Monday, August 29, 2011

Verdict, No. 12

(find the judgment here)
The Daughter of Siena
by Marina Fiorato
If I had done my original thing and tried to surmise the plot from the cover, I would have had it down pat. Everything about it was predictable; the back cover game it all away--you just had to read between the lines:
Girl is married off to evil boy.
Girl falls for pretty boy. 
Pretty boy wants to win race for girl. 
Girl evokes wrath of evil boy. 
Evil boy loses anyway. 
Did I give anything away? Not really. I thought maybe the plot wouldn't matter; that with such a pretty cover, it would be gorgeous anyway. But, alas, it failed me. I wouldn't recommend it anyway. Not on any level. Because it really wasn't anything.
It wasn't historical fiction 
No, there was a historical backdrop where Fiorato had her characters--some of them real--do whatever she wanted them to. I mean, she even had an apology at the back of the book for rewriting history to fit her story. And I may have been out of the historical-fiction loop for awhile, but I don't think that's how it traditionally goes. For all the drama, I don't feel like I learned anything honest about that time period. It all felt fake--like a Spanish soap opera (complete with a long-lost twin).
It wasn't romance. 
It tried to be, but it wasn't. Again, Fiorato's characters did whatever she wanted them to. So all she could say about the main characters relationship was that they  were "inexplicably drawn" to one another. Well said; it was inexplicable. All they could say about each other was that they were beautiful. That, my friends, is called LUST, not love. I mean, after they shared their first kiss (lame), the first thing he could say was "Lay with me." Ah, yes, those are the words I would give up anything and risk everything for.  
And it wasn't even lovely about it. 
Seriously, it got uncomfortable. Fast. There were near-rape scenes, constant abuse--self-afflicted and otherwise--and then, midway through, there was a sudden fascination with homosexuality. And it got graphic. I don't consider myself overly-sensitive, but the only way I got through the whole thing was by ripping out nearly 20 pages in the middle. That's right: I desecrated the most beautiful book I've ever seen. And it only sits on my bookshelf still because it is so pretty. 

So, there. I'm just as shallow as the main characters.

But I suppose, in this case, the old adage is true: you can't judge a book by its cover. Because, if you could, I would have loved this book. It should have been my favorite. Just like Entwined. What cruel irony, then: my favorite covers, home to my least favorite books. Life really isn't fair.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Verdict, No. 11

(find the judgment here)
by Julia Karr

This book is entirely forgettable. Literally and in every way. Three days, and I've already thrown any and all recollection of it away. So I guess I'm really not in any position to review it. But I'll try.

I remember the beginning was good. The build-up. (And I remember I was dead on about the plot twisting at the 50-page mark, because I never forget being right like that). And I remember there was indeed a complete-opposite best friend (didn't really see that end coming though). And there was something close to a love triangle for all of three pages before Karr decided, without reason, that that didn't matter anymore. Introduce hot Asian chick, pass off ex-lover to her, and everyone's happy-go-lucky again. Because these characters are devoid of any realism. They are fake cut-outs that you're never given any reason to care about.

Oh, yeah. I definitely remember that.

This novel was weak in every way. It fell into every common YA trap: it introduces an edgy concept, only to never really follow through with it; it turns from focusing on the world to zooming in on the relationship status of the main character; it doesn't worry about characterization but about reaching the next plot point; it relies on cliches to create a world that even the writer didn't understand completely; and there is no point to it. You think with 1984 as the grandad to the dystopian novel people would understand it wasn't just about a gritty world--it was about relating it back to our now and making the characters stand out in some real sense.

Nope. Nothing like that here.

And I really did start out liking it. The first few pages were interesting because of the world. And then Karr bailed on that to tell us how much her two main characters were in love (we won't even get into the ultimate cliche of how they actually had no reason to be in love. At all). So by that 50-page mark, I felt betrayed. None of it mattered. The world was too broad for the narrow focus she spun; the characters were too shallow for the depth she tried to throw them to. And it wasn't even well-written.

