Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Derailing love interests

Goodness. Gracious. The problems with Pride and Popularity abound.

My biggest problem with this book is that everything was told to me. I was never shown what characters are like or how they interact–the heroine summarized events after they happened. So as the book neared its climax and the romance came to a conclusion, the author had to work with two characters she hadn’t developed by making one the obvious right choice and one the bad guy.

She wasn’t exactly subtle in her efforts.

Suddenly we hear of all Taylor’s previously unmentioned good deeds and accomplishments from Chloe’s dad, a pretty unlikely source. APPARENTLY, Taylor is involved in charities and is a doer of good deeds, all with a smile on his face. It’s not that this characterization is unlikely, and the point was to be surprising…it just seems abrupt. I can’t say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming, but it makes sense,” because up to this point I haven’t gotten to know Taylor. At all. I just know he plays basketball and gets around. Also he’s rich, so there’s that. Honestly, he seems like kind of a tool.

Blake’s character derailment I can believe, sadly. Taylor reveals in his e-mail to Chloe that Blake went on trial for rape.

I have so many feelings about this:

  1. NO ONE REACTS APPROPRIATELY TO THIS. Chloe is mildly horrified, but doesn’t think too much of it. Later, she is amazed at what a great family the Andersons are. You know, the family who COVERED UP BLAKE’S RAPESCAPADES AND PRETENDED THEY’D NEVER HAPPENED. THAT FAMILY. GOOD. AND. WHOLESOME.
  2. Author Jenni James prides herself on writing “clean romance.” I have feelings about that genre I won’t go into, but that’s not the point. The point is, in a squeaky clean romance where people are ambiguously Mormon and say “sugar” when they stub their toe, you can’t bring up RAPE. That’s pretty heavy for a light-hearted romantic comedy.
  3. If you’re going to go there, go there. I don’t need graphic details or tons of trauma, but at least say the word. James sticks to the euphemism “took advantage of” and calls Blake a “pervert.” Call him what he is: he’s a rapist. And let the emotion go there. Make me feel afraid. Being wishy-washy and euphemistic does not allow me to connect emotionally, so in the climax, when Chloe and Taylor are frantically trying to find Cassidy before she goes off with Blake, all I could think was, “Oh please. What could he possibly do to her?”

The whole thing feels rather extreme. Taylor couldn’t be a good guy with faults; he had to be a saint. Blake couldn’t be a jerk; he had to be the MOST EVIL, DISGUSTING, IRREDEEMABLE PERVERT WHO EVER WALKED THE PLANET. You could have sold me on a less drastic twist.

Posted in Books

BOOK REVIEW: Defy by Sara B. Larson

The premise: Alexa Hollen has been disguising herself as Alex Hollen for years to escape the king’s ominous “breeding house.” She and her twin brother Marcel are part of the prince’s guard, sworn to protect Prince Damian above even the king. A series of events results in Alex being kidnapped, along with the prince and her fellow guard, Rylan. Alex must deal with a terrorist group, a royal conspiracy, and her feelings for both men, all while trying to keep them–and herself–alive.

My favorite book growing up was Alanna: The First Adventure. Alanna did all the things I was nowhere near ballsy enough to do: disguise herself as a boy, train to be a knight, protect her prince, collude with thieves, and fight mythical beasts. My favorite part was that she posed as a boy for years–I couldn’t believe she was able to pull that off to fulfill her dream. It struck me as impressive and brave. Prior to puberty, I was convinced, if given the chance, I could pull it off.

As an adult, I’m less positive I could do it. But that’s not the point.

Alexa, the protagonist of Defy, also chooses to pose as a boy and join the king’s army to avoid a life of constant rape and pregnancy. I applaud her decision, but would have found it more meaningful if I hadn’t hated her SO. MUCH.

It really irritates me when a convention I like is done poorly. The two conventions in Defy‘s case are the aforementioned girl-dressing-as-boy plot point and a reaaaallly half-hearted love triangle.

I wasn’t super girly as a kid and didn’t feel feminine, so I like books where the heroine relates to and feels comfortable around men. I didn’t like Alexa, though, at all–something about her really bugged me. Her issues seemed off. I can understand how confusing it would be to pretend to be a straight male in order to gain respect while hiding sexual feelings for your male companions. Alexa’s reaction, however, to this event was, “What is wrong with me? Why am I feeling this way?”

