nice and quit being so maudlin. And when you finally get to the place you've been limping toward for three thousand pages so you can accomplish the one simple task that will save all of Middle Earth, you do it. You throw the damn ring in the lava. Immediately.

On second thought... it really is very shiny, isn't it? It would be
a shame to destroy something so shiny.

7. Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye
I just want to pinch him. Whiny, ungrateful little snot. You make me feel old and curmudgeonly, Holden. I was assigned this book in ninth grade, when I was fourteen years old, and all my friends were like, "He so gets me! He's the voice of youth! Adults are phonies!" And I was like, "Apparently, so am I, because I just want to whap him and tell him to get the eff off my lawn and go back to school."

8. Everybody in Falling Kingdoms
This was one of those books where I found myself talking to the characters out loud. "Cleo, no. NO. That is a STUPID PLAN. What do you expect to actually do out there? Well, don't look at me when everything blows up in your face. Ugh, Magnus, don't. That's evil. Please don't do that. What are you- DON'T DO THAT. DO NOT DO THAT. SHE'S YOUR SISTER STOPPIT STOPPIT--" *vomits everywhere*

9. Araby from Masque of the Red Death
GIRL. Take some anti-depressants or something. You are bringing me DOWN. Yeah, she improved a lot as the book went on, but in the beginning, Araby was just deliberately, persistently depressed. I really can't stand characters who actually try to be gloomy. I mean, she made this stupid pact after her brother died that she can't ever do anything that her brother will never get to do, due to his no longer being alive. This includes experiencing any joy whatsoever, apparently. Oh, you don't care about life? FINE. Then I don't care about you. Moan moan moan.

10. Amy March from Little Women
Not only did you steal Laurie, but you BURNED. JO'S. MANUSCRIPT. She may have forgiven you, but I never forget, Amy March. Never. You ever try that with my manuscript and I will throw you into the flames along with it.

Made for my parents, posting for interweber.



11. Zoey Redbird from the House of Night series
Zoey's daily agenda includes whining, being selfish, not dying when she should, stringing along at least twelve different guys, cheating on all of them, lying to her friends, talking like an idiot, and treating perfectly nice people like "bullpoopie" (direct Zoey quote).

12. Bella Swan AND Edward Cullen from Twilight
Oh, Twilight. I would not be surprised if Bella showed up on ninety percent of today's lists. She is a very popular target nowadays. Let me say that when I first read these books, I didn't just read them; I gobbled them up like they were delicious sugary pie (my pie-eating methods include eating it all and eating it very fast). The thing about Twilight is that it can fool you with it's Twilightian logic. You get brainwashed by the many, many descriptions of Edward's flawless face. You don't realize the inherent WTFery present until you take a step back and go "Hold the phone. This is not healthy. THIS IS NOT RIGHT."

Bella and Edward are both frustrating characters to me because I never understand their decisions or their thought processes. Their warped logic utterly CONFOUNDS me. But worse than that, I am frustrated and infuriated by the horrible life lessons they impress on readers.


Kill me. Kill me !
Why do you NEVER value your own life AT ALL?

Lessons Bella Swan teaches us about life:

- Be klutzy to the point where you are actually physically disabled. It's cute. It will make boys want to eat you save you. And you need a guy to save you. Or else you'll probably be raped.

- If a guy is hot, it doesn't matter if he frequently talks about how badly he wants to murder you. He's hot! And sparkly! Who cares about dying? Being single is wayyyyy worse.

- You are nothing without a boyfriend. Codependence is where it's at. The more depressed you are when you get dumped, the more reaaaal your feeeeels were. Twue wuv means not being able to live without him. Bonus points if you manage to actually lose your goddamn mind in his absence.

- Have no other friends besides your boyfriend. If they don't sparkle, they don't count.

- Always take direct orders from your boyfriend in the most obedient fashion possible. You are woman, he is man. It make sense.

