22.5.18

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of our favorite character names from books

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl



CJ's Selections

I'm a linguistics nut, so of course that translates to names! I hate when names aren't consistent in a world, but I love clever ones that aren't too absurd. 
1.Truthwitch / Susan Dennard -

Safiya


I love this name. Such a graceful variation on Sophia. Rolls off the tongue. I think it might actually be Arabic or Persian originally? In which case it's probably not related to the Greek except by sound.


2.Song of the Lioness / Tamora Pierce -

Alanna


I've always loved this name. Pretty sure I wanted my parents to change mine at one point. I finally did meet a friend called Alana in later life, although she spells it differently--but the character was the impetus for her friendship with her now-spouse, so that's pretty cool.


3.Wild Magic / Tamora Pierce -

Numair Salmalin


Tamora gets another win. His whole name is epic and magical and rolls off the tongue. Although apparently I've been pronouncing it wrong, if the audiobooks are any measure.


4.Dark Lord of Derkholm / Diana Wynne Jones -

Deucalion


This was a dragon, and I loved this name so much that I totally stole it for a dragon character in one of my books. Gimme a break, I was 9. I have since given the character a much less purloined moniker.


5.The Wrath and the Dawn / Renee Ahdieh -

Sharzad


I'll pick the spelling from my favorite retelling, but I love this name in general. There's something mystical but also grounded about it. Strong, like the queen to whom it was given.





C.J.'s Selections

Whitley has zero interest in character names so you're getting extra me today.  
1.All the Bright Places / Jennifer Niven -

Finch


I've loved this name/nickname since before my beloved Theo came along, but his attachment to the name made me love it all the more. It's so cheeky and sly.


2.Golden Son / Pierce Brown -

Victra


It's a play on the Roman Victoria, but the shortening takes the elegant Latinate title and makes it sharper, harsher, pointier. Sort of like its owner.


3.Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Lewis Carroll -

Alice


I've adored this name for years because of the most obvious incarnation of it, and I'll find a thousand ways to use it, mark you me.


4.Le Morte D'Arthur / Thomas Malory -

Mordred


Another classic. Mordred just sounds as evil as he is, only the name doesn't actually mean anything evil, it's just really cleverly chosen. I also love the French (?) version, Medraut.


5.Children of Blood and Bone / Tomi Adeyemi -

Zelie


So freaking pretty. It fits her character so well too, somehow both lovely and fierce at the same time, with those gorgeous open vowels that roll delightfully off the tongue.





Your turn! What character names do you adore? 



18.5.18

Review: Dread Nation

Book Cover
title: Dread Nation
author: Justina Ireland
pages: 455
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

This was an interesting book, and I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, but there were several things that stood in the way of my wholehearted enjoyment. In fact, by the time I got to the end, there were a few things that retroactively made me side-eye the parts I liked at the beginning.

Namely, the school set up. At first I thought it was a clever idea, and I liked it. But 1) we didn’t stay in the school, so we really didn’t get to explore its context or implications and 2) the author’s note was basically “I found out about Native boarding schools and thought, wow, what if that happened to my people.” Which is, uh, never a good look on anyone.

Once the main characters left the school at one-third of the way in, we also leave everything promised in the jacket-cover summary and enter a zombie western. Which…isn’t really a new concept. Frankly I was disappointed to be leaving the Baltimore setting, which I thought was much more fraught and creative. The Kansas setting, on the other hand, was everything dialed up to 11. I'm not trying to say that's a terrible decision to make, and it was written well. But compared to the Baltimore beginning, it just seemed like a step down on the creative/new scale. I would have really loved to see the book carry on as it started and explore that set up.

But I can hardly ding the book for daring to not follow what I wanted it to do. I can ding it for being an utter snoozefest as a western and as a zombie story. It really took no creative risks with either of those genres. The zombies in particular annoyed me, although in the same way that most zombie stories annoy me. I just…can’t be scared of something when the MC can slaughter 20 of them at a time and then outrun them in a horse-drawn wagon. These zombies are slow and stupid and there were so many logistical plotholes in their history and application that it actively distracted me from feeling any amount of tension in the action scenes. Now, as I said, same problem I have with most zombies, but…there’s been decades of nerds writing entire think-pieces about how zombies make no sense and how to fix the plot holes. The info is out there for people who want to write zombie stories, no effort needed, just take the advice being actively shouted into the void. But nope.

It also follows the ‘empty west’ fallacy of assuming/talking like all of Kansas was just a total blank slate. There’s multiple lines even about how people were moving west because there’s fewer people around to get all zombified and be a threat. Which is egregious enough in a regular western, but really bad in a story where the dead come back to eat people. You know, what with all the genocide that was going on at the time. We saw exactly one live Native and one Native zombie in the entire book. (There were other issues, especially with the in-story discussion of the schools, Debbie Reese covers it here.)

