(Truly) Heartless

When it comes to books, I’m a generally positive person.  I recognize that different people like different types of books, and know that not every book is going to be for me.  I accept this as a given.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed when a book I anticipate is going to be wonderful falls completely flat for me.  Such was the case with Marissa Meyer’s Heartless.  Now, I am a big fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which includes loose, twisted retellings of several fairy tales.  There were great plots, she made interesting choices, and populated the books with great characters, including strong females.  I was looking for more of the same with Heartless.  I was sorely disappointed.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere.  A talented baker, she wants top open a shop and create delectable pastries.  But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen. 

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets the handsome and mysterious Jest.  For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction.  At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny.  But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Just the last sentence of this is enough to make me want to read this book.  I expected a fantastical tale about the Red Queen, complete with many murdery cries of “Off with their heads!”.  This was not that tale.

Let’s talk about “Cath”.  (Ugh. Unless you are the Simon Snow devotee, this name is not OK.)  This is one of the most useless, spineless main characters I have ever encountered in a book.  She has a dream to be a baker and run her own shop, which is contrary to everyone else’s plans for her to become queen.  Guess what happens.  (If you guessed that she runs away, defies everyone who wants to make her into something she’s not, and opens the best bakery in all of Wonderland, you’d be 100% wrong.)  It only took me about 27 seconds to realize that Cath lacks agency and will, and I spent the entire book being frustrated at her victim attitude.  She doesn’t make things happen, she lets things happen to her.  And then she sits and whines about it.  Then, when things get crazy, blood starts flying, and Cath figures out her terrible decisions are the cause, she blames someone else, which just infuriated me.  And I’m supposed to believe that this girl who spent 7/8 of the book being weak and whiny suddenly turns into the cold, cruel, imperious Red Queen?  Sorry, not buying it.

There were a couple of things I did like about this book.  Cheshire was a wonderfully written character, and by far one of my favorites.  I like how he embodies arrogance and feigns a complete lack of care for anything going on around him, but says the most profound things at just the right times.  I also really liked Jest and his pure heart.  He is loving and optimistic, and true.  The “world” of Wonderland was well-done, and just mad enough to be fun, but not too nonsensical where it feels like Meyer is trying too hard.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of Wonderland.  More mad tea parties, more checkerboard cake, more Jabberwock, just more.

There were also some great lines in here.  Meyer has a beautiful way with words, and if I couldn’t really appreciate the story, I can at least appreciate her wordsmithy.  She has a very lyrical way of writing, which is a must for any Wonderland story, I think.  One of my favorite phrases turns out to be a prophecy, and a bit of a foreshadow.

Murderer, martyr, monarch, mad.

Overall, ironically, I think what this book is missing is heart.  It didn’t make me feel anything other than annoyance for Cath, and I didn’t care enough about Jest or anyone else to be really invested in what happened.  I had high hopes for this one, but it really let me down.  I almost want there to be another installment, because I think now that Cath is the Red Queen, I might like her better, and would care about the continuing story of her being stabby and evil, but, then again, maybe not.

If you’re interested in fairy tale retellings, here are some of my favorites:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – this reimagines the Cinderella story with a cyborg and a moon colony.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is an assassin trained from birth to kill the Beast.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson – a Southern gothic-set version of the Bluebeard fairy tale with a mystery, and romance, and a lot of suspense.

Tune in tomorrow for Top 10 Tuesday!

Coffee Break: The Case for YA Literature

I have a confession to make: I read a lot of YA (young adult, for those of you who are wondering) literature.  Ok, ok, maybe it’s not a confession, since if you all are paying attention, you know that already.  But it’s true, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I actually have an extremely eclectic reading taste – I’m game for almost anything, save terrifying, bloody horror books, and Amish fiction.  This is because I ❤ books, I appreciate authors and want to support their heroic work, and I like to learn things about all the things (except stabby, murdery psychopaths and sweet, sweet Amish love).

I have always been a #reader, but over the years have read for different purposes.  As a child, I read because I enjoyed it; as a student, I read because I had to; as an adult I still read because I have to, but not because it’s required – rather, it’s a compulsion.  It’s not for a grade, but for the soul.  Because I’m old now, and can do what I want (*insert sarcastic laughter here), I read what I want.  My time is limited, and I don’t see the point in torturing myself by wasting precious hours reading something I don’t enjoy.  I enjoy YA literature.

