Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Which Trai Does Things Other Than Read

Hello again, all! Well, I was told recently that maybe I should talk about myself a little more on here, and I think maybe it’s a good idea. I have a lot of fun opening people up to books and such I like by reviewing them here, and I thought maybe I could use my powers of persuasion to draw attention to little-known things I like or would like more people to see. Maybe this’ll become a feature; I don’t quite know! But if you guys like it, let me know and I’ll keep them coming!

Well, first there’s music.

Currently, I have two favorite bands I just love to listen to, both of them fairly little-known, and both of which I discovered through the music team of One Tree Hill. I think the songs are great and they’re constantly on my mp3 player and iTunes!

Wakey!Wakey!: These guys were used in the Season 6 finale of the show, which I didn’t realize until their lead singer, Michael Grubbs, showed up again this season and sang on the show. I was completely blown away and couldn’t wait to buy their album, which I did. It’s called Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said The Last Time I Saw You… and it’s wonderful. My personal favorite is the seriously uplifting song “Almost Everything”. I read a review that said the album feels like a soundtrack, and I think that’s a great comparison. There’s a range of emotions and all the songs have a different enough sound that the album never gets boring. Give the song a listen and if you like it, I would definitely recommend the album.

Everly: My second favorite band recently. The lead singer is Bethany Joy Galeotti, the girl in my icon (she plays Haley, the one whose nickname I stole, on the show). She’s a singer on the show, which makes a good vehicle for her Everly efforts. She works with her friend Amber to create music of a really wide range—from folk to rock to pop. The first song of theirs I ever heard is a gorgeous one they wrote for the troops in Iraq, called “Home Is Me – You Are Mine”. Their music is really great and I can’t wait for an album of theirs to come out.

Then there’s TV. The show I’m about to plug is what I’m watching now, actually!

Being Erica: It’s an absolutely fun show from Canada that is just finishing up its second season next week. I discovered the first season on Hulu when I was bored and wanted to give it a try. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with it as much as I have. The premise of the show is that Erica Strange is 32 and unsatisfied with the choices she has made in her life. A therapist, Dr. Tom, offers to help her go through her regrets—by sending her back to them via time travel and letting her change them. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but Erica always learns something. This show has so much heart and feeling to it. The Season 1 finale had me crying like a baby, and there’s always a few laughs an episode. Dr. Tom, played by Michael Riley, is a scene stealer, and Erin Karpluk, the lead, is absolutely appealing and engaging as Erica. I’m 19 and can’t always relate exactly to Erica’s situation, but there is always something that makes the show relatable to me. There’s so much wisdom in the writing and I really hope Canada gives us a Season 3. I encourage anyone who wants a fresh take on time travel or just a plain good show to check this one out on Hulu. I wish there were more shows like this one, honestly.

I hope you all enjoy this feature and maybe find something you like out of it. Should my eclectic taste in things lead me to more stuff, I’ll make sure to share it with you guys. In the meantime, enjoy!

- Trai

In Which Trai Congratulates Her Readers

Hey, everybody! I just received an email from Tiffany Kelly, the Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at Quirk Books, the publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and all those good things. Turns out two of my readers won prize packs from that contest I wrote about in my Dawn of the Dreadfuls review! Two of my readers, when close to 600 people entered! Wow! I promoted my review on Austenblog, The Republic of Pemberley, and the forums over at Giant in the Playground, so I have no idea where those readers who won came from, but if they're still visiting, I'd appreciate it if those people could let me know, haha!

So thanks and congrats to riseoverrun and tracylea, the winners. Also a big thanks to colecar, Marlyn, angstandennui (who called me wonderful; thank you! :D), and tinacuchina, who entered by mentioning my blog. I think most of the other blogs mentioned were pretty well established, so for a tiny blog, you guys represented me well! If you're still reading, let me know where you found me? I'd appreciate it :)

So currently I'm in the middle of tests and all that fun college-student stuff, but I'm in the middle of Kelley Armstrong's Personal Demon and a review should be up soon. Also, Tiffany from Quirk very generously offered to send me a little book called Stuff Every Woman Should Know, so I assume that'll be up in the next couple weeks, too! Yay for April!

