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Yoga Book Tag

Other than zumba, yoga is the only type of exercise I can stand.

Continue reading “Yoga Book Tag”

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Posted in Books

The Great December Readathon

I mentioned acquiring some serious, award-winning books that I couldn’t wait to read.

I also mentioned some long-unread books on my TBR and some current rereads.

Well.

I visited my hometown library. Continue reading “The Great December Readathon”

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Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: Why I Only Lasted 9 Pages

I hate historical fiction, but I’ll read historical books that try their damnedest to be interesting.

If a book adds a serial killer, say, or some girl power, I’ll come sniffing around.

Under a Painted Sky caught my interest.

Two women of color become unlikely allies and go on the lam together?

Disguised as boys?

And they meet and fall in love with cowboys!?

I had this EXACT fantasy in the fourth grade!

The book starts out in medias  res, which I like. I prefer to get right to the action.

And WHAT A START:

They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. [….] Does killing a man who tried to rape me count as murder?

WOW. SOLID beginning! I know just enough to want to know more. Until…

My mind wheels back to twelve hours ago, before the world turned on its head….

YOU’RE ALREADY LOSING ME, STACEY.

You mean to tell me you’ve just warded off an attempted rape by killing your attacker and your FIRST thought is to reminisce about the morning? I AM NOT CONVINCED. Any interest I had in the murder is dwindling.

Sammy, our protagonist, remembers being angry with her father that morning.

I strapped on the Lady Tin-Yin’s violin case and glared at my father, who was holding a conch shell to his ear. I thought it was pretty when I bought it from the curiosity shop back in New York. But ever since he began listening to it every morning and every evening, just to hear the ocean, I’ve wanted to smash it.

All right, we’re back on track. Sammy is mad at her dad and I want to know why. Is this a depression symptom? Does he lay around listening to the shell all day? I’d be mad, too.

Noisily, I stuffed a tin of peppermints into my case for the children’s lessons, then proceeded to the door. Unlike Father, I kept my promises. If a student played his scales correctly, I rewarded him with a peppermint. Never would I snatch the sweet out of his mouth and replace it with, say, cod-liver oil. Never.

Wait… Is this something you would actually do, Sammy? Is this a joke? Is this something your father would do? I don’t know enough about either of you to guess. Then again, we’re only two pages in.

Finally, Sammy gives some hint as to why she’s angry with her father:

“You said we’d move back to New York, not two thousand miles the other way.” New York had culture. With luck, I might even make a living as a musician there.

Wait a minute… Did you…not realize…where you were moving? I’M NOT CLEAR AS TO THE SITUATION. I’m imagining this girl traveling 2000 miles in the opposite direction thinking she’s headed to New York. And that makes me feel some REAL UNCHARITABLE THINGS.

Okay, we’re only on page 2. I’m sure I’ll get more context later.

Oh, it sounds like Sammy’s father moved to California for the gold rush. That gives me a LITTLE more information. But Sammy’s not having it – she leaves the house.

I want to jump in and mention that there’s an 8-hour time skip between this passage and the next. I mention this because I MISSED THE TIME SKIP, which greatly influenced my reading of the next passage.

Anyway, 8 hours pass and Sammy is walking home when she smells smoke. She runs home and finds her father’s store burned to the ground. Stacey Lee simultaneously describes the store as an ashy ruin and a wall of heat. I’m not sure what’s going on.

I would like to mention that, at this point, we’re only on page 4.

On page 5, a background character drops this bomb: Sammy’s father is dead.

This is where the time skip might have helped me.

I read this and thought, “SHE WAS JUST TALKING TO HIM TWO SECONDS AGO,” when, in reality, it had been 8 hours.

Then I realized that didn’t help the situation.

The father appears ONCE for TWO PAGES before he DIES. Oh, excuse me, BURNS ALIVE. And this in a novel that opened with a murder. TOO MUCH IS HAPPENING.

Sammy feels stabs of guilt:

I shuddered and then my chest began to rack so hard I could scarcely draw a breath. Smoke engulfed me, thick and unyielding, but the awful truth rooted me to the spot: after I’d given my last lesson of the day, I’d dawdled along the banks of the dirty Missouri, throwing stones instead of coming home directly.

Did you? Because I remember a fight between you and your father followed by the announcement of his death and NOTHING ELSE.