“But, why?” you ask.  “YA lit is for, you know, teenagers.”  I respectfully disagree.  Saying that is like saying teenagers shouldn’t read contemporary fiction, or nonfiction because those genres aren’t written to target a teen audience.  YA literature is a unique creature unto itself, in that it can be about anything.  YA literature is not tied to genre limitations; is is not stifled by literary conventions.  YA authors aren’t afraid to put it all out there and write about cyborg Cinderellas or about children hunting other children to amuse evil adults; they aren’t afraid to take risks.  They aren’t afraid of what their audience may think – they know kids are up for anything.

So why is YA literature thought of as being less than

Currently, YA literature is experiencing an explosion in popularity.  YA books are ending up on best seller lists; they are taking up huge amounts of space in bookstores; they are being turned into blockbuster films.  Are there really that many teens reading books?  NO.  While there are a lot of teens who read, the explanation for what can only be called the YA Phenomenon is this: adults are reading YA books.  Why?  BECAUSE YA BOOKS TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that adult books don’t.  Here’s an example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by HarperCollins this past February, is about an inner-city girl who witnesses her childhood best friend shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed, and the implications and fallout of that situation.  It places the reader squarely within the story, and provides a perspective most readers may never get.  No AF (adult fiction) books are talking about this topic – something that is very timely and relevant.  Yet Thomas is brave enough to do so, and to an audience that is open-minded enough to consider that other perspective.  Another example is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This book follows Junior as he moves from the reservation to the suburbs where he navigates the minefield that is trying to make friends while battling social stereotypes.  This book highlights specific identity issues facing indigenous peoples, and resonates with many who feel marginalized.  *Looks around – AF?  Anything on this?  No?

The examples I used here are two contemporary novels, set in reality.  Many YA authors choose to tackle these issues, as well, only in a fantasy context.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a good bellwether for this: she highlights society and class, as well as identity, but sets the story in a post-apocolyptic world.  YA books deal with questions of drug culture, suicide, death, violence, identity, sex, acceptance, family, relationships, mental health, etc., ad infinitum.  You name it, there’s a YA book that talks about it.  YA is valuable because people can relate to the books, no matter how old the reader is.

YA books also provide:

Escapism – Most people don’t want to sit down, crack open a book, and read about depressing things.  They want to, at least for a little while, bail on their real life.  Settings in YA books are often fantastical and foreign, and allow readers to step away from their lives and experience something that speaks to their imagination, rather than their reason.

Excitement – Let’s get real here for a minute.  There are some AF books that are boring AF (see what I did there?).  YA books, no matter the genre, are always moving.  Because teens are always moving.  There is drama; there is action – and most of the time, the two are happening at the same time.

Strong Characters – In case you haven’t met one for a while, and need to be reminded, let me point out: teens are opinionated.  They are learning, they are developing their own thoughts and world views, and they want to see the same thing in their book hero(ine)s.  Many YA books are written in 1st person point of view, so the reader hears the character’s voice specifically.  The voices are strong and sure, and inspire that same confidence.  Additionally, there are many, many strong female characters in YA lit, who represent some of the most individual voices in literature of any genre.

Hope – For all the “issues” found in YA literature, rarely do things end on a negative note.  This is because the authors realize they are writing for the next generation, who have a lot to look forward to.  Soul-crushing situations are resolved, hurts are mended, and the bad guy is rightfully punished.  Teens are creative and they’re smart, and they have a habit of looking forward, rather than backward; YA authors do a wonderful job of giving them something bright to move toward.

It crushes my soul when I hear critics (and by critics, I mean other readers) bash YA literature as “shallow” or “dumbed down” derivatives of AF.  Because this is not the case.  YA literature is just as sophisticated and important as every other genre of book out there, because it does its job: it speaks to its audience.  And it’s audience listens, and loves it.

Just one last thought: if it wasn’t for YA authors, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter; we wouldn’t have Katniss Everdeen; we wouldn’t have Anne Shirley; we wouldn’t have Bilbo Baggins.  Some of the most iconic and beloved literary characters ever created are products of YA literature.

So next time someone scoffs at you because you choose to spend your time reading a YA book now and again (or always), don’t be ashamed to stand up for those authors who choose to create iconic characters and memorable settings, and who choose to face the hard issues head-on and try to make sense of them.

(All those gorgeous covers, though…)

 

Mini-Review Monday

Yee-haw!  It’s a roundup!

I’ve been VERY busy the last two weeks, what with the end of the fiscal year at the library, ALA, kids, life, etc. and all, but  I’ve carried my trusty Kindle with me everywhere, so I’ve still gotten a lot of reading in (even if I have fallen asleep with it in my hand several nights in a row now…).  So rather than trying to write a full review for everything I read this month, you’re getting a quick and nasty (but in a good way, full of love) intro to what I read this month.