I hope you guys have a good start to the month, and I'm grateful to have such wonderful readers. You guys rock!

- Trai

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Jane Austen Ruined My Life'

The Book: Jane Austen Ruined My Life

The Author: Beth Pattillo

How I Found It: I read the review on Austenblog ages ago, but my interest was renewed recently by seeing the sequel newly available in stores.

The Review: I remember when I first saw the title for this book, my first thought was, "Well, that doesn't sound very nice...?" It took seeing the review on Austenblog to make me realize that the book was in fact respectful of Austen. I balked on reading it after seeing some iffy comments in that review, but I gave in when the plot of the "sequel" made me curious. I'm glad I gave it my time.

Emma Grant, a professor, is going to London, to her cousin's house, because there is nothing left for her to do. She has recently been divorced, and the scandal surrounding that divorce has ruined her professional career, leaving her desperate to restore her good name.

As it happens, she has a good way to do that-- she has been contacted by an older woman who claims to have access to Jane Austen's lost letters. This woman is a member of the "Formidables", a secret society that has hidden the letters since shortly after Austen's death. Emma is stunned by the amount of letters that have been concealed from the public. Despite being sworn to secrecy, she believes that publishing the letters could restore her academic career. But before she can access the letters, she must complete a series of "tasks" to prove she is worthy.

Complicating the situation is who is currently staying with her at her cousin's house-- Adam, her old friend, with whom she had a falling-out when she told him she was marrying her ex-husband. Emma firmly believes that Jane Austen has ruined her life by teaching her to believe in a happy ending. Badly burned by her experience with her ex-husband, she tries to convince herself she doesn't need to fall in love again. So why is she falling for Adam? Especially when Adam, a scholar on Sir Walter Scott, could be a competitor to publish the letters...

The book was a little slow to start-- I was having iffy feelings about it after twenty pages. Maybe because it was I was on a long bus ride today, but I had a lot of time on my hands and it turned out to be a very quick read. It reminded me in the very best ways of one of my favorite books, Possession by A.S. Byatt. In that book, a scholar who studies a (fictional, in the book's universe) male poet finds evidence (letters, coincidentally, or more specifically drafts of them) that his poet may have been the lover of a female poet of the day. Though a scholar and great-niece of that poet convinces him that could not be, they go on a quest to find out about the past and what could have happened.

It was a pretty enjoyable read, mainly for the journey through Austen's England. Having been there and to London myself, I really enjoyed reading the book and recognizing all those places; the descriptions were vivid and I could really picture the places.

I couldn't quite sympathize with Emma. I have issues when these types of Austen-related novels have heroines who have such bad experiences with men before the novel and are thus completely blind to themselves. (I had this same issue with Laurie Viera Rigler's Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which I did not enjoy.) It can be nice if it's done well and the heroine comes to a slow realization (consider Lizzy's "'till this moment I never knew myself" in P&P), but I hate those lightning-fast realizations comparable to Edmund realizing he loves Fanny in the 2007 Mansfield Park adaptation...

I guess that was my small problem with the book-- the plot was good, if a little cliched, but the characterizations felt somewhat thin. The male characters weren't bad; Adam reminded me a little of Grigg in The Jane Austen Book Club, and I liked Barry, the Hemingway scholar Emma meets. Overall, though, I could overlook the slight problem I had with characterization, because I really liked the plot and it was paced so well. I'm really looking forward to reading Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart.

Recommended strongly to fans of Austen or fans of literary intrigue (can that be called a genre? :D).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Voices of Dragons'

The Book: Voices of Dragons

The Author: Carrie Vaughn

How I Found It: As I've said before, big fan of Carrie Vaughn's; I had this one on pre-order for months.