Everything about it felt forced. The writing, the characters, the world. There was nothing real about it, and so I just put it down and moved on. Because, on every level, I just didn't care.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Judgment, No. 12

The Daughter of Siena
by Marina Fiorato
"Amid the intrigue and danger of 18th-century Italy, a young woman becomes embroiled in romance and treachery with a rider in the Palio."
This is real stuff, people.
It's books like this that made me start this blog. I mean, look at that cover. I knew I needed it the second I saw it. I think I actually let out a little gasp, my mouth drawn out in a lovely "oh" when I saw it. I picked it up and the world went slow around me. I could possibly, literally look at it all day.

And it's dresses like that that make me sure I was born in the wrong time period. I covet.

But the book itself? I can't really say much. I mean, I haven't read this sort of book in a while. That sort being "adult" fiction. I'm a little nervous that my taste has been worn down to something incapable of stomaching grown-up writing anymore. My brain has been inundated by frivolous YA where everything is predictable and shallow. Real fiction in real settings with real events...and really sprawling narratives. It might be more than I can bear!

It is historical fiction set in Renaissance Italy. 1729 to be exact. There's a horse race and a diabolical father who uses his daughter like a chess piece in the political battle the tournament masks. And we know she goes and falls in love with the mysterious rider who is probably challenging all her father stands for. And who is definitely not her betrothed.

But I don't think it's chick-lit. I know Fiorato respects history too much to water this down into some bodice-ripping romance. Actually, I'm a little worried that all that attention to detail--especially revolving around a horse race--won't entertain me.

But I'd read anything in that cover. Even if I just numbly turn each page, incapable of following the action, I'll read it. Because a book that pretty--it deserves being celebrated. And I'll never regret buying it.

Yeah, I'm that shallow.

Judgment, No. 11

by Julia Karr
"For Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet."
And this could be the most horrifying book I've ever read.
Here's the basic gist: when you turn 16, you're branded with a tattoo on the inside of your wrist. And that means you're free for the taking. Sexually, that is. It's called turning "sex-teen." Clever, huh? Not that rape is legalized, but girls are completely sexualized, any and all traces of feminism removed. Men can do whatever and women should enjoy it, seeing as that's all their good for in this world.

Kind of perverse, right? And it is published through SPEAK, which is famous for "pushing the envelope" with "serious" (read: graphic) topics. And, actually, I rarely like their stuff.

My mom is probably doing her tongue-clicking-gasp thing right about now wondering where I find these things and why on earth I'm reading it. It's a good question, too. In part, I was just drawn inexplicably to the cover. I mean, do I like dramatic covers that hide girls' faces behind the title? Maybe. But the thing is, no matter the subject matter, I really doubt this will get explicit. I don't think this will be some contemporary teen's sexual awakening. It may be the opposite, actually (whatever that means). And the important thing to remember is that this is just another dystopian novel. So there are mainly two things we can be sure of (both of which tend to undercut any serious discussion of the actual world/society):

One, the girl will be indifferent if just a little frightened of her inevitable fate. She'll have to have a best friend who is much more excited--the polar opposite thing again. But this girl, Nina, will have something happen that shocks her into action. Probably at the 50 pages mark (allowing enough angst to build between friends versus the society).

Two, there will be a boy. And he will be pretty and mysterious and the answer to all the questions she didn't know she was asking. While she's been oblivious her whole life, he'll probably be part of the resistance--of which there has to be a sort. He will make her face the truth with his pretty eyes and soft kisses. He will probably get in the way of her settled friendships, including a probable love triangle a la Every Other Book Ever Written. Only, in such a sex-fret world, it will be much harder for her to feel safe with a guy. But he'll succeed. Because love always wins.


The one thing I'm really worried about is it reading like a PSA. Or trying to be all preachy and cutting edge. Like a Glee episode. Who knows--maybe it won't be risque enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Just kidding, mom, no worries. 