I know you’re all dying in anticipation for these reviews – I know I would be.  So, here goes:

dark duet

The second in a duology that started with This Savage Song, this was one of my most anticipated releases of the year.  I was not disappointed, though the ending left me with a broken heart.  In this world of darkness and shadows, the real question becomes: who are the real monsters?  Schwab is an amazing world-builder, and her characters are gritty and ruthless (even if they don’t want to be).  The (dark, dark) story follows Kate (a human) and August (a monster) as they negotiate the impossible world that pits them against one another as they try to save the broken souls of everyone around them.

starfall

This is also the second in a duology that started with Starflight, and I thought this was a fun follow-up.  I liked that it focused on different characters, rather than just continuing the story of the first installment; but the characters are the same, so familiar.  This has a little bit of a Firefly feel to it, with a ragtag group of misfits with prices on their heads flying around just trying to survive.  There’s adventure and danger and adorable flying rodents and princesses.  (There must always be princesses.)  Let me just say this: there are SPACE PIRATES.  Pirates.  In space.  That is all.

shadow bone

So, this book.  I have had this trilogy sitting in my TBR tower for a while now, and I finally decided to tackle it.  Oh, my heart.  This book was so unique, so different from other things I’ve read, I fell instantly in love with it.  For one thing, I ❤ the bad guy.  Like, completely.  He’s 100% dark and evil and murdery, but he’s an amazing character.  Snaps to Bardugo for making that happen.  I also like the heorine; she’s sassy, a little bit vulnerable, and makes mistakes.  I like it when the main characters make mistakes, and then actually learn from them. Also, the setting is amazing.

dark daysI did a full review of this book over on my other blog before I packed up shop and moved, and if you want, you can read that one here.  I can’t say enough good things about this series (a planned trilogy).  The authentic period setting is very well done, and provides the perfect backdrop to the plot.  The characters are fantastic; I especially love that there are several strong female characters who continually subvert the idea of a “proper lady” and show that their role in this world is just as important as their male counterparts.  The relationships are fun, and there is a refreshing lack of romance, with a focus on action.

strangeI went into this book with a little apprehension because I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy to the godstars and back, and didn’t want to dislike something she had written.  I was anxious for nothing.  This book was as beautiful and melodious and magical as I could have hoped for.  Taylor has a gift for wordweaving and creating portraits with words; I envy this talent.  But I appreciate that I am the beneficiary of it.  This book was a fairy tale; a dark, bloody, beautiful fairy tale complete with monsters and heroes.  And even if I don’t love the cover (though I understand it’s symbolism), I am eagerly waiting part II.

pirate

OK.  Call me crazy, but I absolutely love Clive Cussler.  He’s this adorable, rosy-cheeked grandpa with awesome cars, and even awesomer stories.  I fell in love with Dirk Pitt when I was in high school, but I have a particular love for the Fargo adventures.  Sam and Remi are cool and clever, and are a great team.  I like that Remi retains her femininity, yet can still pull the trigger to ice a bad guy, and I like even more that Sam knows his wife is completely capable of taking care of herself, yet still wants to protect her.  The archaeological mysteries are right up my history-loving-heart’s alley, and I can’t get enough of them.

pursuit

Fox and O’Hare are one of my guilty pleasures.  No, Evanovich’s books aren’t strictly “literary gold”, but when I need to read something fun, or that makes me laugh, these books are a great choice.  This one particularly features sparkles and sparkles of stolen diamonds along with a missing vial of live smallpox virus (gasp!) – and only Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare (along with their merry band of mismatched misfits) can save the world!  A rollicking romp through Europe with sassy leads, a Snidely Whiplash-like bad guy, and lots of one-liners, I liked this installment in the series particularly.

 

So, there you have it – the June postmortem.  I enjoyed all the titles, and a couple of them spoke to my soul, and fed it cheesecake.

And tomorrow: doo-do-doo! Top 10 Tuesday!

I want to take a minute to plug my library’s blog – it’s a little tiny baby blog, and we’re just getting started, but here’s the link to it.  We’ll be talking about what life is like in a library (for all of you who have wondered about the secret library society, here’s your chance to peek under the cloak of invisibility…)

Peace out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALA Annual Conference Debriefing

Well.  I wish someone had warned me.  Or, at the very least, prepared me.

ALA isn’t like the other nice, civilized library conferences I’ve been to in the past.  It’s the library world’s version of the Thunderdome.  They may as well have had Tina Turner give the opening address.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t have an absolutely marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary, magical, magnificent time; I certainly did.  I just think that, had I known what I was in for, I could have capitalized on my experience a little more.