The Review: Kay Wyatt lives in our world. There are cell phones, the Internet, GPS systems. The one thing that differentiates her world from ours? In certain parts of the world, dragons are cloistered, sealed off from humans by the Border.

Kay is 17 and an avid rock climber. Looking for an adventure, she climbs very near to the border of Dragon, knowing full well what a risk she is taking. However, when she reaches the top of the rocks, she accidentally slips and is dragged into the river. She almost drowns before she is rescued by a curious dragon.

To Kay's surprise, the dragon can talk, and is eager to know her. Dragons and humans have been in a cold war since a treaty was formed after World War II, and neither side is comfortable with the other. Although Kay is breaking the law by being over the border, she agrees to meet the dragon again, since he wants to practice his English by talking to her.

Kay and the dragon become friendly. He picks himself the name Artegal, and Kay learns from him that dragons can read and write. They slowly begin flying lessons when Artegal reveals to Kay that humans and dragons used to peacefully coexist. The cold war begins to come to an end, however, when a plane goes down in Dragon and the dragons attack Kay's town, leaving Kay and Artegal grasping at straws for a way to prove coexistence is possible.

I was eager to see how Vaughn's writing would adapt for a YA audience. I was a young adult myself when I started reading the Kitty books, but those are mainly for an adult audience. I was really pleased at how different the tone of this book was from the Kitty books; it really showed Vaughn's range as a writer. Kay is not the snarky, savvy heroine that Kitty is-- she is a regular teenager who has merely become caught in something she can't control. I'm not much older than Kay, and I could identify with her very easily. Vaughn definitely had the teen mindset down. (There were times when I wondered if some things were overkill, such as her friend Tam's constant focus on sex, but I realized how clever it was as it came into play later on.)

The book is also fairly serious in tone, also unlike the Kitty books (for the most part). It is a story about a war, and that is very clear. I felt the portrayal of a country at wartime was very accurate. It's also a story about prejudices, and those, too, were well-defined and palpable. I do wish we could have seen more from the dragons' side, to have known their opinions on things, but since this was from Kay's perspective and thus the human point of view, I couldn't fault the book for that. I just wish we'd gotten more information on the dragons than we did.

I really liked how strong the characterizations were. Kay is strong, confident, and doesn't need guys to help her or any of that. (She does have her boyfriend, Jon, but more often than not, she's by herself, which was so nice to see.) Her friends Tam and Jon are sort of on the sidelines most of the time, but it was interesting to see elements of a teen novel mixing with straight fantasy like dragons. I was expecting a story set in the past (though I don't know why, since the cover wasn't exactly advertising that, with the tank top and all), so I was surprised to see it be a modern story. That was what I liked about it-- it showed how a war like this would be in modern times. Anyway, back to the characterizations: really nice to see a functional set of parents, for once. Kay's parents are competent and have important jobs, as her dad is the sheriff and her mom is part of border control. Artegal could have been used a little more, but I liked the bond between him and Kay the most.

I really enjoyed the story a whole lot. It's very plot driven-- there's more descriptions of events and such than dialogue-- but I like stories with plots. The story was also emotionally affecting; I laughed at a few points and cried at another. The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, and I asked Vaughn via Facebook whether or not a sequel is on the way. She said there is an idea but it hasn't been written. If it is, I'll be first in line to buy it.

Highly recommended to young teens looking for a good fantasy, and older readers like me who either know the Kitty books or just have an interest in dragon-themed novels.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Which Trai Indulges Her Inner 14-Year-Old

I've started noticing something over the last couple days-- almost any series I showed the slightest interest in as a young teen is being reprinted. Either someone was watching me or I just had a good sense of what sells. ;)

When I was about 12, I was big into high fantasy-- unicorns, dragons, all that stuff. I started gravitating away from that a little when I was about 13 or 14. When I was 13, I started writing the project that was basically my baby through high school-- a project influenced by Harry Potter and X-Men, my own universe of supernaturally gifted children. In order to get a sense of the conventions of the genre, I read tons of books about gifted teens.

