Monday, December 31, 2012

Books of The Year 2012 and Things to Come

I read forty-three books this year; of which three were non-fiction (a record for me); and only one of which was released this year.  All things considered I feel really good about what I read this year and my ever discerning ability to pick out books in new genres and by new authors that I am predisposed to liking.  Like years past there were some high points, some middling 'blah', and some epochal lows.

This year I have to make special mention of my reading saving grace which would unequivocally be young adult fiction.  Everything and everyone from Cassandra Clare, to Lemony Snicket, to Tamora Pierce: you restored my interest in reading tenfold and I'm forever thankful.  I've managed to find a balance in my reading material that has been lost to me ever since I phased out adult fantasy.  The variety keeps me going and the writer's voice that is so wholly different from the high and mighty stuff that I think I've taken a liking too is really refreshing.   
And now I'm done babbling…

This is officially not a "Best Books of 2012" list.  As previously noted, I've only read one book from this year.  As such, these are the books that stood out to me--enough to merit some special designation--at the end of my year of reading.  

Most Forgettable Reads

I'm conflicted already.  Can I give this to a book I didn't finish?  Maria once told me that bad books make for great reviews and to that end I've noticed that what I think is my best commentary comes from books I didn't enjoy.  For that very reason I tried--actively tried--to get through Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman if only so I could tell people in detail why I thought it was so awful.  This will have to do…  So let's say I have to give this dubious mention to a book I actually finished as there is a chance against all chances that Eight White Nights redeems itself.  I'd have to go with Breakable You by Brian Morton I liked the story better than Fire by Kristen Cashore but the former was more of a mess.  Actually just stay away from both.  

Biggest Surprise

Young adult fiction as a genre has to get mentioned here for reasons I've already given.  Another surprise in this year's reading is how much I laughed.  BADASS is hysterical.  My Cross to Bear is equally funny for completely different reasons.  Nicole Krauss, Michael Chabon, John Green and of all people C.S. Lewis with The Screwtape Letters all got me laughing; not to mention a vast host of short story writers.  The book that surprised me the most was probably Fire by Kristen Cashore in terms of how much I didn't care for it after loving her first book so much.  

Best New Author Discovery

John Green.  

This couldn't have been easier.  Paper Towns doesn't seem to be anything special in Green's oeuvre kinda like Beethoven's second or eight symphony.  And just like Beethoven if Paper Towns isn't special I can't wait to get to the really good stuff.  He's an insanely popular author, number one bestseller on every list ever who doesn't need me to do any cheer leading for him.  All that said, from about twenty pages into Paper Towns Green's fans were officially Legion plus one.  

And now I'm going to invent a category… 

My Favorite book of 2012

Ones favorite and the perceived or proven best of anything rarely coincide.  My favorite college basketball team didn't win the NCAA championship last year (I'll uphold the belief we were the best until made to contend with insurmountable injuries).  UNC will always be my favorite college basketball team but with books it changes year-to-year and therefor I don't state a case for my favorite book and what I thought was the best.  I don't know why I don't, but there it is.  This year, I don't care… 

No one can tell you how badass Katsa is, you have to read Graceling for yourself and find out.  She is so all-around amazing I want her featured in the next installment of Ben Thompson's BADASSGraceling has everything.  If you don't like this book we can't be friends.  

The Best Book I Read in 2012

Anyone remember when the Pulitzer prize committee didn't pick a winner for the fiction category in 2012?  While I wasn't outraged like many in publishing (as if I have anything invested in the matter) I thought it was bullshit.  Now I'm kinda changing my tune.  I read a lot of really good stuff this year.  I can't stress that last sentence enough.  Great stuff like Daniel Martin, The Windup Girl, The History of Love, Hate List, The Glass Room, and The New York Trilogy, but I didn't read anything that absolutely knocked the air out of my lungs.  And I don't want this meager honor to come across as apathetic: all the above books were great, and perhaps that is what I'm struggling with.  The fact that I can't say, "The best book I read this year are the seven books I just mentioned."  It's a good problem to have.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr did manage to stand out among all else I read this year.  The tone of voice, pacing, characterization, sensitivity, and sense of reality were all amazing.  It's a sad story but hard to describe as anything but beautiful.  Zarr is without doubt an author I'll be visiting again.      

I didn't read anything from the national book of the year award list for the first time in three years and the oversight was completely accidental.  In 2013 I plan to get through the three books that caught my interest This is How you Lose Her by Junot Diaz, Goblin Secrets by William Alexander and Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos.  Reading three books from those nominated is two more than I usually do but all three of those got me curious. 

As to other books I'm planning on reading in 2013 Andrzej Sapkowski's works are getting further translation and so I hope to look in on Blood of Elves now that it doesn't seem to stand alone.  I have high hopes for this book considering it's acclaim and how much I like The Last Wish, a short story collection by the same author.  Holly Black is a short story writer whose works I've always liked when I've come across them but I've never sought out her fiction.  I plan to do so with Doll Bones, just because it all sounds so bizarre.  Catherynne M. Valente is responsible for the what is easily one of the most original and intriguing series I've ever read with her Dirge for Prester John.  I'm hoping the third and final installment will be out sometime in the coming year.  That's it for what I know of that I'm looking forward but as always this list will grow exponentially as the year goes on.

Lastly, I'm still considering recruiting a few others for the short story blog I mentioned in my previous post and more regular reading of young adult fiction. 

Hoping everyone had an amazing 2012 and that your fridge is overflowing with Bollinger in 2013. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

I'm usually late with these end of the month wrap ups so I thought I'd surprise you and post early.  

I saw a whopping two movies this month; both of which were based off books.  Reacher I saw with my sisters and a few cousins Christmas day not because anyone wanted to see it but because there was no consensus and while no one was excited about seeing it everyone could agree to watch it.  That said, it was an enjoyable way to spend two hours and we all had fun.  I think a lot of people read a book and try to envision how it would work on screen.  I watched Reacher and enjoyed it for what it was but could never stop thinking about what would have been expanded, or further developed in the book.  Also, Hollywood still has no clue how head injuries work.  I'm not movie aficionado enough to say where this problem started but a baseball bat to the doom means you're not getting up for a long time...