I did really like the characters, their various attitudes and trials and the interactions they had with each other. Jane’s anger mixed with humor was glorious, and Katherine’s…whole….everything, I loved Katherine. They way Jane and Katherine interacted, the side characters and their complicated relations to each other, all of that was excellent. I adored every one of the characters in this book. I just wish they had…more to do, basically.

Note: Jane is bi and Katherine is ace and/or aro, and while that was nice to see, both aspects basically begin and end within the same two-page conversation, so as ‘rep’ I don’t know that I’d go wild over it? Katherine’s aro/ace-ness does lend another level to her storyline, but as her story happens mostly off-page, it feels more like another missed opportunity.


15.5.18

Top Ten Tuesday: Books we disliked but are glad we read anyway

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl



CJ's Selections

"Glad" might have a broad definition here. Does hate-reading count? 
1.Queen of Shadows / Sarah J. Maas - This book killed my love of that series. The first three were pretty tight and interesting and compelling and this was just...so bland. Dense. Plotless. The ships changed for no reason and the characters seemed different. At the time I was disappointed, but at least it dulled the pain when I later became disillusioned with her.


2.Turn of the Screw / Henry James - When I read this for my senior year AP Lit class, I'm pretty sure I compared it to watching an actual screw turn. But it's one of those books that you can commiserate about with most lit majors or AP lit kids, and it's one that I might read again someday...and maybe I'll like it this time?


3.Breaking Dawn / Stephanie Meyer - I don't care how much shade I get...I thought this book was awful. Even my super-Twilight-fan friend hated it, which was why she gave it to me. And it was so hysterically bad. Renesmee!? JACOB IMPRINTING ON A TODDLER!? I'm sorry. I can't. We can agree to disagree. But I'm glad I read it so that I understand years of memes and pop culture bits, or else I'd be lost.


4.Trylle / Amanda Hocking - Speaking of hysterically bad. It's just really hard to get past the idea of sexy trolls. Plus the guy basically stalks her and then she's in love with him? Eep? Plus there was a word misspelled with a zero in it? But I read it with my (at the time) friend in our mission to come up with the next bit PNR, so it was a fun bonding activity.


5.The Girl From the Well / Rin Chupeco - I didn't hate this book, I just didn't like it that much. It was like reading two different books smashed into one. But the one about the origin of the Ring/Ringu story was really badass. I wouldn't have known otherwise that it was a real legend, and even though I'm sure that Rin took liberties, it was a really cool intro to some Japanese folklore. I do love my creeptastic urban legends.





Whitley's Selections

This was a really interesting topic and really made me think, and as usual I come up with a few different answers on the same prompt.
1.Fifty Shades of Grey / EL James - Yes. That book. I suppose I'm glad I read it because this is the book I used to launch my Reading with a Vengeance blog, and picking FSOG certainly got me a lot of activity right off the bat. But more than that, I had a lot of really great comments while working on this project that were highly informative about the kink lifestyle and community, so I wound up learning so many things that I didn't even know I didn't know.

And even more than that, although it took a few years, I found some really great conversations revolving around the appeal of these books (and others like them) and how much of said appeal is rooted in purity culture. I realized the question of "why do women like this stuff" is...an actual question, and not just a prelude to eye-rolling the way I had treated it at first. It's a question with fascinating answers that can be discussed at length for days, and I'm very glad I read the books enough to be part of it.


2.Daughter of Smoke and Bone / Laini Taylor - "Dislike" probably is the best word for this one, as I can't really say I had...strong feelings for it any direction. However, I adored the second book in this series - Days of Blood and Starlight - and of course I couldn't have enjoyed #2 without having gone through #1. So in that sense, yeah, I'm glad I read Daughter, even though it'll never be on my reread list.  [[C.J.: We almost had words.]] 


3.Battle Magic / Tamora Piece - It...just...um...oh Tammy.

To be fair, I don't think Ms. Pierce could have won with this book. It was announced and anticipated so, so long before the actual book came out that there was no possible way to live up to the imagination of die-hard fans. But even with that in mind, this one...fell short. In a sense I'm glad this came out and I read it just so I can stop anticipating it. It's over, it wasn't great, now on to the next thing (and fanfiction) with clear slate.


4.Ship Breaker / Paolo Bacigalupi - I absolutely adored this book....for about the first third of it. At about that one-third point, certain characters and tropes wound up taking center stage and and I disliked the book from there on out, but wow that first third still sticks with me. It's some excellent worldbuilding and emotional scene-setting, and I'm very glad I got to read that good part, even if the rest of it still sits sour with me.

