Scanning my bookshelf, I see magical realism and memoirs where I once kept wizards and fairies. I still love Harry Potter and I’ll take a good prophecy every now and again, but I avoid outright magical stories.
It’s possible these books are to blame.
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
I bought this long-desired tome, along with many other books, after graduating high school. I splurged, spending $18 of my $200 limit on a single title.
Worth it, I thought, for my soon-to-be favorite book.
At the time, I hadn’t learned to be skeptical of ensemble casts. I’d fallen for the characters – including an Irish mechanic, a half-robot, and an American gunslinger– while reading the cover blurb. And…what’s this? A cowboy-robot-mechanic love triangle? Count me in!
I put this book in a place of honor on my dorm room shelf.
Much as I hate to admit it, I have to credit this book for stoking my interest in writing book reviews.
The positivity ends there.
Kady Cross treats the steampunk genre as license to write whatever she wants.
“Look at these badass Victorian wenches wearing pants on their MOTORCYCLES!”
“Not modern motorcycles. These are powered by MAGIC.”
“For historical accuracy.”
“And the women are wearing corsets.”
Know what, Kady? Do whatever you want. Throw cowboys and robots and serial killers in your book. I don’t care.
There were TWO in this book, and they added NOTHING.
Cross uses the X-men as inspiration without including the ideological tensions and personality clashes that make those mutants interesting. There’s a difference between, “Let’s throw these two in a room together and see what happens,” and “Let’s make these two hate each other, just to spice things up.” The latter choice means the characters haven’t been developed enough to create conflict on their own.
Full disclosure, I did read the sequel. Kady Cross threw out both love triangles with a casual, “Whatever, these are my ships now!” Admittedly, I was intrigued by Wildcat, the biracial Irish gang leader with…cat claws?
Then Cross introduced a Southern dandy as the villain and I couldn’t take it anymore.
The Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck
Once upon a time, I flew to Nellore, India over 36 hours.
Before my trip, my mom bought me several books of my choosing.
This is the one I remember.
By happy accident, it turned out the book was set in India. Cheered by this auspicious beginning, I started my adventure.
Let it be known, I have since tried and failed to reread this book, so props to 18-year-old Lauren for sticking it out. (Once again: former completionist, dark times.)
For all the uproar over Fifty Shades of Grey in 2011, people missed out on this junior version released the same year. This book oozes with wish fulfillment.
What’s that, teenage girl? You feel alone and unloved? Here, let me give you:
a handsome Indian prince who
is TOTALLY ripped and
has tons and tons of money that he uses to
buy you whatever you want, INCLUDING
four years tuition at an Oregon college, along with room and board, not to mention
he thinks you’re super sexy and
he tells you all the time how desirable you are and
he’s an AMAZING kisser but
he respects your desire to wait and
(…I don’t want to say it)
(…don’t make me type this)
…he has a twin brother
…who’s a bad boy.
I need a shower.
Is wish fulfillment the problem? No. The new “Star Wars” films show childhood dreams can still create compelling stories.
If you want to write a compelling story, you better go all out. I’m talking developed characters, believable romance, interesting conflict…PROPER GRAMMAR, at the VERY least.
If you just want to serve up pointless fantasy set in exotic locales? Post that online instead of charging $20 for subpar prose.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell/The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
David Mitchell writes a killer blurb.
On paper, his books sound amazing, promising grand cosmic adventures.
I remember being thrilled by the plot concepts of both books. As I’ve shown, great concepts always result in great stories! (Wrong.)
Both novels are a slog. I groaned my way through Cloud Atlas and gave up on The Bone Clocks.
I dislike when I engage with literature and don’t get much out of it. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what these books were trying to say.
I wonder, though, if David Mitchell has anything to say. In my view, he relies too heavily on creative formats and complex plots. Readers compliment the “accuracy” of Cloud Atlas’ different styles: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing reads like a journal, the Luisa Rey mystery reads like a cheesy 1970s mystery, etc.
Others who have read the book see six diverse genres forming a cohesive story.
I see six pointless, equally-dry sections devoid of emotion.
I had a similar problem with The Bone Clocks, where Mitchell pushes the promised cosmic battle to the fringes to focus on unlikable and uninteresting characters.
Patrick Ness attempted something similar with 2015’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, where the protagonists played bit parts in the “real” story. He chose to emphasize the emotional struggles of these “unimportant” characters, creating a moving story even as the “plot” carried on without them.
Mitchell’s writing makes it hard to care about his characters. With his books, I know I’m supposed to be wowed by what he’s accomplishing, yet come away confused about what he wants me to feel.
I wish I knew what he was trying to say.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
I didn’t pay full-price for this book.
The book was $26.00 when it first came out. No WAY was I dropping almost $30 on a book! (Unless it was a textbook. Somehow that passed muster.)
But what a book it was! This stands out in my memory as the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen. And I wanted it. I wanted it bad. Every time I saw it in a bookstore, I’d run my hands over its gold-flecked spine and ruffled pages, whispering, “Soon…soon…”
Miracle of miracles, I found an Advanced Reader Copy of this very book IN PAPERBACK for $8.00 at Half Price Books. Because I’m a slow learner, I bragged about the purchase to my grandparents. Not ONLY was this book going to be amazing, I’d gotten it on SALE!