The other movie I saw I've been actively planning to dislike for the past six months.  The Hobbit was awesome.  I was blown away by how much I liked it.  It didn't feel as long as it was and much like my thoughts on Lord of The Rings; the film (at least this third) far surpassed the book.  Even though it seems to be the norm I'm not yet used to film length pushing upwards of two and half hours, but in the case of The Hobbit it all worked.  Radagast could have been cut out.  (And if he had to be left in did his face really have to be covered in bird shit?  Really?)  It took them far to long to escape goblin town.  And that 'party' in the beginning could have been trimmed but still that movie flew by and was super fun.  

So much fun (and such a tease as to the story's completion) that I picked up the book and read it for the second time in about seventeen years.  I'm not a Tolkien fan.  His pacing and the sense of story aren't for me.  I do like his sense of history and sheer amount of crap he can cram into a book.  My sole exception regarding stuff by Tolkien that I really enjoyed would be The Silmarillion.  It reads like a history book: non-fiction.  That said Guy Gavriel Kay was that books 'ghostwriter' and I like his narrative voice far better than Tolkien's.  

Other books I read this month were Flights, Coraline, and The Club Dumas all of which were excellent.  

Of particular interest I came across a blog call Storied Beginnings this month.  The owner attempted to read a short story a day and leave comments.  I love the idea.  I know I wouldn't be able to follow through.  (And guessing from the last post on that blog I don't think the owner did either.)  It's a bigger task than it sounds, but I think if I had a little help from a few other interested parties I could put together a pretty bad ass blog.  I may work toward that in the new year; anyone reading let me know if you're interested.  

As far as what is to come; I've gotta work on my best of the year awards which will be up soon.  And next month I'm being ambitious and planning to read a fist full of adult stuff and knock out a lot from my unread shelves.  Everything I'm planning on is kinda big so wish me luck.    

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy edited by Al Sarrantonio

I should start off by saying 'I've no idea what 'Flights' is supposed to mean and only a vague idea of what the secondary title is supposed to infer.'  While this bothered me, it didn't affect my enjoyment in reading this mammoth collection.  The unifying element is fantasy of all kinds.  There are some great stories, some great writing and on a few occasions, both at the same time.  

Riding Shotgun by Charles de Lint is the connoisseurs gem in this collection.  A man lives his life in shame as he was the drunk driver in an accident that killed his brother only to be given a second chance and see what would have happen had their places been switched.  What we see in the alternate life is anything but what the narrator expects and he quickly tries to find a way to make sure his brother stays dead.  This was an interesting look at the 'one more chance at life' ghost story and it's de Lint's voice and story twist that make it so special.  

Robert Silverberg in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (that has to be the title of hundreds of short stories and novels) also subverts common troupes as the down on his luck, broke, middle-aged man decides on a career change and puts himself in the tutelage of a younger, beautiful sorcerer and the ensuing relationship is anything but cliched.  

Nina Kiriki Hoffman was not content in giving readers the expected story in Relations where a capricious spirit seeks to enthrall a young man with her spells only to find out that she has been subtlety beaten to the punch and that perhaps, despite her anger at being out witted, she doesn't want to fight against him.  

Aside from the unexpected twist in the familiar settings by short story masters Flights was also filled with a lot of humor.  Tots by Peter Schneider detailed an illegal child fighting ring similar to MMA and while I'll understand if you're skeptical, trust me: it was hilarious.  Tourist by Neal Barrett, Jr. is a realistic bus tour through hell with a particular group of 'little old ladies' who have the most bizarre questions and thoughts on the sights they see.  Fallen Angel by L. E. Modessitt, Jr while not exactly written as comedy has more than enough implied jokes and social thought for those who aren't afraid to laugh at the serious nature of church dogma.  Bill, the Little Steam Shovel was easily the most surprising in the collection.  After all, children's stories and Joe R Lansdale should never be put together.  Happily he started swearing in the third paragraph destroying all pretense and farce.  This story felt like a "Thomas the Train" episode gone horribly wrong, with death, sex, swearing and even morals.  While the story was great--and extremely funny in places--parts felt forced and Lansdale was pigeon holing himself into a character's voice that never really felt his own.    

There was also a handful of very well done 'standard fantasy' tales which are always welcome in an anthology of this size and variety.  The Silver Dragon by Elizabeth A Lynn has everything any fan of traditional secondary world fantasy could want.  A Tower with No Doors by Dennis L. McKiernan reads like a fairy tale in the most comforting sense of the phrase as we see a young prince get himself into trouble with a beautiful, damned, young woman who is more than she seems.  Patricia Mckillip delivers with Out of the Woods as she continues to prove genius in terms of short fiction and not so much in her novels, or at least for this reader.  

It's no stretch to say that there is a fair bit of horror in Flights.  What was easily the best inclusion in the entire, near 600 page collection was Six Hypotheses by Joyce Carol Oates.  It attempts to chronicle an entire family's fall into madness and the 'illness' that claimed them.  It's not scary, nor would I call it uncomfortable.  It is without doubt horror.  It's also brilliant.  Perchance to Dream by David Morrell dealt with a man's unique sleep disorder and how it was affecting his life.  Unfortunately while the story was great and the writing more than held up the psychological revelations at the end underminded the power of my imagination and the resulting conclusion left me a bit angry.  Neil Gaiman's--yes, I'm talking about horror in a fantasy anthology and mentioned Neil Gaiman--The Problem of Susan is a profound look at the sole Pevensie survivor from C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.  Ever wonder how Susan's life went post-Narnia?  Gaiman, through a contemporary lens that is sure to be at-odds with Lewis, gives us his take.  It's brutal and terse and very unapologetic and probably far more realistic in direction than Lewis would ever have thought to go.  That last one might have been my favorite even if I never did want to think about Edmund being decapitated.  

If Riding Shotgun is only for the hardcore, and Six Hypotheses for the willing adventurous few, then Golden City Far by Gene Wolfe has to be the mass market appeal system seller.  If ever there were a short story I wanted to be expanded into a full blown novel of it's own, this would be it.  (Which is part of the reason Golden City Far works so well as a long short story.)    A schoolboy dreams and treats his dreams as real.  People tell him he's crazy and his psychologist has a hard time pinning down his ailment.  Other people start affecting his dreams and the dream people interact with folks from his school and readers have a very difficult time understanding what is the real reality: school and football or what we thought to be his 'dreams.'  Wolfe has a way of writing that makes me feel that every now and then I skipped a page, but he also empowers me enough to make sense of things on my own.  All is explained at the end and this story is so good that I feel it would justify the purchase of Flights to the reader who didn't like anything else in the collection.    

