Monday, March 25, 2013

Cheap Thrills: The Dark Wife & The Prince

So here on the bloggybloo, I decided to create a new little series.  Cheap Thrills features novels, novellas, anything you can read that costs less than five dollars.  This will hopefully include mostly self-published authors, so we can explore this wonderful new way to support authors and read new stories!

Today I have two reviews for you!

The Dark Wife
By Sarah Diemer

Genre: fantasy, supernatural, retelling, queer, young adult, romance
Price: 4.99

This is a young adult retelling of the wonderful Persephone myth.  The Persephone myth has been transformed to YA readers before, but never quite like this. In Diemer’s novel, Hades is not a god, but a goddess like Persephone.  This change begins a lesbian retelling of a familiar tale. Persephone is a soft-spoken and eager young goddess who chooses to go to Hades’ underworld in order to escape having to live on Olympus with her horrific father, Zeus. 

The writing of the novel is vibrant and detailed, while occasionally veering into prose a little too purple for my taste.  However, it’s rather fitting for the storyline so I was willing to mostly overlook it, although a few times it is so dreamy that it drags.  

Despite some promising plot points, where the novel really fails is in the characterization of Hades.  She is so sickeningly sweet that she gets a little boring.  Never once does she get angry, even when it would have been appropriate for her to be.  She is completely perfect: loving, caring, understanding, fair, queenly, romantic.  Hades doesn’t have a single flaw.  For such a character-driven romance, it’s a huge problem.  Persephone is a realized character- likeable, but with an arc and flaws.  Her romance with Hades, while sweet and caring, lacks an equal partner in that.

Overall, I think this novel is very important.  As a straight, white, middle class girl, I never had to search for representation in my young adult literature.  I was represented constantly- perhaps the most currently famous YA heroine Bella Swan and I even share a hometown! But for queer girls and boys, there are so few supernatural YA novels with representation.  So even though I think there were problems in the novel, I think it is incredibly important and refreshing to have a supernatural novel with queer characters.  If you’re interested in reading more like these, Diemer has plenty to try!

The Dark Wife is a dreamy, lovely novel about two young women falling in love in a mythic world.  Despite characterization and prose flaws, this novel's unique tale is important for representation in the young adult genre. 



3 out of 5 stars

The Prince
Kiera Cass

Genre: young adult, castles, princes, dresses, dystopia, romance
Price: 1.99

The Prince is a novella (less than a hundred pages) set in the same universe as Cass’s the Selection, which we previously reviewed here.   The Prince examines the life of Prince Maxon, one of America’s love interests.  It chronicles some brief moments in his life, particularly rejecting a girl before America, and then his meeting with America.  It gives his perspective on some of the events that happen in The Selection.

Honestly, I forgot how much I disliked The Selection until I started reading this novella.  It is so… annoying.  The beginning isn’t terrible- although the rejection scene is eye roll inducing and the characterization of the prince who is just misunderstood by his ruthless king father is definitely overly familiar. 

It gets bad when America shows up.  The amount of girl-hating is ridiculous.  Cass puts America up on a pedestal, constantly pointing out how she is not like those Other Girls- gross, femininity! She is tough and unique and she is Different!! The way she (and in a more subtle way, Maxon) puts down the other girls in the novel is constant.  At one point, she even directly points out that she doesn’t like something because everyone else likes it- which in my opinion, is as bad as liking something because everyone else likes it.  I don’t mean to put down girls who are tomboys or outspoken, but there is no wrong way or right way to be a girl.  Putting down other girls just because they’re- or you’re- different is wrong and hurtful.  Putting it in a YA novel for other girls to see and learn from is a fast way to make me dislike your novel.

Anyway, besides my rant, the novella doesn't really give us anything new. Maxon is still mostly a bland but fairly sweet prince.  He is much less stiff in this novella than in the actual novel, which does serve an improvement.  It gives the impression that his formality is a mask, and that is a great characterization.  I wish we saw more of that, though- he serves mostly just to think about how remarkable America is.  

Overall, unless you loved The Selection, skip this book.  It gives very little new plot details or characterization of Maxon.  



1 out of 5 stars

--reviews by laura

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Joint Review: Oscar Nominated Movies Based on Books

Unsurprisingly, the Best Picture race is filled with films that were based on the book because the human race has probably used up all of its remaining creativity just short of using up all the oil and ozone (I kid, I kid! Positivity right?). We are kind of obsessed with both books and the Oscars, so here is a brief review of each book and movie (and whether or not you should read v. watch) after the jump.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

  Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

By Emma Straub
Genre: Historical fiction, Realistic fiction

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a decent book, but it is just that- a decent book.  It’s not great or terrible.  Although I decided it was a good book, there are so few risks taken that it ultimately ends as a totally forgettable one as well.