Verdict, No. 10

by Lauren Oliver
"He is my world and my world is him and without him there is no world," p. 332
I hate being wrong. And I hate having to admit publicly that I'm wrong. And I hate when I let the immense amount of poor literature taint my usual optimism for books. Mostly though, I hate being wrong. And I was wrong.

Well, no, I was right: everything I said would happen pretty much happened; it was a book riddled with cliches and predictable plots. And I tried really hard to hate it--I was practically determined to write yet another scathing review condemning the world of YA lit. I mean, from the get-go, everything was stacked against it. By anyone else, it would have been a disaster. But, see, it wasn't written by anyone else. It was written by Lauren Oliver, who's deft prose always seems to transcend any traditional YA traps. At least for me.

She did it with Before I Fall (that story should have been a mess, but it was beautiful), and she does it again with Delirium. Because, honestly, it was so very pretty.

It was as if Scott Westerfeld and Anna Godberson's books got together and made a baby--that would be Delirium. That quirky combination of serious heart and thought meddled with melodramatic love affairs, capped with tantalizing characters and heart-thudding finishes. So of course I love it.

Was it world-class fiction that will go down in history as a new classic? Hardly. It was self-indulgent YA frivolousness at its best. And it was done so beautifully. There was none of the arrogance or self-important writing some YA, and especially dystopian YA, falls into. It didn't feel over-the-top or overtly melodramatic; Oliver wasn't taking it too seriously or not seriously enough. She wasn't trying to be illustrious, she wasn't trying to be either a trendsetter or a follower. She was just writing a story she wanted to tell. And it was refreshing, that lack of an ulterior motive. An author that still writes just for the love of writing!

With Oliver, I never felt like I was being jerked around, like these characters were just cut-outs of reality to further a plot and churn out sequels. Everything, every decision (well...almost every decision) felt natural. The characters felt real and their choices felt at least plausible, and that saved it. Because even though you see everything coming from a mile (or at least a few chapters) away, the characters are real enough to still care, to feel attached, to really wish the sequel was right there so you could just find out what happens next.

So, there. I was wrong.

I was wrong about it being like Twilight. Twilight is and will always be trash--the epitome of bad fiction, bad storytelling, bad characterization, bad everything. And this might not have been the epitome of perfect literature, but it was great fun. And it was wonderfully written.

I was wrong about it being mushy, because there wasn't as much of the ooey gooey love stuff as I presupposed. There were definitely some intermittent eye-roll crap (see above quote), and some what-the-is-happening moments. Did it drag? Yes. Was 400+ pages a little much? Sure. But it wasn't overwhelming.

And I was wrong about the world not mattering. It was and will be very important to the story and the characters, which is just grand. The one problem was I couldn't entirely buy into the concept. I don't understand why anyone would so suddenly and so obsessively get rid of love. It doesn't seem like a normal power-play for the government. Especially not how they talk it up as deadly. And that is never explained.

But I could forgive all that and anything else because of one thing and one alone: I am a sucker for Oliver's writing. Because even is she sticks to the most cliche story lines, it always feels like something entirely new. True, some bits felt too melodramatic (it is a forbidden love story, after all), but so much of it felt alive. Like I was there. So whatever weaknesses in the contrived plot, characters, or setting--and there were some--her writing lulled me into a pleasant dream that I couldn't mind, no matter the flaws.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Judgment, No. 10

by Lauren Oliver
"I'd rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years smothered by a lie."
Only a sappy teenager caught in a nightmare of cliches could ever get away with saying that.
This book was recommended by a friend. She hated it and wants me to hate it too. Because that's the sort of friends we are (read: awesome). Plus, I've been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I'll have to read this eventually. Because I always cave to pop culture, sometimes just out of the pure joy that comes in despising something everyone else loves (why else do you think I read the entire Twilight series?).

But this book? It sounds like Uglies, minus the awesomeness. A surgery, a government conspiracy, a submissive narrator. Then—BOOM—everything changes, and so close to the deadline too.