- If you start having hallucinations, the best thing to do is jump off a cliff so you can keep having them.

- You are inadequate and inferior. The only way to hold on to the super hot boy who makes your panties heart flutter is to fundamentally change every aspect of yourself, even on a cellular level.

- Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die. Don't have sex in the missionary position, don't have sex standing up, just don't do it, okay? Promise? Okay, now everybody take some rubbers.
 


Lessons Edward Cullen teaches you about life:

- Girls totally love it when you break into their rooms to watch them sleep at night.

- They also love it when you threaten to kill them.

- The best way to treat a woman is to treat her like your inferior. Rescue her often. Let her know that without you, she'd probably be dead. She will worship you like the pagan god you are.

- Your ideal mate is at least ninety years younger than you.

- Hate yourself. Hate yourself A LOT.

- If the girl you love dies, you should probably just die too. Suicide is totally in these days.

- Have no objections if your wife's ex-boyfriend decides he will one day sexify your infant daughter. THIS IS A NORMAL THING.


Not-so-honorable mentions: Ever from The Immortals, Cassia from Matched, Bianca from Evernight, Patch and Nora from Hush, Hush, every single solitary soul in Wuthering Heights, Lydia from Pride and Prejudice, Effie from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Luce from Fallen, and... wow. Still so much hate in my heart. I'm going to go hug a puppy or something.

Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a bomb-ass book.

Today is the two hundredth birthday of one of the most seminal novels in all of history: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. And even though this is a YA blog, I feel compelled to celebrate this momentous occasion, because few books have ever personally affected me like Jane Austen has.


I may have mentioned this once or twice or a million times, but I am an Austen nut. And the amazing thing is, so are so many people. There are thousands of Jane Austen inspired Pinterest boards, fanfiction accounts, novel series, movies, crafts, going literally on and on forever. I mean, Jane Austen herself is on FACEBOOK. The thing about Jane Austen books is that people don't just read them and enjoy them; they want to crawl inside and live them. It's not just me, either: series like Lost in Austen prove this is a fantasy for a lot of people. We even like it with zombies added.


It's not just the world, though. People are still drawn to the story even when it's taken out of historical context, because P&P is probably the most brilliant and plotty of all of Jane's novels (I say Jane like we're best buds, BECAUSE WE ARE), which is way updates such as Bridge Jones' Diary and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries exist.

META!

People argue that Jane Austen's books were too light, too narrow, too limited. Of course those people are idiots who should never be trusted to speak again. Perhaps they have a point. But I've always thought that within her scope-- upper middle class British country life-- she manages quite a lot. Her range isn't wide, but it's deep. She understands all the vagaries of human nature, their idiosyncrasies and their desires. People always pit her against the Brontes (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre), who were all gothic this and melodramatic that, and say, "Austen doesn't know PASSION. No descriptions! No mad wives in the attic! No action!"

But boy, do I think they're wrong. It's a different kind of passion, a clearer, more realistic view of love, dealing with the only themes that mattered at all in Jane Austen's time: getting married. One could argue that the tiny, understated actions that Mr. Darcy takes-- inviting Elizabeth to meet his sister, plunging off to London to hunt down the perfidious Wickham all in seeeeecret-- are some of the most romantic moments in literature.

 

Plus, Jane was quite a modern lady. She was modern, and witty, and while hardly a revolutionary, not only depicts strong ladies of character, but social mobility in her novels. True, it's all gained through MARRYING UP, but still. There's a reason Elizabeth is the most beloved of all her heroines (and the inspiration for my middle name. Now you know what the e in my url means! Because some evil alt-Gillian Berry out there was already using Gillian Berry dot BlogSpot.). It's hard not to love a spunky, brilliant, flawed character who's willing to grow even in the most painful ways. We all want to be Elizabeth. We all learn with her. She's not a bland, idealized heroine, like most female characters were in that era (see Camilla, Pamela, etc.). She's real.