While they were enjoying PLU’s annual Christmas concert, I cracked open my ARC and…
…I don’t want to say I was bored…
…but I was bored.
Not all novels start great. I kept reading.
It did not improve.
Helene Wecker writes stilted prose.
Instead of sweeping me away with her plot, she points out why I should be swept away. It’s hard to engage in a grand adventure when I’m constantly being reminded how grand the adventure is.
Despite this self-conscious self-presentation, this book is NOTHING special. It’s the tropiest bunch of tropey whimsy stuffed in a pretty cover. It’s not awful, but it’s so lackluster it might as well be.
NOTHING about it stands out. While reading, I checked off plot points as they happened: here’s the budding friendship; here’s the lost love episode; here’s the Heroic Sacrifice…
I just…didn’t care.
About any of it.
It always hurts when I get rid of a beautiful book. If I had the space, I might keep it around for aesthetic reasons… On second thought, I couldn’t do that. I don’t need a daily reminder of this disappointment.
To add insult to injury, I tried to sell this book back to Half Price Books, where the buyback attendant informed me they don’t take ARCs.
Tagline: Meet Harriet Manners. Girl. Geek. International supermodel?
When I saw “New Girl” for the first time, I didn’t think I’d like it. I started watching it as a joke and was surprised at how funny it was. The writing made me laugh out loud–a rarity–and, after one episode, I couldn’t wait to watch another.
Reading Geek Girl was similar. I checked this book out based on the tagline alone, thinking it would be super cheesy and fun to make fun of. Two pages in, I was already laughing–and not because it was bad either!
Geek Girl follows “geek” Harriet Manners, an astonishingly unpopular girl who has more interest in Russian history and animal facts than fashion, so when she becomes the new face of fashion line Baylee, it comes as quite a surprise.
I normally dislike books with obvious morals, but in Geek Girl‘s case, I didn’t mind. The story offered a new take on the “Be Yourself” motto that other books and movies tout and immediately contradict. Despite the subject matter and some of the more outlandish happenings, this book was more believable than many of those other ones.
For instance, some “be yourself” stories have it so that once the main character accepts who they are, they find true love, popularity, worldwide fame, and wealth. The true lesson: you can only have these things once you no longer care about them!
Geek Girl didn’t go in that direction. At the end [minor spoilers], Harriet is still unpopular and still only has one friend (and one stalker), but she’s reprioritized what is important to her and rediscovers the good things she already has. The only possibly unbelievable bit–a fellow supermodel having loved her the whole time–is tempered by the fact that the reader gets to see their relationship develop. Nick has a personality and a character; he’s not just there as wish fulfillment.[/minor spoilers]
Geek Girl moves along at a fast clip, each chapter ending on a cliff hanger and/or zinger from one of the characters. The pacing is excellent and makes me wonder whether Smale has ever written for television.
This book is so freaking funny. Here are some gems:
“Frankie here looks like the ginger child of an alien and duck union, and that is so fresh right now.”
“So that makes this a secret between the two of us, right?” I glare at him. “Which makes us kindred spirits? And–correct me if I’m wrong–soul mates?”
“We’re not soul mates, Toby. You can’t just go around stealing secrets and then forcing people into being your soul mate.”
Oh my God. I’m the Right Girl? I’m usually the Girl That Will Have to Do I Suppose Because That Other One Got Chicken Pox (Year Five play Cinderella).
And from the sequel:
In fact, you could say I’ve really grown up since you last saw me.
Not literally. I’m exactly the same size and shape as I was six months ago, and six months before that. As far as womanly curves go, much like the volleyball captain at school, puberty is making no bones about picking me last.
The thing that most surprised me was how many twists the story offered. Since the jokes were so spot-on, I expected the story to be average–I’m cynical enough to believe that a plus in one category means a deficit in another. Contrary to my expectations, there were more than a few moments that I did not see coming. And they weren’t shocking in a Kady-Cross-I-wish-you-had-foreshadowed-that way, but in a No-way-I-can’t-believe-they-went-this-direction-that’s-awesome way. MORE THAN ONE TIME. THAT’S RARE FOR ME, GUYS.
My favorite conversation takes place at the end of the book and has given me new romance goals:
There’s a long silence. “I like you,” Nick says finally. He’s still speaking slowly, but the laziness that is always there seems to have disappeared. My whole body feels like it has a lightbulb in it.
He likes me?
Lion Boy likes me?
“But…why?” I manage to stutter.
Nick shrugs. “You’re different.”
I frown at him. “Good different or bad different?”
He grins. “Good,” he says. “And bad. But even the bad bits are different and they always make me laugh.”
“That makes no rational sense at all,” I tell him, crossing my arms. “There are 7,228,898,142 different people in the world. You clearly just haven’t met that many.”
“I’ve met enough,” he says, twinkling at me and taking a step forward. His cheeks have gone pink now as well. I didn’t know it could happen to boys.
A human heart is supposed to beat between sixty and ninety times a minute, while resting. A hedgehog’s heart beats up to 300 times a minute while standing still. Honestly, I think I might be turning into a hedgehog.
Wonderful revelation of a YA book. Go read it. You have 30 minutes to find a copy before I kidnap your dog.