Not, “I can’t afford to feel this way,” though that was explored a bit. No, her main question was, “Why am I feeling this way?”

…because you’re straight. You like guys. You are actually a woman and you are attracted to men.

It just struck me as a strange reaction and/or focus for the author, and it made Alexa seem reaaaal stupid.

Alexa also repressed a lot of her emotions to keep up the man facade, even after multiple of her peers told her it was okay to grieve. I didn’t feel it was consistent with her character; I felt it was an assumption about how her type of character should act. I think my irritation is personal; I don’t like “non-girly female” interpreted as “unemotional female,” because those don’t always go together. Case in point: a short-haired, uber-casual female blogger who cries once a week about entertainment.

My face is turned to hide my tears.
My face is turned to hide my tears.

The love triangle was the other part that didn’t work for me, which is unfortunate. I understand why people have problems with love triangles, and I should be horrified by them on principle…but I secretly love them. And, sometimes, love triangles can wooooork.

This one did not.

Defy‘s love triangle can be summed up as, “Alexa found herself drawn to Prince Damian more and more…and also Rylan was there.” It’s hard for me when love triangles are uneven. If you can’t write one side of the triangle convincingly, why not cut it? Then you could have a convincing romance instead of wasting pages on a weaker one.

And UGH. I hated Rylan. So, so much.

He came across as very entitled. I get how frustrating it is to love someone who loves someone else, especially when that other person is unworthy. “Grand Theft Autumn” is one of my favorite songs, and I have earnestly sung, “You need him?/I should be him,” many a time. You are allowed to feel this way and even express these feelings if the person you like has been stringing you along. It’s best to get everything out in the open.

HOWEVER.

It is not okay to shame the person you like for not liking you and/or liking someone else. You do not deserve their love because you’ve loved them for a long time. If someone is not interested in you, despite your good qualities, that sucks…but you HAVE TO GET OVER IT. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

Rylan throws tantrums and guilts Alexa the entire book. Even though he was intended to be a sympathetic character, I did not find him sympathetic in the least, and was even less invested in the love triangle because of his childishness. He hurt the story rather than helping it; if he had been written differently, he might have been sympathetic. As it was, he was awful and useless and I wish his actions had been framed as selfish.

Characters aside, the situations they found themselves seemed laughable and sort of fanfic-y. “Oh no, here I am as a prisoner in the jungle, and I have to share a tent with both the guys I like! What a dilemma!” At least the shojo animes I watch have the sense to play this event for comedy!

Also, for all his good qualities, Damian kept trying to get in “quality time” with Alexa while Rylan was sleeping. That’s gross and also SUPER RUDE, and would be even if the guy in question wasn’t in love with your girl! Alexa would tell him to stop, because she didn’t want to hurt Rylan’s feelings. Um, how about IT’S COMMON COURTESY NOT TO BANG IN FRONT OF SOMEONE YOU SHARE A TENT WITH?

The book wasn’t all bad. I finished the whole thing. Larson kept me guessing with the plot, constantly bringing up twists that I in no way anticipated. She didn’t flinch away from harsher material; while dark and hard to read at times, I appreciated that she didn’t sugarcoat what reality was like for women in the kingdom. She also dealt well with grief and sacrifice and the loneliness of keeping up a pretense. Unlike Tamora Pierce, she didn’t shy away from killing off important characters (note: I say that with regard to Lady Knight specifically.) And, perhaps most admirably, she didn’t offer romantic resolution. I don’t love the way she went about it, but I felt that choice was purposeful and improved Alexa’s character. The ending was sort of a sequel hook and while I have no intention of reading the next book, I felt the hope of the characters as they looked forward to a new start.

To sum up, while parts of this book were good, the elements that failed brought the whole book down. It’s one I’m glad I got from the library instead of buying. Give it a read if you want interesting ethical dilemmas and some good fantasy action; also check it out to see how NOT to write a love triangle.

Posted in Books

BOOK REVIEW: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

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.

Developed. Blossomed.

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.