There were a few that aren't worth mention and a few others that had no appeal to me (the attraction to Tim Powers and Elizabeth Hand still elude me) but as big and varied as Flights is I should think there is more than a little for everyone to like.  Easily the best short story collection I've come across this year and while I haven't read many, the quality of the collections I have read make that last comment hit hard if only to me.   

Monday, December 17, 2012

Random Free Reading, Shopping, Putting English in it's Place and my First New Year's Resolution

In my reading of short stories I regularly come across the name Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  I'm always blown away by her writing.  I never follow up on her; only to stumble across her name in a later anthology or year's best collection to start the process over again.  I'm calling myself out: my next book purchase will absolutely contain something by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  She is awesome and a favored author of mine; why have I not treated myself before?  

I looked around for what to buy and why by Ms Hoffman and, in addition to answers to those questions, I came across a buncha free reading by the author.  Should anyone else be curious (which you should be) and can tolerate reading on a computer screen (sometimes I can't) Futures in the Memories Market (great title don't you think?) is at Clarkesworld; Ghost Hedgehog is at; and Firebugs is from Eclipse online.  They are all great short stories though none rival my favorite from Hoffman.  After linking to all those stories I think I'll be getting a novel and a short story collection in my new year's Hoffman purchase.  

I went shopping today to trade in a few books and upon entering Books for Less second store, a local bookseller I give all my money to, I was rendered unable to shop.  I'm so accustomed to the other store, the layout, 'clutter,' the excessive inventory, and the slightly claustrophobic feeling of the store that the Alpharetta location's open spaces breathing room actually worked as a turn off.  Go figure that one out... I think this store had more stuff than the one I'm inclined to like but none of the past years worth of history and romantic involvement to make me like it.

What's wrong with me?  

So to get a dose of 'normal' I went to a Barnes and Noble and while I didn't buy anything I did take notice of a bit of bookstore layout that really appealed to me.  The young adult books (resisting the urge to preach about how stupid this, and other, genre appellations are) were separated by "New Young Adult Books"; "Young Adult Books" which I took to be anything not 'new'; and "Paranormal Young Adult Books".  Perhaps they could do so as the store didn't stock the same physical quantity of all things young adult as they did adult, but whatever the reason, I really liked this distinction.  At a glance I could find the young adult stuff without a trace of vampires, werewolves or any fantasy elements.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that it's just not what I'm feeling right now.)  As cool as I thought this separation was, woe betide the poor book clerk that has to make such a distinction in the "adult fiction" area should ever such a mandate come down... 

Oh, before I left Books for Less I did by Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  It was on the checkout counter and I didn't have to shop to find it.  I'll finish it tonight.  Speaking of Gaiman I found this while looking for Hoffman short stories.  Haven't read it yet but I'm looking forward to it.  I think the title is supposed to be a play on the first sentence of Robert Graves I, Claudius a book that I, and anyone else who has read it, loved.  Okay fine, some of you didn't click the link; I'll entice you with the story's title:    I, Cthulhu, or What's a Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47 9' S, Longitude 126 43' W)?

With the completion of The Club Dumas I'm pretty sure that Arturo Perez-Reverte has become my second most read author behind Gene Wolf.  (I'm not counting David Gemmell, Michael Crichton, or John Grisham as I haven't reading anything by any of them in years.)  I feel stupid saying this but Perez-Reverte has a blog: it's in Spanish.  Ya know; because he's Spanish if the name didn't give it away.  This thought never occurred to me before.  I like him.  He blogs regularly and says interesting things and when I'm not being super lazy, I can make myself read Spanish.  It boggles my mind to think I hadn't come across this before... as if I'm surprised the whole world doesn't speak English. 

The final bit in today's exposé of randoms: I could swear I owned a copy of Michael Chabon's Wonderboys.  I know I do!  I can't find it and it's what I want to read right now.  It's possible I'm dreaming I own something I don't or it's possible it's in my collection and I can't find it.  (Not likely...)  

Where did that book go?!?!

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

"Listen, Corso, there are no innocent readers anymore.  Each overlays the text with his own perverse view.  A reader is the total of all he's read, in addition to all the films and television he's seen.  To the information supplied by the author he'll always add his own.  And that's where the danger lies: an excess of references cause you to create the wrong opponent, or an imaginary opponent." Page 303  

In which I discover new levels of ambivalence… 

Love it or hate it?  No; that's definitely not my conflict with this book.  I either loved it or I'm indifferent; only I don't know which.  Or perhaps, there is a third option: that I'm in limbo, flux between loving The Club Dumas and feeling indifference; angry at being made to devour a book so compulsively and at its end feeling nothing but uncertainty.   

The Club Dumas is a love letter to books; their history, craftsmanship, authors, collectors, and readers.  It is also a murder mystery, 'lets summon the Devil' kind of affair.  Lucas Corso works in the book industry preforming many varied odd jobs: acquisitions of rare works, authentication of others, restoration.  He never performs any of these task himself, he is a brilliant third party, but it is on the behalf of others that he facilitates a great host of book related jobs.

Flavio la Point has just come across what appears to be an original chapter in Dumas' handwriting from The Three Musketeers and has asked Lucas to have the work authenticated.  Varo Borja, a wealthy collector, is newly convinced that his copy of The Nine Doors, one of three in existence, is a forgery and wants it compared to the other two know copies.  He too contacts Corso with this potentially very lucrative job.

As Corso travels from Spain to Portugal to France to complete these two jobs we meet a handful of people.  We see people who are associated with books to a degree that most readers probably won't have thought possible.  Booksellers and publishers of only the most obscure works.  Collectors with impossibly large, private libraries and those with libraries of a seemingly negligible quantity yet priceless value.  Most interesting of the people we see in following Corso are the slightly sinister Cenzia brothers who are prized restorers of ancient texts.  They not only explain their process of treating works hundreds of years old but also elucidate how forgeries could come about and why one may seek to do so.  In both cases the reasons are stunning and not what you'd think.  

For the duration of the novel readers try to discern a connection between a possible handwritten copy of Dumas' text and a cipher in The Nine Doors that may evoke Satan.  And then people start dying; the previous owner of the Dumas chapter, and both other owners of The Nine Doors.  There are mysterious figures following Corso.  Figures who we come to call Rochefort--Dumas' villain--and also a semi-divine, archangel of deus ex machina named Irene Adler… of 223 Baker Street… 

It's no spoiler to say that Irene is Corso guardian angle.  Only after having read the book I'm not sure what that means.  She represents more than just the hero's convenient assistance and at times hinges on the fantastic yet if it weren't for an illustration in my copy in which she subtly was depicted as having wings (I missed it the first time I looked at the picture) I'm not sure I could excuse her inclusion.  

