Monday, January 30, 2012

Member Giveaway Review: Secrets and Lies

Author: Tracy James Jones
Genre: Fiction, Slightly Erotic Fiction
Pages: 158
Warnings: Grammar Carnage, transphobia?
Rating: 2/5

This novel follows the lives of Ken Jordan, Cami Vargas, Ulanda Jefferson and Bren Searcy as they unravel the secrets they each keep. The novel starts with Ken and Cami having an affair, which Cami confides to her best friend, Ulanda. However it turns out that Ken's affair happened right before he proposed to Bren, and Ulanda and Bren have a close relationship of their own. Throughout the book, these four characters reveal to each other some secrets you know about and some you don't.

 My first feeling upon finishing this book was that there was something slightly wonky about the plot. In actual chronological order, Ken and Bren are highschool sweethearts, but Ken breaks up with Bren because he's a jock. Bren parents Ulanda with a different person (not a major character). Several years pass, Bren gets back together with Ken. Cami and Ulanda become friends. Ken cheats on Bren with a lot of people, including Cami, then asks Bren to marry him. Cami gets pregnant and gives the baby to Ken's parents. Bren gets upset about this and goes back to her hometown to talk with Ulanda about all of this, and then Bren meets Cami. None of these plot devices are unbelievable, but they do seem extremely ridiculous when taken together. Or at least, they are the actions of rational actors who I can not empathize with at all.

In addition I was freaking offended by the treatment of Ulanda's bio-mom. Apparently Bren got pressured into sex with a trans man, which was probably rape. However no one could be damned to used the right pronouns, or treat him with any decency. This was especially startling to me after the attempts made to treat Bren, a trans woman, with respect. Apparently you only have to respect the rights of trans people you like.

This book just didn't grab me. I couldn't convince myself to like the characters, with the exception of Ulanda.  I can't suggest this book to you unless you like cheesy romance novels.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: The Handmaiden's Tale

Author: Margret Atwood
Genre: Distopian Future Fiction
Pages: 324
Warnings: Holy shit, so much.
Rating: 4.5/5

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margret Atwood is set in a dystopian future where a fanatical religious organization has taken over the US government and enforce a restrictive hierarchy. The main character, Offred, is one of the few women left in the country who can successfully reproduce, so she's been forced into servitude. This novel is her fictional first-hand account.

There is so much I love about this novel, I have trouble picking a place to start. If there was a gun to my head, I would start with just how fucking scary this novel is. There is such horrific dehumanization of every woman in the world Offred lives in this world that I shudder to imagine something thinking about me (and my female ass) that way. We don't even know the main character's name: Offred is literally "Of Fred", Frederick being the head of her household. She has no humanity outside of being a keeper of his sperm. That is pretty damn scary, until you consider how everyone deals with this enormous decay in women's rights. They just go on. All of the characters are trying to just get through the day, and they do that by pretending all the horrible things being done to them and the people doing those things to pretend the all the horrible things being done to them by real people are just happening. Once you realize how easy it would be for people here and now to ignore on that scale, you start waking up in a cold sweat.

There's also something really amazing about Offred's narration style. Some authors find the first person perspective to be stifling, because the scope of one person is often to small to encompass the plot. Atwood doesn't fumble around trying to get Offred to listen in on the right conversations to find out what Old Man River is up to, she incorporates the supposed limitations of the 1st person narrative into her story. Only being able to see what Offred sees, we're trapped looking between the confines of her habit, and the claustrophobia a reader feels is not unlike her's. Every aspect of Offred's narrative, from her hesitant grasp on reality to the tiny window of the world she can see, is finely crafted to put the reader in her painful shoes. It's wonderful so see a story where there is not a wasted word.

I can't get enough of this book, and I expect you won't either. I won't lie to you and pretend it's an easy read, since the narrative style is intentionally a little frustrating. However this is one of those books where the feeling you get when everything Atwood has orchestrated comes together is well worth any discomfort you felt along the way. This book isn't just a good read, it's got a lot to consider about human nature at it's tasty center. And if that stirring endorsement doesn't encourage you, realize this is a realiatively short book, so dig in. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Member Giveaway Review: Tempest

Author: Holly Hook
Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 190
Warnings: Ahoy Plot Holes, Spoilers
Rating: 3/5
Series: 1/?