Plus she likes book so obviously she's the best

And then there is the delightful Darcy. Sigh. Misunderstood, painfully shy, yet full of pride both necessary and excessive. Tall, rich, beautiful, and OH. SO. IN. LOVE. I think that's what truly so appealing about him-- how much he loves Elizabeth, his opposite in nearly every way. He's really just but a big old socially uncomfortable softie under that brooding exterior.

image

So that's only a little sliver about why I love Pride and Prejudice, besides the fact that it taught me to read, bonded me with my mother, and inspired MANY A CRAFT PROJECT that I maybe will share when my camera gets in working order. Here are some links to help you celebrate this special day and this special book. Even those of you who have yet to read it can enjoy these.

Pride and Prejudice told through Facebook

12 Facts you probably didn't know about Pride and Prejudice

One of many Jane Austen-inspired Etsy shops, and my personal fave (I WANT those Darcy proposal mugs)

My Jane Austen-tatious Pinterest board! Still in its early stages.

REGENCY RECIPES!

The BBC recreated the Netherfield ball and I am bummed I wasn't there.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Who is your Definitive Darcy? (I'm Team Firth). And Elizabeth? (I like Kiera). Why do you love P&P? Why do you not? Why haven't you gotten around to reading it yet? How many copies do you own? (Five. Yes, FIVE.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Links


This week is giving me the blahhhhs. That might have something to do with the weather, which is gray and drizzly in these parts, though I suppose that's better than the horrific chill you poor East Coasters have been suffering through ("East Coasters" makes it sound like I should be putting my drinks on top of you). But when weather gets you down, it's best to just stay home and do nothing more than inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.



Hence my weekly little Procrastination Package. The internet is the best way I know how to not do things, so here's me helping you to not do things too.

Here's a roundup of what I posted this week:

I reviewed Crash by Lisa McMann.

I listed ten settings I'd like to see more of in YA lit.

I reviewed Matched by Ally Condie.

And lastly, we talked love triangles, because apparently that's a thing nobody talks about on the internet (sarcasm).


Bookish and non-bookish things for you to peruse:

One of the greatest things I've read in AGES: an article about THE WORST NOVELIST OF ALL TIME and how she was a cult phenomenon back in the day. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to sit around and poke fun of her all day long. (via Slate)

Hilarious insight into the disgruntled mind of a paperback copy of The Scarlet Letter (via The Onion)

The Art of Hate Reading (aka MY FAVORITE HOBBY) (via Jezebel)

I'm always going on about how much I love when pretty new covers come out for classic books, but these are the absolutely worst cover redesigns I've ever seen. The heinous person responsible for Anne of Green Gables should be keelhauled (via Jezebel)

To Oxford Comma or not to Oxford Comma? I, for the record, am staunchly pro OC. (via Mental Floss)

20 Entrances That Are Clearly Gateways to Narnia (via Buzzfeed)

WHY are people so anti-pun? This article explores why so many people view the pun as o-pun-ly pun-acceptable (BAM) (via BBC News)

A literary map of Manhattan! (via NY Times)

And lastly, Conspiracy Theories about Classic Literary Characters. Some of these are eye-rolly and the Harry Potter one makes me want to WOUND whoever thought of it, but I like the basic concept of assigning nefarious/non-canon motives to characters (via Flavorwire) (I accidentally wrote that as characturds. This says something.)

GIVEAWAYS!


Don't forget to enter mine. Easy links are on the right under the heading CURRENT GIVEAWAYS!

Check out this awesome Q&A with Brodi Ashton! and win a signed copy of Boundless & a guitar pick!
 
 Enter to win a Just One Day prize pack from Mundie Moms
 
 
Win ARC of MIND GAMES!

Giveaway for a KINDLE FIRE & MORE at Winterhaven Books

Happy Blogoversary, The Reader Bee! Enter to win an awesome new 2013 read!