I had favorites, and I had ones that were okay but still a decent read. I dearly loved the two series Melinda Metz wrote, Fingerprints and Roswell High (the latter of which became Roswell, a television series I watched after reading the books and loved). Most of the series I read were out of print, and I had such a difficult time finding them (my very, very obliging mother and stepdad did so much eBaying for me...). Gradually, as I became older and entered high school, I started getting into adult fantasy. The first author I read of this type was Kelley Armstrong, as I've mentioned in recent posts. I tried others as well, like Laurell K. Hamilton, and found my absolute favorite, Carrie Vaughn, when I was 14 (eesh). However, when I finally started reading the classics at 16, I started reading more Jane Austen (classics) and Jodi Picoult (fiction), which led me away from the fantasy books and into a serious classics/fiction phase.

Anyway. I think the reason I moved into adult fantasy was because it was so, so difficult to find YA books with the type of story I wanted. I think I said in my first anti-Twilight rant that my 14-year-old self would have loved it back then. (It actually was out when I was 14, but I never heard of it until at least 2007, and by then I'd read enough adult fantasy to realize it paled in comparison.) Right now, my inner 14-year-old is raging at the amount of options teenagers like me at that stage have today! The last couple times I've walked into the YA section, I was stunned by how much of it was paranormal. Cue that inner 14-year-old crying at the unfairness of all that eBaying when kids today can just buy the omnibuses for $10! (*wanders away grumbling about having to walk uphill both ways in the snow*)

I'm sure all of this comes down to Twilight-mania-- demand probably increased tenfold for vampire and werewolf books, and I know a lot of parents are wary about even letting their children read the last book in the quartet, so I'm sure those same parents wouldn't let their kids read the books I was reading at 14. (Nothing explicit, but Armstrong's books had fairly detailed sex scenes, and even Vaughn's first book had a slightly graphic scene at the beginning. Thank you, thank you, thank you to my incredibly lenient and understanding mother...)

I'm realizing now, though, that this will give me a great opportunity to rediscover all the series I didn't read when I was younger and that I probably would have wanted to. Some of these I even had interest in, back when they were out of print and very hard to find. Since I really didn't read much fantasy besides Vaughn's books for the last few years, I dearly want to get back to my past passion for fantasy. I'm starting to do that by catching up with Armstrong, and I think I'll use YA books as little breaks for when I want fast reads that won't be as detailed and/or complicated as adult fantasy can get.

- The Night World series is one I heard about for ages when it was out of print but popular among 90s teens. It's now been reprinted into three omnibuses of three books each, and the never-released tenth book is coming out this year. I bought the first omnibus today and I'll try and read it soon. LJ Smith was a popular author who was out of print by the time I started reading this stuff. I did read one trilogy of hers, Dark Visions, in 2004 or so. (I obtained the books through eBay; the picture accompanying this post is the cover of the recent omnibus edition.) I remember thinking the books were interesting, but I was so dissatisfied with the resolution of the romantic relationships that the end of the third book was a Wall Banger. It actually reminds me of Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series that I've been following, when I thought about it. Similar premises. Anyway, all of Smith's series are being reprinted into omnibuses, which probably has a lot to do with The Vampire Diaries being a hugely popular TV series (probably because of the readers of the nineties watching it in addition to the new fans from the Twilight craze.)

- Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' books have been reprinted into one book with the whole quartet of vampire novels she wrote as a young teen. I considered reading these back in the day, but never got around to it.

- Elizabeth Chandler's Dark Secrets series has been reprinted into two omnibuses. I read part of one of the books and it didn't interest me, but the omnibuses are getting great reviews on Amazon. Since I wasn't a fan of that one book, I don't think I'll try it, but I was surprised to see it being reprinted since it was an obscure series. (This one isn't paranormal, BTW; I'm just using it as an example.)