There is a mystery in trying to establish a connection between the two text in Corso's possession and by the end all things are explained.  Whether or not the resolution is satisfactory is moot and will probably vary from reader to reader.  I quoted the passage in the beginning for a reason: whatever you bring to the table in reading The Club Dumas will probably have a great affect of what you make of it.  If you, like the author or Terry Weyna, have read seemingly everything under the sun since the destruction of the library at Alexandria then I both pity and envy the ride you'd get from this novel.  The connection between the two text is little more than what the reader makes them out to be.  I'm not sure if this is an admirable feat or not, but considering the novel's tension and over all level of reader anxiety due to plot events when you add in whatever your own imagination brings to the table I can near guarantee The Club Dumas is impossible to walk away from.  I have no clue what happened at the end and this is either a great accomplishment or tragic short coming.  

My confusion reminds me a bit of when I read The Red Tree by Caitlain R Kiernan.  If story events were taken at face value then the book was modest fantasy but if upon conclusion of the novel a reader decides 'this woman is insane' then one gets an entirely different (far more fulfilling) reading experience.  The Club Dumas isn't the same kind of novel as The Red Tree where it's possible that the entire story is taking place in the narrator's head, only that the end of each novel made me wonder "What did I just read and was I mislead from the very beginning?"          

I've never encountered a bit of meta-fiction like this before.  At a certain point I had to put the book down and laugh because the author wouldn't stop: Perez-Reverte indirectly name drops Umberto Eco, the title of a book that at the time the author has yet to publish let alone write and passes it off as a historical reference (that one literally took my breathe away The Chevalier in the Yellow Doublet if you're wondering), the incessant references--some overt others equally as subtle--to Dumas, Doyal, Milton, Dickens, Dostoevsky and others.  (In no way does one need to be familiar with the preceding writers to enjoy the book but I should think greater awareness could enhance the reading experience.)  And then there is the Subterranean Press edition I'm reading: a beautiful signed, numbered collectors edition…with typos.  So inherent to The Club Dumas are issues such as a books quality, presentation, preservation, and legitimacy that upon finding a few errs I had to think if the publisher and author were playing a joke to mess with my head while thinking of all the things the Cenzia brothers are capable of doing to a book while 'restoring' it.  Perez-Reverte even makes significant references to fictional books that his own characters have written in his other historical fiction.  The aspect of all this meta-fiction that is to be admired is that all of it felt organic; none of it was forced.  It all felt as if it served the story and had purpose.  An obvious labor of love.  

The author's research really stands out in this work.  He makes talk of book craftsmanship, collecting, storage and restoration among other topics interesting while embracing the fact that such notions may not be among the liveliest to base a novel around.  How he presents what he has researched--all of which is vital to the story--for the most part works and comes across as believable.  Experts in esoteric fields like to share what they know when they have a captivated audience and so even if Corso knows most of what he hears from the people he encounters he indulges their talk if only to pick up on the stray unknown detail and we--the reader or fellow book lover--gobble up every word.  Only once did I feel that I was being preached to and even then what was being communicated was so interesting to me (probably not so much to Corso) that I had no problem excusing the passage.  

There is a word that I've never thought meant anything concrete that is regularly associated with The Club Dumas: literary.  I don't know what that word means and those who regularly bandy it about can't define it in less that 423 pages, rather like postmodern.  For me it's easier to understand this word association looking at an antonym: genre.  The pacing of The Club Dumas is off for a thriller; the characters too well developed and fleshed out for a typical  murder mystery, and yet the heart of the book is the compelling allure and formulaic approach that makes genre fiction work.  (Yet another bit of meta-fiction talked about in the story.)    

It's atmospheric and dark and as we learn more about The Nine Doors, The Club Dumas feels a bit like something that we perhaps shouldn't be reading.  The literary fiction snobs feel free to claim any book as their own as long it is deemed 'good' by the powers that be.  I'm not on of those readers but I doubt they, like I, could decide what to make of The Club Dumas.  For me this novel, with it's overzealous bad guys and unexplained angels, either fell flat after an amazing build up or succeed on a level that I'm currently not able to appreciate.  

Does all that count as an endorsement?  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

So I did a lot of reading this month.  Better still the overwhelming amount of what I read was really good.  It always seems that I have one month out of the year when all of the best stuff presents itself to me at once.  That said I kinda wish my reading for November came earlier in the year to so I'd have more time to gather my thoughts concerning my end of the year awards.  Oh well, thems the breaks. 

This was the first month in a while in which I got through five novels: Between Shades of Gray (a title that I can associate no meaning to the book), Hate List, Paper Towns, and Once was Lost were all unconditionally exceptional.  It's kinda lame to say that as they are all known titles by established authors, some even won awards and the others were all nominated.  I didn't discover anything by saying these were great reads rather I'm reaffirming what so many already concluded.  I'd hate to pick a novel as the best read this month even though I'll essentially be doing that in a few weeks...  I think I've said enough about Fire and this seems to be a safe enough distance from the other titles mentioned in this paragraph. 

I also made a big dent in an excellent short story collection by Al Sarrantonio Flights.  I'll have much much more to say about that in my forthcoming review.  Oddly, of all the reading I did in November Neil Gaiman's story The Problem of Susan was the one that stuck out the most.  The reasons why are many; primarily: I like Gaiman, and I love Narnia. 

Also this past month's reading brought to mind a few essay type things I need to attempt.  One would be on the absurdity and fruitlessness of swearing in a secondary fantasy world if the author is not going to use real world expletives.  The other, which would be much harder to write--that said, both are beyond my ability--would deal the definition of 'young adult fiction,' because existing definitions are lacking to ludicrous. 

So my sister thinks it's hilarious that I'm reading all the 'kid stuff' I've been reading lately and tells me if I'm gonna talk about books I need to get back to the grown up stuff.  Needless to say I'll have more on that later but looking forward to December I do plan on reading more books for big people.  I'm going to finish the decidedly not for children's Flights and also plan to get to The Prestige by Christopher Priest, and The Dumas Club by Artuo Perez-Reverte.  If the holidays don't get the best of me I may manage to knock out another but I'm playing it safe as of now. 

And speaking of things I wanted to be reading this month anyone know what up with Catherynne Valente's newest book in the Dirge for Prester John series?  I was really hoping it would be out now-ish.  Or even right now. 