The Bookapalooza Scavenger Hunt is ON at Making the Grade! You can amazing giveaways by completing it!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In Defense of Love Triangles

 
For a full definition, see TV Tropes.

I know what you're thinking. Love triangles.


It seems like 8 out of 10 YA books nowadays have love triangles in them. Understandably, we are all love triangle fatigued. I'm going to let you in on a little secret here that you probably couldn't figure out from the title of this post: I like love triangles.

I mean, not automatically. I don't read the backs of books that say "TWO BOYS, TWO LOVES, ONE MARY SUE, ONE CHOICE" and go "Love triangle! Definitely buying it!" And some triangles I've come across kind of make me want to punch absolutely everyone involved. Some seem to be inserted into the plot merely to appear timely, since YA love triangles are all the rage. And sometimes they are so organic to the story-- sometimes they underline the themes so well, or are done so originally-- that you can hardly fault them.

"Hardly" being the key word there. Obviously some people hate love triangles no matter what. You are not in the wrong if you do. There's a lot to dislike about love triangles, particularly when they become involved with my own personal YA kryptonite: instalove. But that's a post for another day.

There's also a double standard when it comes to love triangles. Most (not all, obviously) pro-love triangle people think the ones where the girl protagonist is trying to choose between two guys are acceptable, because of all the tangly feeelings and confusion and whatnot. But if a guy (usually NOT the protagonist) is trying to choose between two girls (one of who probably is the protagonist), people see him as a prick. Then there are the fun people who think, because a girl is torn between two guys, she is a trampire.

But that could lead me in a whole other direction about how stringently we should judge fictional characters, but again, that's another post for another day.

Sometimes, sympathizing with a love triangle is really hard.

Yeah, this kind of drives me crazy (I say as I give my cat, Uma, a good neck scratch) 

But still, I love them. It all comes down to agency. I love it when characters need to make choices. And really good love triangles are not just about a romantic quandary. Really good love triangles signify something deeper. YA is all about making those mistakes and figuring out what directions you want to go in in life, and I think love triangles perfectly exemplify that. In some cases, the protagonist is torn between two suitors who personify battling concepts that that the protagonist is wrestling with (e.g.: Katniss vacillating between Peeta and Gale, who represent two totally different ways of dealing with oppression, different forms of humanity, different forms of what love-conquers-all can mean).

 

Yes, this can be used as a marketing ploy to sell thousands of Team Peeta and Team Gale t-shirts a la Twilight (which is also a love triangle I can defend, thematically, though I definitely have a whole host of issues with it). I am not a proponent of the nastiness that can occur from Shipping Wars (Chair and Dair fans, I'm looking at YOU, you vile heathens. Boy am I glad that's done), but I do love the devotion that shipping can inspire in fans.

I have been known to squeal when certain beautiful TV vampires
kiss certain handsome TV vampires.

Here is a fantastic quote from author Carrie Ryan that basically says what I'm trying to say way better than I ever could:

"To me, that’s the essence of a love triangle — each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is.  The heroine isn’t choosing between two men, she’s choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is."

Do we need more originality in our YA love triangles? Absolutely. 90% of them include some variation of "Beautiful but unassuming girl is torn between dreamy good boy and hot-as-sin bad boy", even though sometimes this variation really works for me (see both Shadow and Bone and Shatter Me/Unravel Me). Perhaps there should be more books where the main character is the one competing with another person for the love interest's affections, rather than being the object of the triangle.



This is proven to be significantly less popular, however, particularly when a girl is competing with another girl for a boy's affections, because then we kind of all want to call the Other Girl a skank and banish her to Siberia. Again, I'm not a fan of judging characters for their sexual/romantic choices, but I understand why authors don't choose to write about this triangle very often.

Naturally. You both have eyes, after all.

That's why I'm all for the non-traditional formations, like that nasty bit of business found in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hermia loves Lysander. Lysander, luckily, loves Hermia. Demetrius loves Hermia also, but she does not love him. Helena loves Demetrius, but he barely even knows who she is. To quote Seth Cohen, it's a love rhombus.