            I’ve been trying to write a review on Laura Lamont for a while now, but it was a disappointing read for me and I have been trying to find a way to word my disappointment.  It started with great promise with some beautiful writing about a little girl and her family’s small theater in a town called Door County in Wisconsin.  Laura begins the book as Elsa Emerson, a precocious child with two older sisters.  Her relationship to her sisters is easily the most interesting part of the novel.  Although I understand the purpose they serve in the novel, I wish the author had delved deeper into their relationships and how they shaped Laura’s life.  The beginning of the book is wonderfully written, with turns of phrase that gives us a perfect child’s voice.  I could have read an entire novel with this setting and with Elsa.

            The book then travels with Laura as she makes her (new) name in Hollywood.  The book does include some fun golden age Hollywood characters, but they don’t last long enough to be truly entertaining.  There are actresses that are clearly based on some famous actresses- Laura’s best friend is a redheaded funnylady who makes a sitcom with her husband- but they don’t delve deep enough to be very interesting.  Laura’s husband and the love of her life is a bland, flat character whose only quality is that Laura loves him. 

            Additionally, the book promises to be about a fantastic and famous actress and her downfall.  It doesn’t really work like that.  Laura’s acting career isn’t nearly as impressive as the back of the book says, and her downfall is more of a slow amble into obscurity.  Maybe it is realistic, but it’s also boring.  It’s the last third of the book that truly disappoints. Although I understand that the author wanted to portray Laura’s whole life to mimic a true biography, it only serves to drag the narrative.  The book loses all its steam with her later life. 

            While Straub clearly has talent as a writer and the book beautifully written passages, it ultimately disappoints and, dare I say it, bores.


2.5 out of 5 stars
review by laura


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cloud Atlas 
By David Mitchell

Genre: fiction, movie books, scifi, mystery, thriller, dystopian, drama, fantasy, prize winner, British, novel

Let me start out by saying that I read this because of the movie. I SHOULD have read this years ago. But I didn't, so here I am with the rest of America falling prey to another book adaptation fad.

But let me also tell you that this is one of the best fads I've ever been swept up in. Reviewing this book is extremely ambitious feat, so really what I'm going to offer here is my heartfelt suggestion that it is something you should read as well. I've also seen the movie, and while it isn't the same, I can guarantee you that reading the book will 100 percent help you understand the movie better (whether you decide to like the movie or not) and that it may even change your understanding of the reading (Because it definitely made me rethink a few items. It was sort of like having a discussion with Wachowski Starship about their interpretation).

Cloud Atlas is a series of six stories about six different people in different places and in different times. Mitchell bravely goes forth to tackle this ambitious structure, creating six very different voices, lives, languages, settings, etc. Each story is reminiscent of a genre, there's the story of Luisa Rey, the classic small journalist vs. the "man," an evil corporation, there's Somni-451, the dystopian future where corporations are government, there's Zachry and the Valley, a post-apocalyptic world where radiation has destroyed the earth and humans once again rely on survival instinct and their faith.

Each main character has a peculiar comet-shaped birthmark that links them to their past-life. Each briefly comes into contact with their past lives, a forgotten diary, letters, a story, a recording, etc. and feels an attraction and familiarity to it, but clear recognition (a Proustian moment, if you will) to their past is never made. And I think that is the beauty of it. Each story builds on another. The stories of these different characters aren't the exact same person, but there's something in them, the same soul or the buildup of molecules, that makes them make the choices they do. Is it the revelations they've had in their past life? Perhaps. But I think Mitchell relies heavily on human nature and eternal recurrence. That everything happens over and over, that as humans we're all driven by these unseen forces, and that we are made up from the same stuff, like clouds that are reformed over and over again from the same water, just in different shapes, sizes, and at different times.

But I digress. I've probably confused any readers who haven't read the book yet. Mitchell does all of this without being pretentious, which is always the danger of the modern novelist. Mitchell admits to us that he isn't sure what to make of the six-story structure (that it could be brilliant or terribly cliched) through one of his characters, Robert Frobisher, a composer, who writes The Cloud Atlas Sextet:

"... a "sextet for overlapping soloists": piano, clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished, and by then it'll be too late, but it's the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last thing I think of before I fall asleep..."

When I first read the book I felt a little let down, like somehow Mitchell failed to execute all the build up of these 6 stories. The organized person in me wanted everything to mesh perfectly, an "AHA" moment where everything made sense. It is left up to the reader to interpret the book as they understand it. Is it genius or a cop-out? Once again, left up to the reader. For me? It is refreshing. Mitchell hasn't tried to force anything down my throat, not really, and I'm free to talk about it on end and continually understand it differently, which I think is entirely the point.

Cloud Atlas is a marvelous, inventive, and imaginative read that will challenge, amuse, and definitely required reading to really understanding the Wachowski's Hollywood adaptation.


5 out of 5 stars

review by casie