Even for such a pretty cover, and even though I loved Lauren Oliver's debut novel, I already know I'll hate it. I knew it as soon as I read the back cover. I mean, the premise has promise—a world where love has been outlawed. Classic. But there are two things against it: 1) this is a YA novel and 2) this is a romantic YA novel. So it's practically destined to suck.

That's not fair. Oliver is an exceptional writer, I think. At least in her first book. And I don't know why she decided to write something so...Twilight but, alas, here we are. Yet another dystopian YA love story. And the weak thing about YA dystopian fiction is that it isn't really about the world or the society (except for The Hunger Games, which was a beautiful exception that ended badly). It's just an excuse for an edgy setting; the same tired plots, stock characters and love triangles are transferred over. And I know that's how it will be in this book.

Love is bad. So what happens? Enter the girl, settled into her unromantic life, probably a bit pathetic and passive just…waiting. Then she'll meet the boy, dark and mysterious and completely inappropriate for her, probably a zillion times more vibrant than her but with enough sensitivity to seek out whispered moments cuddling with his new love. Because that’s what teenage boys want, after all. Of course, he won’t have much to say or any real reason to be there except that 1) this is a YA novel and 2) this is a romantic YA novel. So they're required to fall in love. And they will, quickly and inexplicably. He’ll be perfect and she'll be empowered. Slowly. But even with her manpowered confidence, she’ll spend a good portion of the 400+ pages (oh, wait, seriously?) doubting herself, her lover, her life. It will be all whining and moping with intermittent make-out scenes. There will be her energetic and cocky best friend to clash with and her dull parents who just don't understand. Because, in YA fiction, there's just no such thing as too much drama. 

I just pray to all heaven and earth that there isn't a love triangle. But there probably will be—or at least the promise of one. Because this is a series, after all. I mean, it sort of has to be, seeing as it's YA fiction and all (hate that trend). And with this being the first in the series, it will just be an introduction. I'm sure/hope after pages of dragging it will go out with a bang. 

Hey, maybe the boy will die. Then the girl will go all Rambo seeking revenge on the government. That could be epic. 

...except then there would be a love triangle. Because 1) The love interest never dies; he always comes back, and 2) Girls are stupid in books and don't know this, thus they fall in love with the next available male. And once first love comes back to find second love, the ensuing drama involves the girl taking a passive back seat to watch the two polar opposite men fight over her. 

Maybe a drug discontinuing love isn't such a bad idea. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself--already talking about a sequel when I haven't even gotten (read: struggled) through this one. I really don't understand why it has to be 400+ pages (really?), but I'll read it. It will be dry and lifeless, but I'll read it. I'll resent it, but I'll read it. I just doubt I'll ever enjoy it. 

No matter how gorgeous the cover is. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Verdict, No. 9

 (find the judgment here)
If you had asked me yesterday what the most disappointing sequel I've ever read was, I would have said Mockingjay. Today? I might just have to go with this book.

After a promising debut, Jillian Larkin seems to have forgotten how to write. Maybe she fell and hit her head, maybe she took a writing class from Stephanie Meyer. But something happened, because reading this was pure drudgery. And it's not like I was expecting some grand, award-winning story. I just thought, I dunno, that there would be some sense of continuity. So much of this novel failed to make sense. It was a complete and utter disaster.

First, it was the same exact story. Only, she rotated the characters. So instead of hating Lorraine, Clara becomes the annoying one who ruins everything good in inexplicable ways. She goes completely haywire. Lorraine is set up like Clara was in the first: she's in a new city, trying to prove herself while simultaneoulsy find herself. And Gloria becomes stale. She, and her storyline, were completely forgettable (don't even get me started on that reunion at the end. Talk about mood swings). And I guess Larkin was going through a bad break-up or something, because she hated men in this one.

Which brings me to point two: for a series that started as a tryst-ridden, breezy-romantic story with a darker side, now it's gone ultra-feminist for no apparent reason. The characterization from the first is made void in this one. Every character is suddenly an inexplicably different person. Marcus is suddenly close-minded and dull; Vera is suddenly sweet and even approachable; all the girls change roles as previously mentioned. It's just a catastrophe. As if Larkin wanted to write a completely new story. Well, then she shouldn't have made it a series following the same people doing the same things in the same settings.