Christmas... Holidays... Blah...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Valerie has a hole in her leg.  She was shot by her boyfriend the same day Nick decided he was fed up with a lot of things and opened fire at school.  She'll have a lingering physical pain and a limp the rest of her life, but it's the days that immediately follow the shooting that will determine the quality and length of what is to be 'the rest of her life.'

Val occupies as unique space in the minds' of the Garvin High School community: she's the hero, she talked Nick down, and got him to stop shooting.  The bullet she took wasn't meant for her rather someone else.  She is also the instigator of the shooting and only barely manages to fall just short of co-conspirator.  Never being the popular kid, Val starts a list of all the things she hates.  Most things on the list are abstract ideas or intangible concepts like algebra, or her parents arguing.  Other items on the list are people: teachers she doesn't like; students who think it's funny to make fun of Nick and beat him up in public; students who call Val names everyday; that break her MP3 player for no reason; students that take exception to the fact Nick's family socio-economic status doesn't resemble their own.  Physically making the list was a form of venting for Val.  When she shared it with Nick he took things to a level she never foresaw.

As Val goes forward with her senior year in high school there is an ambivalence about how she is regarded.  She is on both sides of the coin: some try to ignore her, others wish her dead, and though none speak the words aloud all thank her for putting an end to things when she did.  She doesn't have any friends, not even the ones she used to have.  She's incapable of making new ones due to both how others regard her and her own anxiety.  Her parents suffer her presence and that is about a subtly as their relationship can be put.  Her brother has days of acceptance and disgust.  She feels alone and--circumstances being what they are--in truth, she is.

Guilt is one of the novel's pervasive themes that unified may characters and, at least for me, proved very difficult to identify.  One of the surviving victims had been a very good friend of Nick's up until a year or so before the shooting.  She wanted to be accepted and popular and turned her back on him as running him down was the trendy thing to do.  Her guilt and her wounds take her in completely different directions from Val's.  It's not just the shooting victims that are left alive, but every student in the school has a moment of self-examination where they consider the treatment of their peers and how they, collectively, let things get this far; how it could be fun to treat someone as they had.  If they weren't involved in the abuse did they enable the shooting by doing nothing?  As is to be expected, Val's guilt trumps all others.  She was so close to Nick yet how had she not seen that he had this in him?  The most interesting aspect is Val trying to understand how nothing has changed.  She may have never wanted anyone dead but Val still doesn't like the guys that beat up Nick or the girls that teased her and ran her down.  Big surprise: they still don't like her either.  Almost every interaction that Val has with everyone is an awkward stalemate or has regressed to a state of revulsion.

Val's journey takes her from the hospital, to the psychiatric ward, and finally home under the close supervision of her psychiatrist, who surprisingly, becomes the first friend she makes in months.  (As an aside, it's nice to see someone in therapy and actually benefit from their sessions.) 

The author also gives some interesting food for thought concerning personal responsibility, upbringing, and environmental factors that played a part in the tragedy and in Val's healing process.  How much should Val own up to?  After all she didn't pull the trigger.  Did she come have horrible parents?  (Yes.)  Did they raise her to be a monster?  (Moot-ish...)  Did all the jerks at school deserve to be reprimanded?  Should anyone have been surprised that the bullied kid had a breaking point even if he possessed an high tolerance for poor treatment? 

Every relationship she is in has changed.  And the resolution for all of them is nebulous.

     "He hates me," I said.
     Mom looked up sharply.  "You're his daughter.  He loves you."
     I rolled my eyes.  "You have to say that.  But I know the truth, Mom.  He hates me.  Do you hate me too?  Does everyone in the world hate me now?"
     "You're being silly now, Valerie," she said.  She got up and picked up her purse.  "I'm going to go down and grab myself a sandwich.  Can I bring you anything?"
     I shook my head, and as Mom left a thought flashed through my head like a strobe light: She hadn't said no.  page 164

The above passage is the start of her declining relationship with her parents...

And yet the novel doesn't work itself into one huge cathartic moment that is saved just for the end.  There are bright spots along the way that give hope that something positive can come out of Val's life. 

     "Hey, Val," he said, sitting up.  "You're home."
     "Hey.  Like your hair.  Maximum height on those spikes today."
     He grinned, ran his hand over his head.  "That's what Tina said," he said.  Like nothing had ever happened.  Like I didn't still smell like the hospital.  Like I wasn't a suicidal freak come home to make his life miserable.
     At that moment, Frankie was the best brother anyone could have asked for.  Page 184

Everything felt real; every single aspect, and I haven't the slightest clue as to how Brown pulled this off: Val's confusion, and self-loathing, her relationship with her parents, her brother, the other students, her integration back into society, and how she gets along with her Dr. was a particular achievement.  There was all of one superfluous character and while she stood out like a bright purple thumb she was so trivial as to be easily written off.

Hate List wasn't merely gripping and visceral but convincing to the point where you might think a school shooting victim that has lived in Val's shoes wrote an account of their life and tried to pass it off as fiction.  It's one of those books that you live for the duration of the few days it takes to get through.    

Hate List isn't even the book that put Jennifer Brown on my radar only Perfect Escape was already checked out at the library and I was gonna be number forty something in the queue so I picked this up inside.  How much did I like Hate List?  I'm not waiting in the queue for anything else Brown writes.  She's now on the day-one purchase list.    

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

"Part of me felt guilty.  Was it selfish that I wanted to live, even though my parents were gone?  Was it selfish to have wants beyond my family being together?  I was now the guardian of my eleven-year-old brother.  What would he do if I perished?"  Page 320 

I don't do non-fiction very often especially not the kind that deal with history and war and crimes against other people and detail how horrible people can treat one another.  I'm a wuss with a weak stomach; I'm far more sensitive than you might guess and I'd rather not talk about it--and I'd really rather not read about it in my leisure time 'for fun.'  Every now and then I come across some of these same themes that make me a bit squeamish in the fiction I want to read, as in Between Shades of Gray.

Between Shades of Gray is told in first person by Lina, a fifteen year old Lithuanian girl.  She is told one day by her mother to pack a bag, and to hurry.  The NKVD, which I learned was a precursor to the KGB, is deporting Lina's family along with hundred of thousands of other people from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.  Lina's story is of her family's plight: being packed onto train cars meant for animals, of people being worked to death, starved to death, loss of so many things, of being treated worse than criminals for no known offense and it is also, surprisingly, a story of survival.