"Tempest" by Holly Hook is a YA fiction book, the first in the "Destroyers" series. It follows the main character, Janelle, after she moves to Florida and strange stuff begins happening. Janelle and basically everyone she knows or is related to is a Tempest, a strange sub-group of humans that become hurricanes once in their lives, and can do that really cool thing with their eyes that's shown on the book cover.

Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that the premise of this book is freaking awesome. I cannot stress that enough. I don't pretend to understand that people who can turn into hurricanes any time they fall in salt water only do so once in their lives, because if I could turn into a hurricane, look out coastal cities! I did some research, and was a little annoyed to discover the named hurricanes that the WMO picks repeat every six years, but I stick like the concept that Tempests have a government mandated role call. If you've already read the book, feel free to follow the same wikipedia/google trail I did and be disappointed there is no Hurricane Adriana (although there have been several Adrians) or Hurricane Janelle in the real world. I am not against fiction books that borrow part of their information from reality, but I guess I was a little surprised by how easy it would have been to incorporate real hurricanes and give the book more of a "hidden world within a world" feel. Even though the ability to become some of the scariest, most powerful tropical storms is just fantastically cool, I would have preferred Hook had either completely veered off into a fantasy setting or maintained a more accurate representation of where the Tempests could have fit into our world.

I also really appreciated the characterization of Jenelle, Lucas and Greg in this book. I am crushed when I read books where the teenage characters sound and act more like some adults ridiculous caricature of teens, or characters that jump right from being pre-pubescent to being adults. Hook breathes life into Janelle, and into that awkward place where teenagers reside, which I loved. The developing relationship between Greg and Janelle was especially believable, not to mention cute. I am a suspicious person by nature, but their stolen  moments warm my heart. I got very caught up in those scenes, and the transparency of Janelle's reactions. In general I think Hook has strong talents when it comes to portraying teenagers, and teen interactions.

However I didn't feel the depth of characters extended to some of the the adults (ex: Adriana, Mr Deville). I can't tell if the lack of well developed personalities because they weren't main characters, their actions were more plot than personality driven or if it was a conscious effort to help illustrate Janelle's snap judgments. It would be really cool if they were a result of some method writing, but I'm not comfortable assuming that. Sometimes this bothered me, but certainly wasn't a deal-breaker.

I am a stickler for internal consistency in a story, so I take umbrage with a few of the plot points. I realize how silly this may seem to someone else, but it frustrates me that not all named tropical storms are Tempests. I don't understand why it was mentioned in the book. Additionally it makes little sense that there is a magical system that knows when when it's someone's turn to become a Tempest (and can halt all the other Tempest's ability to become hurricanes) down to the day but none of the actual Tempests seems to know even what month they should become a hurricane. It's also odd that there was very little about Tempest culture explained, but somehow Adriana knows how to brainwash the Tempest subconscious. I wouldn't normally bring up all of this, but the crux of the issue was that all of these plot devices could have been incorporated reasonably well, but at the time they all felt too convenient to me. Janelle would never kill people on purpose? Suddenly, Adriana can control her subconscious by playing only one tape while she's asleep for an hour (while back in reality brainwashing of an unwilling participant can take years under special conditions). That is just an example of the frustrating plot holes in this book. Said plot holes dragged me out of the book to complain, which is not an ideal reading experience.

It may look like I have a lot of complaints, but I really did like this book. I'm just kind of pushy. So while I have a few complaints about the deus ex machina style plot devices creeping into Hook's novel, they did not overshadow the excellent characterization and straight-up awesome premise. I was definitively entertained, even though I usually prefer to avoid YA. If you are a teen or just like reading teen fiction, I would strongly recommend this. Jump all over it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

PLH's Top Ten Book Suggestions for 2012

So, one of my friends asked for some book recommendations... a few days ago. Here they are, in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV

2. The Handmaid's Tale

3. Young Miles & Review

4. The Left Hand of Darkness

5. And Then There Were None & Review

6. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference & Review

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & Review

8. The Book of Lost Things

9. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire

10. Warbreaker

They're all pretty awesome, although it's kind of obvious now that I look at this list my preferences are skewed towards gender politics and I prefer fantasy over science fiction. Anywho.

... Now I'm all out of books! Does anyone else have some suggestions of their own?