Or there could be non-traditional love triangles in which NO ONE is happy. Say X is in love with Y, Y is in love with Z, Z is evil soulless demon who loves nobody. Or X loves Y, Y loves Z, Z loves X or Q or maybe his horse or his mother, I don't know. Or even better, you read a love triangle where bits of the triangle are of the same gender, like that fun messy nonsense that is The City of Bones SPOILERSPOILER (Clary loves Jace, Jace loves Clary, Simon loves Clary, Simon is the most friend-zoned friend to ever be friend zoned, Alec loves Jace, Alec is the other most friend-zoned friend to ever be friend-zoned, OOPS Clary and Jace are brother and sister, never mind, pain everywhere) SPOILERSPOILER.

I myself happen to prefer the triangles that are truly triangles, rather than "love V's", as author Malindo Lo defines them. Basically, a triangle means that all three people in the tangly little love snarl have relationships. Take, for example, the Triangle of Doom in The Vampire Diaries (I haven't read the books, so I'm going off the TV series here): Stefan and Damon are vampire brothers, and they are both in love with Elena, she of the beautifully shiny hair. This is made much more interesting (to me) due to the fact that Stefan and Damon also love each other more than anything (even though they also want to kill each other sometimes. It's complicated). Or Will, Jem, and Tessa in The Infernal Devices trilogy, which I also haven't read but fully intend to. Or Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol in Throne of Glass, which I completely adored. Or, to get all classical on you, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot: the original Triangle of Doom.

I like it when my tangly snarls are truly tangly and everyone loves everyone else (or everyone hurts everyone else). I prefer this form of triangle to triangles were the two suitors have no relationship to one another at all, or ones where it is patently obvious which suitor is going to be chosen (see Matched by Ally Condie).

I also love original resolutions to love triangles. Sometimes I'm just like, "Choose them both, Elena! Run off to a free love compound and switch Sexy Salvatores every other night!" I also love those Kelly Taylor "I choose me!" moments. We surely don't get enough of those in YA.

 
So obviously, I think love triangles are going a little stale, since the only way I could defend them was to argue they should be totally revamped. But multiple romantic possibilities for a heroine is not automatically a bad thing. Even Jane Austen did it. Emma was torn between Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill; Elizabeth had to figure out whether it was Darcy or Wickham who was more deserving of her love; both Elinor and the horrible Lucy were in love with Edward; Anne loved Wentworth, but he was flirting with Louisa even though he maybe-loved Anne but Mr. Elliot also kind of wanted to marry Anne (that was a mess); Fanny loved Edmund but Edmund loved Mary and Henry loved Fanny and Mariah loved Henry (that was an even bigger mess). But the more romantical entanglements, the merrier, I say!
 
Damon approves.
Also Knightley.
 
For further research, here's a great post from author Diana Peterfreund arguing that Twilight does not actually contain a love triangle with also some brilliant insight into Buffy. I actually kind of agree with her now regarding the Forksian Fellowship, though ultimately I say the Bella/Edward/Jacob deal still has triangular aspects.
 
So, love triangles. Love 'em? Hate 'em? It depends? Tell me your thoughts, your Ships, which triangles you want to burn with fire, and whether seeing the words love triangle in a blurb make you instantly put the book down or instantly pick the book up. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: Matched by Ally Condie


Review: Matched by Ally Condie
Rating: After a reeeeeeally slow start, blah characters, and derivative world-building, I finally started to get what all the fuss is about. Mostly because of Ky and the poetry. If you loved this book, I totally get why, but most of it just didn't do it for me.



Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

In which I first judge a book by its cover:
GORGEOUS. Simply flipping gorgeous. That bright green color, her hair, the glass orb, the lettering; all of it is stunning. My paperback version is the extra special version, so it's got shiny bits around the orb and along the edge. I'd been waffling about trying out this series for a while, but when I saw it in the bookstore, it grabbed hold of my magpie, shine-loving heart, and I bought it.