5.The Assassin's Blade / Sarah J. Maas -I can go back to people who said "it's all justified if you read the novellas" and cry "NO IT ISN'T."

...kinda worth it?





Your turn! Have you ever been glad you read a book you disliked?



14.5.18

Review: Whitley: Even the Darkest Stars

Book Cover
title: Even the Darkest Stars
author: Heather Fawcett
pages: 437
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 2/5

Kamzin has always dreamed of becoming one of the Emperor’s royal explorers, the elite climbers tasked with mapping the wintry, mountainous Empire and spying on its enemies. She knows she could be the best in the world, if only someone would give her a chance.

But everything changes when the mysterious and eccentric River Shara, the greatest explorer ever known, arrives in her village and demands to hire Kamzin—not her older sister Lusha, as everyone had expected—for his next expedition. This is Kamzin’s chance to prove herself—even though River’s mission to retrieve a rare talisman for the emperor means climbing Raksha, the tallest and deadliest mountain in the Aryas. Then Lusha sets off on her own mission to Raksha with a rival explorer who is determined to best River, and Kamzin must decide what’s most important to her: protecting her sister from the countless perils of the climb or beating her to the summit.

The challenges of climbing Raksha are unlike anything Kamzin expected—or prepared for—with avalanches, ice chasms, ghosts, and even worse at every turn. And as dark secrets are revealed, Kamzin must unravel the truth of their mission and of her companions—while surviving the deadliest climb she has ever faced.

This book…had potential. I think that’s the best way to summarize it, really. There were a ton of things that were super interesting in concept and had so much potential to be great, and then they just…weren’t.

For instance, Kamzin has a magical familiar and much commentary is made on how unusual it is to have familiars, how odd it is that Kamzin and her sister both have one. And then her familiar…is just a pet. A pet fox. Who does nothing except occasionally bite people and wander out of the story when there’s nothing for him to do. Her sister’s familiars (crows) are super helpful and smart and take commands from Lusha, but Kamzin’s fox is…around. Cuddles a bit, bites people, wanders off again. Rather a let-down, really.

I felt the same way about the mountain climbing. “Oh, wow, we have to climb this huge mountain that no one has ever scaled before (without dying, at least)” and then it’s accomplished with…walking. And a bit of rock climbing, which was cool but really only one part of mountain climbing. There was a distinct lack of a lot of the techniques and trails I’ve read about in other Everest climbing stories (and, yes, Raksha is Everest, all the technical specs given for the fake mountain match the real one, so). There was mention now at then of various injuries, but that’s it. They were mentioned, and then the characters just kept going anyway without actually treating anything. (Except at the very end, when injuries were used to just keep certain characters out of the way.)

I would have really liked to see this book’s plot played out to the fullest extent, because I think there was a ton of possibility in it, but it did everything by half-measures instead of going full-bore.
There were a lot of weird bits and lazy tricks, too. A lot of tropes like ‘girl overlooked by her family despite having special skills’ and ‘you’re not like other girls’ things, which seem to just…stand on their own, instead of having any narrative context to support them. Why was Kamzin overlooked by her family? Oh, because. Why has River never met any other girls who…rock climb, despite it being mentioned frequently that he travels with women companions and assistants? Oh, because.

Why is there a tired triangle between the new bad boy and the old best friend? Lol, you know why.

Overall…I’m not upset that I read to the end, but I’m not really fulfilled, either. I won’t be continuing this series.


11.5.18

Review/Discussion: The Traitor Prince

Book Cover
title: The Traitor Prince
author: C.J. Redwine
pages: 416
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
Is it a review, is it a discussion? WHO KNOWS! Certainly not me. Because, well, I had a lot of…thoughts while reading The Traitor Prince that weren’t necessarily about this book by itself, so I’m going to talk about those and the book at the same time. Onward we go.

Royalty has long been a staple of fantasy books, and I’ve long been unquestioningly accepting this fact. On the surface it makes a bit of sense: in the pseudo-feudal set up it’s the royals and nobles who are the movers and shakers and world-plot instigators. (Or, rather, it’s easy to think of them as such, because history belies that statement as being absolute fact.) There’s the appeal of getting to write about luxurious settings and accoutrements, the access to nation-level intrigue, and…to be frank, the ability to circumvent a lot of the tediousness of pre-industrial life. It’s hard to be a peasant class hero when all the chores necessary to just stay alive take up your entire day.