THINGS I LEARNED AT ALA

  1. It’s every man for himself. While people are happy to smile and chat with you while waiting around, when the rope drops to the exhibit floor, there are no such things as friends.
  2. There are SO MANY giveaways.  I was astounded by the sheer volume of stuff vendors were giving away.  Books, bags, pins, pens, posters – any type of swag you can imagine.
  3. Don’t bother to try to schedule ANYTHING (except author signings, because that’s imperative – more on that later).  You can go into ALA with the best intentions, with a shiny schedule on your ALA app, and in ten minutes it’ll be shot to smithereens.  Scenario that may or may not have happened to me: OK, the session I want to attend starts in fifteen minutes – I better start heading that way.  (Overhears a conversation while walking.)  What?  Drew Daywalt is signing his new book over at the HarperCollins booth? I’m SO there!  (PS – this MAY OR MAY NOT have happened A LOT…)
  4. Work out your arms for a month solid before going.  I have a 9-month-old baby who weighs as much as a small unicorn.  I thought my arms were in shape.  I was very, very wrong.  At any one point in time, you may be carrying fifty pounds worth of books.  And unless you are conveniently parked in the ramp just outside AND don’t care that you’ll miss ALL THE THINGS while you’re gone dumping your #bookhaul in said car, you’re going to be carrying them around for a long time.
  5. There are SO MANY books.  If you’re a complete #booknerd like I am, you may go a little crazy here.  I learned that publishers use conferences like ALA, PLA, and Midwinter to do a lot of promotion for new and upcoming releases, and they have no problem giving away millions upon millions of books.  Every six hours of so, a new group of galleys drop, so by the time you get through one trip over the exhibit floor, you have to start again, so you don’t miss anything.  At last count, I came away from ALA with 115 books.
  6. There are SO MANY authors! I knew there were going to be authors at ALA, but I really had NO IDEA just HOW MANY.  I was only there on Saturday and half the day on Sunday, and these are the authors I saw/met/got signed books by, and what they are known for (and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list – just the ones I can remember): Angie Thomas (she is fabulous, btw) – The Hate U Give; Jason Reynolds (huge and imposing and so, so gracious) Ghost; Drew Daywalt (eeeeee!) he of The Day the Crayons Quit fame; Victoria Schwab (be still my fangirl heart) – A Darker Shade of Magic; Maggie Stiefvater (be still me second TimeLord fangirl heart) – The Raven Boys; Marie Lu (I don’t have any hearts left, but she was SO sweet) – Legend; Alexandra (“just call me Alex”) BrackenPassengers; Sharon Cameron (steampunk genius) – Rook; Cat Winter (lovely mind behind demon-slaying Victorian teens) – Odd & True; Kelly Barnhill (middle grade queen) – The Girl Who Drank the Moon; Melissa Albert (so, so grateful and humble) – The Hazel Wood; Cassie Beasley (cute as a button) – Tumble & Blue; Jen Lancaster (yes, THE Jen Lancaster) – The Gatekeepers; Amanda Foody (heroines can kick butt AND wear lipstick!) – Daughter of the Burning City; Tom Angleberger (he drew Rocket and Groot in my book!!!) of Origami Yoda fame; Matthew Cordell (drew a monkey in my book!) – Dream; and Julia Quinn (romance queen) – The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband.  And guys – this was just in a day-and-a-half.  SERIOUSLY.
  7. Be prepared to wait in line.  They move pretty quickly, but don’t be surprised if you have to hang out in line for a half-hour or firty-five minutes to see some of the authors.  I had my Kindle, so it wasn’t a big deal.  You can also usually find interesting people around you to chat up.  But don’t be surprised when things come to a standstill.
  8. Hydrate.  When I checked my step-counter at the end of the first day, I had walked the equivalent of nine miles.  NINE MILES.  I didn’t even bother to look at the end of day two, but I know it was as much, if not more.  Pack water; pack crackers.
  9. Do some sight-seeing.  ALA is always somewhere awesome.  As Chicago is the home-base for ALA, the conference is held there every-other year (as it was this year), but on the off-years, it travels around the country (next year it’s in New Orleans, my all-time favorite place YAY!!!).  Take some time (but don’t miss anything awesome at the conference!) to take in your surroundings!

So, on the whole, I am so grateful to have been able to attend ALA this year.  I learned a lot, met a lot of interesting people from all over the country, gained a lot of experience, made some great connections, and had a wonderful time.  And NEXT YEAR, I’ll be ready for the next edition of the Thunderdome.  “Two (wo)men enter, one (wo)man leaves!”

PS – this is my #bookhaul from #ALAAC2017

ala book haul