In which I then judge a book by its insides:
The beginning of this book is such a snore. Honestly, there is no tension. Dull Cassia is going to her Matching ceremony in a green dress with her best friend Xander, who is not wearing a green dress. There, the Society, the all-knowing, all-powerful governing body, will mathematically determine who her Match will be. Cassia, who is wearing a green dress, is really excited about this. Hold on, did I mention that Cassia is wearing a green dress? Because she sure does. About eighteen times in as many pages (this is unfair of me, I know, but it honestly bugged the shit out of me. I almost wanted to start a drinking game. "HEY SHE MENTIONED GREEN TAKE A SHOT!").



I really like the set-up of Matched and the idea of having the most fundamental of choices (the choice of whom to love) taken from you. I like the concept of being torn between two boys who exemplify the inherent struggles of your world: the boy who is mathematically perfect for and whose love has been dictated, or the boy that makes your loins heart flutter. This kind of push/pull is what drama is all about. So I thought that that first moment at the ceremony where her Match flashes onto the screen would be the moment described in the synopsis. You know, the one where she sees both Xander AND Ky, and therefore we find out that SHENANIGANS ARE AFOOT and the story kicks off.

Nope. There were no shenanigans. All went as planned. This is... not interesting. We don't get that "Holy cupcakes, I have two soul mates! Are you saying the Society made a mistake? Impossible!" moment for another twenty pages. The snail-slow pace of this book might not have been as big of a problem if the characters had been totally fascinating, but they just aren't. While Cassia's voice and her descriptions are beautiful, it takes a while to connect to her. It's only through seeing her interact with her grandfather (the first character who tugged on my heartstrings) and Ky that she really blossoms into a strong and active character with powerful feelings.

Xander is a complete non-entity. I've heard he grows in personality as the series progresses, which is good, because in the first installment, I was basically like, "Of course I don't want her to choose Xander. Xander is boring. He's been missing for fifty pages and I didn't even remember until just now, and that's only because he showed up again." He and Cassia did have a nice scene together towards the end, so there's that.



And I don't even remember the names of Cassia's other friends besides Em, and that's only because I have a friend with that name also. My Em has way more personality (hi Em!). I will concede that Cassia's dad started to show some strength of character as the novel progressed, and that Cassia's brother Bram was totally adorable.

Ky is the one who made this whole story come together. He's a sweetheart, and, while not overly brimming with personality either, possesses serious depth of feeling. He and Cassia's grandfather manage to stir something inside Cassia, and whatever that was finally managed to stir something in me, the reader. That was when the poetry came through-- not just the love of poetry that the characters experience, but the actual poetry in the writing. And I must say it was truly beautiful. I don't want to spoil too much about it, but as someone who (clearly) highly values the power of words, creativity, and original thought, watching Ky and Cassia rebel against the Society in their small way was really touching.

I'm not really going to get into the love-triangle-ness of it all, since I've got a post coming up about YA love triangles probably tomorrow, but I do think this one is pretty tepid. Strangely enough, I would have liked it better if the triangular aspects of the plot were ratcheted up a little. It would have made for more interesting tension if Cassia were really conflicted. And again, the pace. Sweet lord. I'm not saying I require a rigid three act structure in all my novels, but some basic twists would be nice. Or some rising action, at the very least. Or even just action.

The word-building is solid, if unremarkable, but is unfortunately ripped straight out of The Giver, from the Matching, to the assigned jobs, to the treatment of the elderly, to drugging the population into submission. What really elevates this story is the quality of Condie's writing and what is actually a very lovely romance. There are some beautiful passages in there, and I kind of fell in love with Ky along with Cassia.