Oh, Father, I’m sorry I argued with you. I’m sorry I left with my nose in the air.

A little guilt is understandable, even without much context for the rest of their relationship.

Were you remembering that when the smoke robbed you of your last breath?

That’s a bit dramatic…

You always said, Have patience in one moment of anger, and you will avoid one hundred days of sorrow.

Oh, he ALWAYS said, that did he? I wouldn’t know; I only knew him for TWO PAGES.

My temper has cost me a lifetime of sorrow. And now, I will never be able to ask your forgiveness, or see your kind face again.

This. Is. Too. Much. We are only 6 pages into this novel. There’s not enough context for me to understand this relationship and not enough room for me to process what this death means to the protagonist. This whole premise feels beyond rushed.

The next chapter opens with several townspeople gossiping about Sammy:

“She’s been standing there over an hour,” a man muttered to another as they passed by.

COOL IT, BOOK. WE’RE ON PAGE 7.

The townspeople say some other horrid, racist things that STILL DON’T FEEL EARNED. Frontloading angst is a STRATEGY, but it’s not working for this book.

Sammy makes this reproach:

Fly, you crows. My father was not a spectacle. He was the greatest man I ever knew. He was my everything.

I WISH I HAD KNOWN HIM FOR MORE THAN TWO PAGES.

Things get far worse from here.

Sammy describes her astrological sign; she mentioned it once earlier, but now she goes into more detail:

A child born in the Year of the Snake was lucky. But every so often, a Snake was born unlucky.

“This is always true of Snake children…except when it’s not.”

Mother died in childbirth, a clear indication that my life would be unlucky.

OF COURSE SHE DID.

To counteract my misfortune, a blind fortune-teller told Father never to cut my hair, or bad luck would return. In addition, she said I should resist my Snake weaknesses, such as crying easily and needing to have the last word.

…did he do it? Have you been growing out your hair ever since? ARE THOSE YOUR ACTUAL WEAKNESSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS ASTROLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS?

Enough of that; time to introduce Sammy’s would-be-rapist:

“‘Tis a shame about your daddy,” said a familiar voice. Our landlord, Ty Yorkshire, shook his head.

I immediately pictured Norm McDonald as Colonel Sanders. Solid association.

When was the last time a book I read featured a Southern villain? Why do I have a bad feeling about this all of a sudden.

Oh no…I remembered. Now I can’t get Kady Cross out of my head!

“My best building, too,” he said in his rapid speech that caused his jowls to shake.

Oh. So not a fancy Southern drawl, as I assumed.

“Sometimes you roll snake eyes.”

I gasped. He knew my Chinese lunar sign?

This is what did me in. I can’t deal with stupid heroines. Still, I thought I could do one more page.

Scanning page 9, I found Sammy by the river about to throw herself in.

SUICIDE. ON PAGE 9.

This is way too much drama for me to care about. So long, female friendship. Thanks for nothing, historical fiction. See you never.

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BOOK REVIEW: Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer

I just finished Stephenie Meyer’s gender-swapped Twilight and I. Am. Frustrated.

Meyer wrote the newly-titled Life and Death to commemorate Twilight‘s 10th anniversaryLife and Death reimagines Bella Swan and Edward Cullen as Beau and Edythe. Meyer wanted to prove that Bella was not a “damsel in distress” but a “human in distress,” and claimed that switching the genders left the story unchanged.

Only it didn’t.

Meyer and I have history. Like many people, I jumped on the anti-Twilight bandwagon when I was in high school and all the cool kids were mocking it. I spouted a lot of opinions that weren’t my own in an effort to fit in. Because of that, I’ll avoid any outright meanspiritedness.

My real opinion of Twilight is this: it’s BORING. I’ve read the original two or three times now. My first read-through didn’t leave much of an impression, which is why I was baffled when I heard people exclaiming over the book like it was something special. Bella commits the literary sin of being dumb, the love story isn’t very compelling, and the first 3/4 of the book can be summed up as “Bella falls in love with a vampire.” NOTHING ELSE OF NOTE HAPPENS.

As a comparison, I’m reading Marissa Meyer’s Winter right now, the 800-page capper to The Lunar Chronicles series. In the first 250 pages, plans are made, things go wrong, blood is spilled, and stakes are raised.