Lina forgets what she looks like, going more than ten years with out seeing her reflection.  She forgets she was once pretty.  She's surprised one day to learn that she has made a friend, a luxury in her previous life she had taken for granted.  She loses parts of her family along the way to Siberia and the Arctic Circle, Stalin's ultimate destination for the deportees, but she never loses her pride or identity.  Lina is easily the strongest and 'best' young strong female heroine I've come across in a while.  She's a kid and she's angry.  She's suffering obscene injustices and wants to do something about her situation.  The fact that she never morphs in the comical fantasy heroine that gets me rolling my eyes kept the story's tension high and my interest in her suffering painfully sensitive.  Her enemies are grown men with machine guns and a dictator that can't be touched.  Her options in fighting back are limited but she does all that she can and endears herself to readers at every page.

For me it was the battles that should could fight that made such an impact, not merely because she endured--unfortunately so many were made to endure--but because of her initiative and refusal to let go of what little remained of her identity.  She was made to fight to keep her family together and not sent off in different directions ( and the author beautifully succeeded in quickly explaining how bizarre, rare, and meaningful of a fight this is) she resolves to steal food, firewood and anything else that will see her through to the next day.  She never gave up on seeing her father or homeland or understanding the mental difficulties she had to go through just to hold onto those dreams.  In short, she reminded me a bit of my pound-for-pound all time great when it come to female heroines acting all badass: Sofia from Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

She doesn't win half the fights she gets involved in and most disturbing are the ones in which, for one reason or another, she is helpless.  She and some of the other captives can identify scurvy and dysentery, but they can't fight illness while malnourished and made to live in a state far worse than what most will think of when it comes to poverty.  Nor can she will sickness away or pray about until the sick get better.  But she still does what she can.  While over the years Lina forgets she's young and pretty in the beginning the NKVD certainly noticed both those facts just as they noticed that her mother was more mature and more attractive.  She offers the best resistance she can against her tormentors who are stronger in every way and hold indescribable leverage over her.  It's not like walking into work on Monday to find you co-workers have made a mess and you have to pick up the pieces.  At every page stakes are at their highest and they continually seem to get higher as the story goes on.   

There are brief flashbacks to the life Lina used to know.  We see where her family and the other deportees came from, how they lived, what their 'crimes' were.  It's a more powerful bit of perspective than you might think.

Sepetys prose is very immediate.  There isn't a lot spent on internal psychology or setting: it's a story that moves forward at a near relentless pace.  At times I wanted things to slow down; not for the sake of establishing impact rather I was exhausted.  We meet new people along the way and say goodbye to (never bury) many many more but the pace, tone, and somber nature of the story and every page having what seemed to be a new highlight in all time lows only to be continually outdone really kinda ran me down as a reader.  There were moments of introspection that I would have enjoyed getting further expansion.  I wish I got to see more of the relationships Lina had with her mother, her brother, her 'boyfriend' and how they changed and affected her attitude and thinking for the future.  I certainly didn't want less of anything that was given, rather some time in between not to look for the a glimmer of hope (remember it's fiction heavily based in truth) but an occasional reprieve to space out all the bad and perhaps see if Lina ever dreamed for a future like that past she so fondly recalls.

I haven't said much about the actual story because its so simple.  In Lina's mind Josef Stalin one day told her 'Get on the train and let me show you how miserable your life can be.'  It's not for lack of quality but this isn't the kind of happy, feel-good writing that I'll come back to once a year.  That said, I'd love to what else the author is capable of writing.                  

This isn't the type of book I usually read.  It's all story, plot, drive and getting the reader into events and making them care about what happens immediately.  (After having written that I wonder why the hell I'm not reading more books like this.)  Between Shades of Gray also kinda ugly in a very realistic way and while this may make me a little bit uncomfortable it significantly added to the book's impact.  Between Shades of Gray was never so graphic as to be unsettling or turn my stomach but neither was it everyday comfort reading.  It becomes abundantly clear at some point that the only good thing that can happen in this book is to be left with your life, and like many of the characters feel, it's hard to imagine whether or not one would want to go one living after all they been made to suffer.  Human beings from all over and all walks of life maintain the capacity to be awful to each other far beyond my ability to express (or Sepetys' or anyone else's for that matter).  It's not the kind of book I'd want to read everyday but putting myself in Lina's shoes, when she was fortunate enough to have them, sure makes for a phenomenal story. 

Sadly, what is depicted in this bit of fiction happened.  Happily, it's history.  Hopefully, it'll never be repeated.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Sit down.  Buckle up.  Brace yourself.  Full Disclosure: what you are about to read is decidedly chauvinist, sexist, racist (concerning monsters and humans) bigoted and--worst of all--occasionally whiny.  Gale force winds and hurricane strength destructive powers BEHOLD!  I bring the fucking rain; thunder storms and floods; no scattered showers here! 

Sit down. 

Buckle up.

Brace yourself.

I have no idea what this book is about.  I read all of it.  I even took notes, only I'm not sure anything actually happened with enough regularity to be collectively put together and called a plot.  The novel's title character lives in The Dells a continent east of the seven kingdoms setting seen in Graceling, Cashore's exceptional first novel, and--rather inexplicably--there are humans but no gracelings in The Dells.  Additionally there are monsters.  There is a monster counterpart to every part of animal life, even humans.  Monster birds of prey, fish, insects and Fire herself--the last known human monster--are marked by color.  Whereas a regular ass falcon may be brown a monstrous one would be bright yellow or mauve.  Fire is marked by her hair which is blood red; not regular ass red, ginger, auburn or orange, but straight up monstrous fire-engine red with an occasional streak of pink and some other unnatural coloration.

Other than color what makes monsters different is the allure they have to all other life.  They are beautiful to look at and an unwary mind would yearn to view a monstrous lion for its color and attraction completely ignorant to the fact that said lion is about to tear them a new asshole.  Monsters, to varying degrees of mental capacity, have the power of mind control over anyone weaker than them.  Human monsters are extremely dangerous.  This monster power was a bit of a let down for me as it so closely mirror powers that had already been developed in Graceling, furthermore, as the novel progresses we see that one doesn't even have to be a monster to possess this power; almost as if regular ass people can train for it.