Sidebar: who can tell me what the EVERLOVING HECK that sorting business was? What was it? What was she doing? I don't understand. I particularly did not understand what she was doing when she was sorting over at SPOILER's jobWhat does sorting entail? Also, how is it that the people in the Society are capable of reading and typing on a computer, but cannot write? As in they cannot physically form letters with their hands? There were a lot of world-building aspects that I didn't get, scientifically speaking, but I'm not really knowledgeable enough to say if they were plausible or not.



And the structure is kind of not there. A Big, Dramatic, Crushing Thing happens near the end, but it's not necessarily a climax, even if it was the best part of the book. I like it when the shit hits the fan. Cassia struggles against the one Official who seems to be actively out to get her, but that whole deal is kind of vague. I wanted more backstory and more information on the Society, though I get why Cassia wouldn't know it. But what's the deal with Singles? How do they decide who the Anomalies and Aberrations are? Why isn't the blatant, codified heteronormativity of this government ever addressed?

 The destruction of knowledge and culture wrought by the Society is pretty heartbreaking. I will be reading the sequel; I grew attached to the two main characters, and I'm interested in seeing where their story leads. The Society itself is pretty boring, but SPOILERSPOILER now that Cassia's left her dull city and actually has a mission to accomplish, I'm hoping things will get more interesting SPOILERSPOILER. For some reason I couldn't break away from this book while I was reading it. Despite my issues and the fact that I was kinda bored at times, it sucked me in. I blame Ky and the pretty, pretty cover/words. I do like that Cassia did learn to have her own words and make her own choices, and I liked how the basic concept of this book was how important freewill really is in a Society that tells you when to die, how many kids to have, when to have them, and who to have them with.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Ten Settings I'd Like To See More Of


hosted by The Broke and Bookish

 Without further ado, here are ten settings I'd like to see more of in YA literature:

1. Space



It's big. It's pretty. I've never been there. LET'S HAVE MORE SPACE BOOKS.

2. Los Angeles



I know there's hardly a shortage of books set in my home town/current home, but it's always fun to read about a place you're familiar with. I read a book once that mentioned my high school BY NAME and I felt famous-adjacent.

3. New Zealand

Sea stack and mount Taranaki (New Zealand)
LOOK AT THAT it's so pretty it cannot even be REAL

Arguably one of the most gorgeous countries I've ever visited and definitely one of the most fascinating. Kiwis are awesome and I want to read more books about them!

4. On a boat




I spent a lot of my childhood on boats. They work beautifully as book settings, since if you're on a boat, you're automatically going on an ADVENTURE, and the setting is enclosed, meaning all the characters are trapped together to create DRAMA.

5. Under the sea

http://dreamcatcher03mc.tumblr.com/

WHY NOT, I say? I'd loved to read YA books set in underwater kingdoms or even in a submarine.

6. Restaurants/Bakeries/Kitchens


I. Love. Food. A lot. I love reading books about people who make food or eat food or just look at food. Let's have more foodie YA novels!

7. Renaissance Faires/historical reenactments or carnivals/amusement parks


I love reading books about teenagers with interesting and unusual jobs. I feel jobs at these places would qualify.

8. Ye Olden Times

Which Olden Times? I don't care. Pick one. More historical YA is fine by me.

9. Russia

Moscow. Snow.

Historical Russia or contemporary Russia. Either is fine with me. I looooove Russia. It is definitely the country I most hope to visit one day (in the summer, for obvious reasons).

10. Boarding school


A Little Princess

My favorite movie♥

Has it been done many a time? Of course it has. Doesn't mean it isn't super fun to read about. And there are no grownups around to interfere.

Bonus:

11. Paris
Because Paris holds the key to my heart.



By the way, it is a crime that there are no full clips of this scene on Youtube. Someone fix this.

Honorable mentions: New England, the South, Mexico, Spain, India, the Wild West, islands, airships, New England, underground, London, the Himalayas, the South Pacific, anywhere in Scandinavia, the jungle, Antarctica, oh my God I could do this forever.