So I get the appeal, even though lately I’ve been itching for a shift away from the hyper-royalty focus. I realized how much I would like it when I read The Will of the Empress, which had one of the main characters giving up one of her noble titles. (Just one of them, mind you, so it wasn’t that much of a statement.) Or when I read The False Prince and realized I would have enjoyed the story far more if the main character really had been a ‘false’ prince.

There’s so many things that come along with having a story focused on royalty that generally get dismissed or downplayed in favor of Saving the Kingdom and whatnot, but more and more I find I can’t keep those things out of my brain or stop myself from wishing they’d be subverted. There are questions of legitimacy, of class and power dymanics, of responsibility and corruption and abuse, that all get (not always, but a lot) swept under the rug of “look, she’s a princess, and fantasy stories are about princesses, so off we go.”

And then The Traitor Prince came along and just crystalized this issue in my brain. And suddenly all these feels I’d been having about royalty-focused-stories became feels about this book. So. Off we go.
Javan is the prince of this fantasy nation who has been away from home for ten years, attending an elite boarding school. Just before he is due to return, assassins try to kill him and replace him with his cousin, a royal bastard who (naturally) looks a lot like him. Since no one has seen Javan since he was eight, they figure any differences between them can be explained by ‘he grew up.’ Fair.

Now, ‘impostor tries to take the throne’ is practically a sub-genre in its own right at this point, and this book is a fair example of that plot. But it’s also such a pure distilled example of that set up, and of why it’s iffy in the extreme. Javan, the “rightful” ruler, is good and pure and only wants the best for his country and has motives as clean as the driven snow. Rahim, the “usurper,” is cruel and petty and violent and ruthless and bent on gaining power just because he thinks he should have it because of his birth.

Except, “thinks he should have it because birth” is presented as a villainous trait in Rahim’s case, and yet as…just actually correct in Javan’s case. He never says as much in those exact words, but he does thump on a bunch about being the ‘rightful’ prince. At no point in the story does anyone actually consider which of these boys would be a better ruler, or what ‘rightful’ means, or if their inheritance laws might be maybe just a little flawed. Javan’s parents were married and Rahim’s weren’t; Javan is good and Rahim is bad. Period. Nothing more to it. There may not be a direct line between those two things, but there sure is a whole lot of implication.

Rahim has lived in Akram his whole life, and more to the point, among the poor and working class citizens of Akram. Javan has been in a different country for over half his life, at a school and surrounded by other wealthy foreigners. At no point in the book is it even hinted at that Rahim might actually know the people or the country better than Javan, or that this might be to any sort of advantage. Javan has ‘education,’ which is no small advantage but is still entirely theoretical at the start of the book because he has no experience to match with it. But much like with the legitimacy issue, Javan=good, Rahim=bad and no discussion is even started. There’s also an uncomfortably correlation between Javan=rich=nice and Rahim=poor=bitter and cruel.

Royals are in charge because other powerful people kind of generally agree that they do, plus some complex traditions or institutions that grow up after the fact. Lots of them suck at it, some are cool, but there’s pretty much nothing stopping someone from a different family from sitting on their chair and doing just as good of a job. And usurper stories are in a prime place to actually confront this face and play with it and question it and maybe even have a regime change or two. But stories like The Traitor Prince instead stick to the unquestioning line of legitimacy, and align all their good and bad characters accordingly. The morals of the characters create the situation, rather than the situation testing and revealing the morals of the characters.

And so many issues get completely ignored and dropped to make this work.

I don’t necessarily think it’s required for usurper stories to end with the monarchy in shambles or the commoner in charge, but I do think one needs to grapple with the question of why the people in charge are in charge when succession becomes a key plot point. (Or, well, always grapple with that, if we’re going to be frank.)

That was only the setup of the book, of course, and the rest of it has Javan thrown in prison when he randomly pops up all un-assassinated. He has to fight in the prison’s gladiatorial-style competitions to win a chance to see the king and cry ‘dad, it’s me!’ He winds up enlisting the help of the warden’s slave girl, who is desperately trying to hide the fact that she’s part elf, since elves are both feared and hated. And that part of it is a solid story. The fights are well described and choreographed, and all of them are against monsters not other prisoners, and the monsters are creative and a lot of fun. Well, for us. There’s plenty of tension and a good relationship between Javan and Sadja, the girl. It was a very entertaining book, just not one that aims to break any boundaries.

I still think the strongest book in this series is the second one, which is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. The fourth one is a Cinderella retelling that sounds quite interesting, and comes out Feb 2019. I’m excited for that one. I think this author has some real skill at twisting fairy tales and making their plot lines both fresh and familiar. I just wish she’d do the same with some of her genre’s more tired tropes, as well.