The story consist of the three primary powers in The Dells and their attempts to gain complete control of the land.  There are lots of armies, horses with terrible names, (Big, Small, and Horse; and no I'm not making those up) and some nearly insufferable to read politicking for power and assassination attempts that would make the Corleone and Soprano families laugh themselves to death.  Military fiction and intrigue aren't particular strengths; that said they weren't dwelt on too much.  There is gonna be a throw down by these three powers but my saying that is about as tense as matters ever get.  Fire, with her ability to read peoples minds, is wanted for the war effort to influence the enemies choices and extract information that could prove valuable.  That's it for the story.

There is nothing wrong with novels that work with little to no material, the author elevates the level of difficulty in doing so, but it's certainly been done many times before.  (Earlier this year I read and loved John Fowles Daniel Martin, and I'm not sure it had any plot at all.)  If current events are stagnant then the characters need to be super interesting, in conflict with each other and make me care about them as the setting in Fire is as interesting as a railroad tie.  Setting being what it is the characters have a lot of weight to pull: they scored a -1.6 with a bellyflop from the platform diving board of fail.

Fire's casual sexmate--she would never have you believe him a boyfriend--is a whore; I don't say this as a bad thing, Cashore doesn't belittle him in his lifestyle choices either.  His name is Archer.  For the sake of nomenclature alone I was very pleased he didn't own a horse...  Fire doesn't mind that Archer gets around and apparently can knock up anyone with one shot.  She is a ho too but isn't worried about pregnancy because as we saw in Graceling there is a morning after milkshake in this world to take care of that.  Later we see there is also a 'Oh shit I'm into my first trimester pill' as well as the ultimate SHABOOM the 'take-once-by-mouth-in-the-course-of-your-life-infertility-drug.'  Pretty hardcore for secondary world medieval-ish fantasy.  Considering all the contraceptives it's a bit funny the frequency that people get pregnant and are genuinely surprised.  In short there are no consequences of any sort for having sex; at any age (Fire is sixteen or seventeen or somewhere around there); with anyone.  If you've read both Fire and Graceling we can begin to piece together some of what are probably views of the author concerning marriage, relationships, and pregnancy.  All of which make me scratch my head and hope my supposition is wrong. 

While the landscape is potentially set for epic sexual exploits there is no romantic intrigue either: it's easy to tell who will hook up with who and that if Archer stares at a woman too long she'll sneeze and on the next page there will be twins. 

Fire's primary personality trait--her defining characteristic--is her period.  Monsters hold an allure over all other life and predatory monsters love nothing more than monster flesh and like a shark detecting blood in the water Fire's period has mountain lions jumping off cliffs to get a piece of her ass.  Raptors dive bomb her routinely and nearly fall out of the sky to risk a piece of her goodies.  Her period, excuse me, the author never says, period, cycle, or "Aunt Flo in town for a visit" Fire's 'bleeding,' for this is the only way it is ever referenced, somewhat heightens her powers of attraction and allure, which--at least to me--was all kinds a creepy.  Added to which, Fire is cursed with the most frequent and epochally awful 'bleeding' that any woman ever has ever been subjected to since the history of ever.  Considering the poor girl is 'bleeding' on damn near every page we have to assume that her period takes up a week out of every month (possible), or that she bleeds once a week for at least three days (this is Cashore's world not mine).  Whatever the case may be I was having headaches, anticipating anxiety, and stomach cramps watching the character--who by the way, I never did care for--near hemorrhage to death every page.

The real problem with Fire's monster powers isn't them being heightened by her incessant bleeding (I've resisted using so many awful, classless metaphors in this sentence that I'm proud of myself) rather it's the fact that her presence can incite a riot and move one to rape her at any time.  Fire can be out taking a walk and if her hair is uncovered--this is apparently the only way one knows she's a monster--people will approach her with strong feelings.  Some just want to touch her in some undefined state of awe, others want to do her harm, for reasons I was never made to understand, others still were moved toward the most heinous acts of sexual assault.  To be blunt, some wanted to say, 'You're beautiful' and nothing more.  Some wanted to stab her in the neck with a cookie.  Some wanted to rape her in broad day light even if their mother was in the room.  Fire is supposed to have to carry the burden of being able to induce the full range of all human emotions with her at all times, but it was more communicated as 'All men are asshats.'  Not to say that's not true but damn...

"Why did hatred so often make men think of rape?  And there was the flaw in her monster power.  As often as the power of her beauty made one man easy to control, it made another man uncontrollable and mad.

A monster drew out all that was vile, especially a female monster, because of the desire, and the endless perverted channels for the expression of malice.  With all weak men, the sight of her was a drug to their minds.  What man could use hate or love well when he was drugged?'  Page 145

What the hell does any of that mean?  If you replace 'monster' with 'super hot chick' does it read the same?  If so can we get a stronger premise for this book?  Sorry for the repetition but again, What does the above mean?   

The status of women being elevated over men was anything but subtle.  We learn about Fire's father, also a monster.  He had depth.  He had expression.  In short he was interesting and in possession of conflict.  But we quickly see that all life--human or monster--is harder for a women because Fire is a woman and her life is hard, and she is the last of her kind, and she's supermodel hot, and has these colossal bleeding sessions and there was so much hollow, vapid testosterone suppression that I wanted to inject the book with HGH, TRT packets, and whatever Lance Armstrong has been doping with.  Strong male influence is the worst idea ever in this book.  Don't get me started on Fire's guard that helps keep the rapist, would-be lovers, and raptors away.  Women, and girls (some as old as fifteen) hold every position that men do.  In politics, professions, military... testosterone doesn't exist in this world.  A military fantasy world.... (it sure as hell did exist in Graceling)  So we've got girls who want to fight, and protect and die for their country and they're fifteen and been trained to handle a weapon.  The enemy has thirty-five year old men who are known as 'Grown-ass Adults' and have received equal or possibly even less training but it's gonna be a totally fair fist fight because Andre the Giant is a wuss and Miley Cyrus could totally take him.  I know I'm complaining as if someone forced me to read this book but is it too much to ask for a little realism in my escapist fantasy?  The only difference in soldiers is that women can get pregnant--if they are ignorant to the fact there are two million and eighteen of ways out of having a child in this world--and that makes them more sympathetic or something.