Twilight has no stakes until about page 300, when the hasty arrival of some bad vampires causes everyone to freak out.

You could say the pacing is uneven.

All of these things carry over to Life and Death: Beau moons over Edythe, they fall suddenly in love, and the barely-foreshadowed climax drops 3/4 of the way in and lasts over 100 pages.

Strangely, I found myself liking Life and Death a little bit more. I wondered if changing the relationship dynamic made the story better. Beau, compared to Bella, was less dramatic, though still prone to moodiness. Edythe, meanwhile, came off as less controlling and, unlike Edward, was understandably beguiling. For part of the time, I actually enjoyed my reading experience.

Then I started thinking: how much of my enjoyment was due to the gender switch and nothing else, and why did I like it so much?

After that, Meyer’s claim that the switch changed nothing started to fall apart.

I don’t know whether Meyer believes biological sex has no bearing on personality or thinks it does, in fact, have an impact.

I’m of the latter view. Due to Meyer’s insistence in the foreword that the story was exactly the same after all the changes, I would guess she leans toward the former.

Oddly enough, Meyer writes her gender-swapped characters differently, which she admits in the foreword: Beau is less descriptive and, compared to dour killjoy Bella, is almost happy-go-lucky.

The biggest impact on the plot, however, is the light the characters’ genders cast on their actions.

I haven’t read Twilight in a while, so I wasn’t aware while reading Life and Death which details were kept the same and which were changed to fit the characters. I’m only aware that during the restaurant scene, Beau grabs and/or touches Edythe multiple times knowing she neither likes nor wants the physical contact. While his intention is not to hurt her, he does it without caring about her feelings.

Now, Edythe is physically stronger than Beau, as is pointed out multiple times in the narrative. Technically, she is more of a danger to him than he is to her.

Even knowing this, I’m still angry that he touched her. It doesn’t matter how strong the woman in question is–you do not force physical contact on anyone, and the fact that it was a man forcing contact on a woman made me extremely uncomfortable.

In later scenes, Meyer’s gender swap made for some unfortunate implications. I’m sensitive to portrayals of women as overly emotional while men are always rational. Such portrayals simplify gender differences and invalidate emotions.

I doubt Meyer intended to portray Edythe as hysterical and Beau as levelheaded solely based on gender. Unfortunately, during Beau’s escape from hunter Joss, Edythe can barely function while a calm Beau spits out great idea after great idea. It doesn’t help that fellow passenger Eleanor keeps goggling at Beau in awed surprise. Again, none of this is intentional (I hope), but it unfortunately proliferates gender stereotypes.

I kept checking my attitudes toward the characters as I read. In the original, I felt Bella was a pathetic, hopeless, lifeless cliché pining for a bad boy. Somehow, Beau made sense to me. After all, a self-deprecating teenage boy mooning over an older girl who’s out of his league isn’t pathetic, but normal.

The gender swap also necessitated a change in ending. Meyer takes the “what if?” idea too far; her characters have a different choice forced on them due to changes in the narrative. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I feel agency was taken away from the main characters. On the other, I know I just want to hate the ending because it’s different.

The last 40 pages are the most egregious. Meyer makes the mistake of trying to push a sweeping moral with insufficient evidence. In this case, the moral was, “True love [defined, of course, as romantic love] is the most important thing.”

Some people will bend over backwards to argue that this sentiment is biblical. Unfortunately for Meyer, the message rings false. As a reader, I’m being asked to accept an uneven relationship and gloss over the pain and heartache any normal person would have felt because “true love” outweighs all negative consequences. Worse yet, Beau claims the ending was inevitable in any case. Logically, he might be right, but having that explained to me at the end of the novel is different than deciding that same thing–however resignedly–for myself. Beau’s argument sounds more like an attempt to ward off criticism than anything else.

In the book’s afterword, Meyer again asserts that the story hasn’t changed. The fact that it has isn’t in and of itself a bad thing; not acknowledging that it has is. Meyer missed an opportunity to start a conversation about perception, stereotypes, feminism, and responsibility. It does no one any favors to act like nothing is different when your protagonist thinks nothing of grabbing his female companion even knowing she doesn’t like it. More telling is the fact that Meyer’s dangerous, liberated, strong female vampire doesn’t think to speak up.