I suppose if this were a separate novel, or if maybe I read this one first--I suppose then it might not have been so bad. Except for the writing (Seriously? Was the first one this bad? Or was I just less of a snob then?). I might have enjoyed it on some level (probably not, actually). But the real problem here is that it is a sequel. It's a follow-up and it's a prequel to the next. Yet Larkin spends this whole book taking apart what was built up in the first (mostly), and I no longer care what happens to them. I feel betrayed.

I feel like she lured us with a honey-coated story of glamor and intrigue and indelicacies only to suddenly snap at us with this men-suck tirade. After a torrid tale of forbidden romance and will they/won't they, it becomes all work and no play. The girls are boring, the boys are dull, and the "drama" with the mob isn't really that dramatic at all. Now I can't trust Larkin's ability to spin a serial like this. I'm afraid to attach to any of the characters now because maybe she'll just twist 'em about in the next one too.

A quote on the cover--the only quote, and by some nobody too--says it's "the dishiest." No, not really. Not at all. It's dry and it's boring and too self-important, whereas the last was merely self-indulgent. She puts her characters and her story into a blender, along with any credibility she may have had as a writer. Then she adds a dash of new and unlikable characters, a splash of sudden and unresolved twists. Finally, with a violent edge, she dices up the charm of the first, throws in some all-men-are-cads, and rips out the cattiness and any fun of the first. She turns it on and watches it churn into trite nonsense with, I imagine, only the snidest smile. Ding! It's done. The result? A catastrophic and epic fail with no real explanation.

No, scratch that. The explanation is that Larkin wanted a different, edgy story. But she betrays her foundation, and her fan base, to get it. And, trust me, it doesn't pay off.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Judgment, No. 9

Remember this book? And how right I was? Well, The Flappers? They're baaaack...

I must admit I am more excited for Godberson's flapper series sequel. But that is because of my fetish for Godberson's writing. As you all should know, she's my favorite.  Still, Larkin's first book kept me entertained. It read like a darker side to Godberson's glittery world, the smoky backstage of the golden era. Larkin's a good enough writer and, though she does take on more serious plots, she never takes herself too seriously. Which is great. Because, let's face it, it's just young adult fiction. So it's about stupid young adults doing stupid things. Ah, the drama! So scintillating.

My major gripe with this series is actually the cover art. The more I look at it, the more I hate it. Especially this book. It looks cheap. It looks like a fourteen year old did the photoshop and a twelve year old pasted the fonts on. Why those ages? I don't know; they were the first to come to mind.

It's been hard to find anything but the photograph to go off of. Seeing as it's not being released till next week, I can't find a back cover quote or anything. It's just the same catch phrase as the last one, which makes me a little nervous that this will read like a television series where the popular first season's plot lines are recycled for the second one (Like Glee. But that's another gripe altogether). Larkin doesn't even have a website to preview anything with it. And I don't really want to read the reviews of pre-readers because they will taint my experience (and I just want to be the one to do that for you, see).

So what can I really say when it comes to judging this book by its cover? I guess it will be the same as the first. Pure relationship drama. Except I think it will become more melodramatic and...immense. All the dramatic reveals of last time--the mob, murders, spies, break ups, betrayals--they'll all get tangled up in this one and it will melt into a dirty puddle fit for a daytime soap opera.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Larkin will be able to keep her various threads from unraveling, tangling, tearing each other apart. But it will be hard just because there's so much. They've moved to New York and they all hate each other so, for the time being at least, each of their lives will have to have it's own convoluted plot which all then come tearing together at the end, I'm sure. It just can't be as neat as the first. Everything will implode on everyone. Since the love interests of each girl had already been settled, I'm sure Larkin will stir the plot with more pretty boys, more catty fights, more angst hidden by frills.

I just hope its yummy.