While there are plenty of other characters in the book none of them come to center stage.  Not Archer, not Brigan, Fire's other man (told you she was a ho) not Nash, Brigan's brother who is hardcore wanting to hit that monster-ho, not even the memory of Fire's father.  Leck--Mad King Leck from Graceling is in this book--can't get fifteen minutes of shine.  LECK!  The most obscenely awesome bad guy I've ever come across and he never gets a moment.  He feels tacked on and forced; as if the editors said, 'Work Leck into this so we can say the book is related to Graceling in our advertising.'  A quick few pages in the beginning and a blah mention in the end: done.  I'm actually glad Leck was relegated to 'nobody' statues.  I think it's awesome the author didn't want to tell the same story twice.  I'm even more excited to read Bitterblue knowing that the title implies it won't be about a graceling, or a monster, rather just a regular ass person, but no matter the nature of your character they have to have some strong sense of conflict.  Katsa wasn't awesome because she was graced and could whup ass; she was interesting because she had problems, flaws and real conflicts people could identify with; not to mention Po to play off of.  Daniel Martin was a douchebag for more pages than I can remember.  That's why I had to know what happened next!  Fire is... she's... she's about as insubstantial as air stapled to dirt and only twice as interesting; which is to say she don't have much going for her.  She doesn't only need someone else to play off of (ah... let's see... Leck would have been too perfect of a choice...) she needs more to her person to capture and hold reader interest.
So we've got this super hot monster who can read minds and influence people's decision and a three way war brewing that seems to be about as intense as that middle school hand-slapping game and the only thing Fire can bring herself to do with her powers is ease the mental suffering, and to some degree the physical suffering, of wounded soldiers.  This is all very useful and noble but in storytelling terms kinda felt like a missed opportunity.  Her version of easing the dyeing's suffering is a lot more boring than Jack Kevorkian's story.

A bunch of people have sex, there's a playground scuffle masquerading as a war, and by the book's end a lot of people are dead and everyone else is crying.  Only it's very difficult to get wrapped up in any of these matters as there was never an infrastructure in place to support my getting attached to story events let alone attachment strong enough to merit anything but tears of frustration.  I was so hopelessly lost in the middle of this book in trying to figure out what was going on and why I was supposed to care that I started hoping that Beetlejuice would pop out of nowhere, start cracking bad jokes, and curb-stomping people into dust because at that specific moment Beetlejuice's wrath was the only thing that would have made sense to me.
If I had to guess Graceling, felt like it were written by the author and for the author and it was awesome then she shared it with a bunch of people who told her she was awesome and in writing Fire that awareness of how awesome she is changed the nature of her writing.  While I only wish I could be that fortunate in this case the different state of mind did nothing to enhance FireFire was a hot mess: a wet, bleeding morass; an uncomfortable quagmire of what's going on here and why is it happening to me.  In reading the book I felt a conscious effort on the author's part perhaps not to impress but to come across as more sophisticated or somehow more polished since her first novel.  The best example of inflicting pain while trying to impress came early in the novel and set the tone for everything to come after.  "She stretched onto her toes to kiss his cheek, but he intercepted her and began to kiss her mouth, gently.  She let him, for just a moment.  Then she extricated herself and left the room."  Page 60  I winced at 'intercepted' and closed the book at 'extricated.'  Pull away; break away; stop kissing the guy.  Anything, but please don't extricate yourself from a kiss.

Cashore is a bit of hottie and I can admit after reading Graceling and liking it as much as I did that I'm more than a bit in love with her.  Don't let the proceeding alter how you perceive my feelings for Graceling: it's just that good.  With my biases feelings in mind apply ardent weight to my thoughts on Fire: Pass on this one.  Sorry for being so long winded but I couldn't just say I was angry when reading this book because 'horse' was used as a name for a horse and the word extricate almost brought about a seizure.  As far as my therapy goes, I feel better in getting all this out of my system.  Wait for it...



All better. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kindling the Fire

Don't worry; I haven't given up books for an e-reader.  I really wanted to post a book commentary this weekend, but I needed to better organize my thoughts before doing so.    Graceling by Kristin Cashore is phenomenal.  Fire, by the same author and set in the same world, is awful.

The overwhelming amount of what I initially wrote concerning this book was bad and it's not that I have an aversion to posting something negative only I feel such comments need to be put into perspective and supported to be valid in any way.  So since I'm not trying to pass this informal post off as commentary I can be as horrible as the book, right?  

Hmmm… Where to start?

Fire is about a woman's period.  Or more specifically a woman's bleeding.  (The author would have us believe that to say 'period' or a host of other phrases would somehow allow the reader to forget the whole 'bleeding' part.  Fire, the character bleeds a lot.  It's not a subtle bit of imagery.)    

I could stop here.  No, seriously; there really isn't much more to the story.  

Fire is also about how women are different from men, because they have a period and their period makes them different and this fundamental difference between men and women is women having a period.  Or 'bleeding' as Cashore is fond of saying.  'Bleeding'  That wasn't redundant was it?  If so, imagine the hell I was in reading 460 plus pages… 

Not only do women have periods and bleed which is awful because you see periods and bleeding are unique to women but this period of bleeding time makes their life more difficult and overall more difficult than a mans: much harder and unaccommodating.  In reading Fire we see that women's lives are far more strenuous and limited than men's because they have a period and bleed or so the redundancy department of departmental redundancy has redundantly informed me.  However, women can overcome this difficulty and not have their lives' governed by their period and bleeding and even though their lives are significantly harder than a man's their rewards can be greater than a man's, perhaps due to their biological bleeding plight.  

The novel kinda made me feel like there was some mysterious silver lining to my being a hardcore dyslectic.  Needless to say; FAIL! 

I wish I could say all that was snark and sarcasm but really, it's not.  I knew at the outset of trying to pre-vent all of my forthcoming commentary venom that I would do so uselessly.  I won't have nice things to say about this book no matter how much I try to be professional (which I'm not) or decent (of which I show occasional sparks) toward the novel.  

I'm not sure if Fire is the worst thing I've read this year--I'm still debating who to select for the meager end of the year dubious honor--but if I could go back an unread any one book I've read, not only this year but in my life, it would be this one.  

I almost put this book down; as in every-other-god-damned-page, I almost put this book down.  I did pick up an excellent short story collection to help get me through.  (Every ten pages read meant I could read a new short story i.e. something good.  More to come on that collection later.)  Taking notes on Fire was easy, so much material to work with, getting through it was a Pyrrhic victory to say the least.  Why did I finish the book?  Why did I read it?  

Because...  Because I'm an idiot and I loved her first book so much.    

Kristin Cashore is amazing.  Read Graceling.  Now.  Go!  

Avoid having your eyes bleed until they explode by reading Fire I mean Fire.  More to follow soon.