Friday, January 27, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I picked up "Graceling" because its cover was so pretty -- and I have a theory about the quality of book covers somehow intertwining with the quality of the book (which I might discuss in a later post).  Graceling also looked intriguing based on the blurb I read -- it reminded me of what it's like to play Dungeons & Dragons.

I decided, therefore, to give Graceling a chance.

And apart from one little character quirk, I couldn't really complain, but that quirk was an irritant and it grew until I found myself displeased with the whole book, which is really a shame, as it is so well written.

Graceling tells the story of Katsa, a magically gifted person (called a graceling) who is a mighty warrior used as a king's fist to punish subjects who've cheated or simply disagreed with the king.  There are other gracelings, with other gifts, but the main focus is on Katsa, who is running an underground Scarlet-Pimpernel-esque rescue of people throughout the seven kingdoms in their part of the world.  However, Katsa's fear of the king prevents her from doing what she knows to be right (in public at least), until certain events unfold that lead her to leave the king and strike out on her own path.

The action and descriptions in this book are the best parts -- you can see the dust fly in the fighting scenes, and there is one scene with a character snow-shoeing through the bitter cold in the mountains that chills you to the bone.

But when Katsa meets someone and falls in love, she fights it and when she can't fight it any more, she just decides, "I won't marry."  But instead of going their separate ways because she can't handle commitment, they agree to just be lovers.  Forever.  Which, in my mind, is sort of similar to making some sort of commitment, even without the 'being-tied-down' legally part (which I never understood anyway - the viewpoint, that is.  I just never understood why people couldn't commit legally but had no problem with attempting to maintain a lifelong, "committed" relationship -- I mean, wouldn't you rather be as sure as you could that you and your partner were committed to each other and wouldn't leave at the drop of a hat?  Or, didn't they love each other enough to promise to be together forever?)

So in that respect, the relationship felt more carnal (although the sex scenes were perfect because they didn't describe the sex -- they're actually the best not-really-sex scenes I've ever read), and not something deep and wonderful and eternal like I was hoping (what can I say, I love fairy tales).

I think the reason it bothered me so much is that there wasn't enough of an explanation of why Katsa felt this way -- if she did feel that way, WHY?  And would it change eventually?  Or was she doomed to forever roam the earth and only visit her love every once in a while when she felt like it?  It was simply a weird interlude where I felt like smacking Katsa for being stupid and not committing to this wonderful guy.

That choice did not make sense to me, coming from Katsa.  In other stories, you would be able to see how the character grew up and how they might be afraid to love someone forever, or give themselves up wholeheartedly, but it wouldn't end with someone pledging their love forever without rings.  It might end with them fumbling through the beginning of a relationship, or them realizing their love story would be short, or maybe even them changing and healing and realizing that a lifelong relationship is worth something more than momentary pleasure.

So, I'm disappointed.  The author wrote two other books in the same universe, but honestly, I think I might get too frustrated with the main character to really enjoy the fight scenes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pride & Prejudice (AND ZOMBIES!!)

I admit it.  I was a weensy bit skeptical of what I thought would be a cut-and-paste experiment with zombies and the Bennett sisters.  I had forgotten about it by the time I discovered my library had Kindle books I could rent and download by a Wi-Fi connection.  (And let me just tell you, it feeds my addiction like nothing else.  Going to the library while at home??  Brilliance.)  Which is where I found Pride & Prejudice And Zombies.  Since I was also reading Fat Vampire: A Coming of Age Story (see post about it below), which I expected to be completely ridiculous and entertaining (which it was, for a while...), I thought I might as well add something else that could potentially be humorous.  Something to cheer me up in the post-holiday blues.

And fortunately, it exceeded my expectations.

I'm a physical, exclamatory reader.  When something shocks me, I gasp.  When something twists and I didn't expect it to, I jump and (sometimes) scream.  When something scares me, I whisper and expletive and then glance around apprehensively to make sure whatever it was didn't pop out of the book.  And when something is sad, I cry. 

My husband had to put up with me shrieking in laughter every few pages.  The book is HYSTERICAL in ways that I didn't imagine.  To give you a taste:

"Miss Bingley, the groans of a hundred unmentionables would be more pleasing to my ears than one more word from your mouth. Were you otherwise not so agreeable, I should be forced to remove your tongue with my saber."  -Mr Darcy

Not only are there expanded scenes with the Bennett sisters as the best zombie-fighting team in the country (world?), a duel between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth, and several sharp retorts about Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Collins, and Darcy, there are whole new story twists and plot lines that I would never have predicted.

If you aren't really into absurdist humor, then maybe you should just pick up the original and sink yourself into the lovely wit of Jane Austen.  (And the zombie version is much funnier if you've read the original) 

BUT if you love zombies, re-tellings, or ridiculousness, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book as a laugh-out-loud, gory, cheeky re-imagining of one of literature's most classic and renowned novels.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 2012 Book List

This year I'm keeping track of what I read in Microsoft OpenNote -- along with what movies I've watched, recipes I've tried, and things I want to do/completed.  Being this organized does not come naturally, but because of my poor memory (and other issues) I have a hard time even remembering what I did last week.

Which is why I've decided to start writing on here again -- sort of to keep track of what I liked, what I didn't, and to help me actually do some writing.

First off -- I know I read in a very limited range.  Mostly children's literature.  But I'm trying to branch out.  Bear with me.

The first book I read this year was a new book that made me laugh as soon as I read the title:  "Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story" by Adam Rex.

Unfortunately, reading the book was akin to my experience with indie movies.  The first half is fantastic - brilliant, witty, original, unique, fresh, etc.  Then comes the second half, when there isn't enough action, in the writer's mind (or something) to keep hold of the viewer/reader attention.  So they bring in something sexual, something disturbing, something that doesn't really jive with the rest of the story.

The first half of "Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story" should be a movie.  It is fantastic -- the story of a fat nerd who becomes a vampire and has to come to grips with being a heavy fifteen-year-old for life.  He's got a friend, he's learning to turn into a bat, and he doesn't like the idea of sucking on anyone but a hot girl.  It's a riot.

But then comes the gross part.  And I'm not going to say anything other than that it was mostly unexpected and it probably hit a little too close to home for me.

And as for the ending?

I have no clue what the ending means or even what happens.  I tried re-reading it a few times and could not wrap my mind around it.  Which does not mean that the author dropped the ball -- it simply means I am not used to deciphering postmodern work.

As a beginner writer, I'm not very fond of critiquing those who have actually published work.  I can only say that I disliked it and try to figure out why.

Most of the time, I don't see the need for disturbing sexual situations.  There could be a redeeming theme, but that was not present in "Fat Vampire".  It didn't even make a case for whether it was good or bad.  It did serve as a catalyst for the main character to make some decisions, but even then there was an ambiguous quality about the entire situation.

I don't like ambiguity.  I'm all for a grey area (since there are things in life that are very grey), but when there are no truths to hold onto...well, I can't see the reason to do anything good if there's no reason other than that it's "good to do."  The logic in my brain cannot make sense of that system.

I don't know why I keep reading/viewing postmodern works.  I get disappointed almost every time.

But if you ever want to read the first half of a book, "Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story" is incredibly fun.