- The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis-Klause has been reprinted with an attractive cover more like a lot of the YA fantasy covers today. I was always interested in this book and Blood and Chocolate since I heard rave reviews, and someone recommended it to me when I wrote a vampire-themed poem that got published in my high school's literary magazine.

This is just an overview of some of the books I have plans to obtain in the coming months. I'm really curious to see how these books, most of them from the nineties, are compared to the more recent YA fantasy, like Armstrong's Darkest Powers series (the third book of which is coming out in a few weeks, and which I'll be reviewing as soon as my copy arrives!). Plus, my inner 14-year-old is begging me to read the books I never got the chance to buy back then. I'll let you all know what she thinks. :)

- Trai

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Men of the Otherworld'

The Book: Men of the Otherworld

The Author: Kelley Armstrong

How I Found It: I knew it was out, but didn't want to buy it in hardcover (I was also still in my lapsed Otherworld fan stage at that point). When I saw the paperback at a good price over the weekend, I figured I'd go for it.

The Review: Okay, so this weekend was mainly reacquainting myself with Kelley Armstrong. The good thing about this book was, even though the stories in it had been on Armstong's website when I initially became a fan of hers, I had never read them. The only e-novella of hers I read was "Beginnings", which is going to be printed in the next Otherworld anthology (out in a few weeks).

The stories inside it are "Infusion" (one of her 2005 online short stories, some of which I read in 2005); her first e-novella, Savage, which concerns Clay being bitten as a child and becoming a werewolf, with Jeremy taking him in; Ascension, her second e-novella, which concerns Jeremy's rise to Alpha; and a new story called "Kitsunegari" (Japanese for "fox hunt"; thank you, The X-Files), which concerns the mystery of Jeremy's parentage on his mother's side. With the exception of "Kitsunegari", all of the stories are prequels.

Since the book is four separate sections, I'll review each of the stories separately, with a brief overview of Armstrong's universe (which'll probably spoil some things if you're not acquainted with the series and wish to be; you've been warned).

The four stories all concern Jeremy Danvers, one of the series' central characters. Ten books in the series out now and four have focused on the werewolves, who are pretty much the grounding force of the series, even if they're not always the focus. (The four werewolf books are Bitten, Stolen, Broken, and Frostbitten.) Jeremy is the current Alpha of the American Pack, although this allegedly changes in Frostbitten, which I haven't yet read (so I don't know who becomes his successor, though I think it's kind of obvious). Jeremy has always been somewhat of a mystery, because even though he is a werewolf, he had unexplained psychic abilities. Armstrong finally answers those questions in this anthology.

"Infusion": This story concerns Jeremy's conception and birth, and is told from his father Malcolm's point of view. Malcolm is one of the only werewolves in the Pack to have not fathered a child-- particularly, a son-- by now. (In Armstrong's 'verse, only males carry the werewolf gene; females only become werewolves if they are bitten and survive. The only female werewolf is Elena, narrator of the four werewolf books, and possibly her infant daughter Katherine, since Clay and Elena were two werewolves who mated.) Malcolm begins a relationship with a Japanese girl just after World War II, and discovers a few months after that she is pregnant. Now, he has to wait to see if he has a son.

This one was short and a decent story-- because it was a short story initially on her website, I hadn't been expecting anything lengthy or profound. It serves its purpose, to tell us how Jeremy came about, and it gives us an early introduction to Malcolm as an unlikeable character, which will be a big thing later on. It was good, but not as good as the other short stories Armstrong put out that year. It was intriguing, though, and raised the question of what Jeremy is on his mother's side. It raised my interest, so it was pretty good.

Savage: Clayton Danvers is six years old and an abused child. Knowing he saw a werewolf by his family's campground, he asks for a bite as a way to escape his awful life. However, he gets more than he bargained for, as being a child werewolf is a difficult existence. After being on his own for some time, Jeremy finds him and domesticates him. The novella chronicles Jeremy's attempts to have Clayton be part of the Pack and Clayton's early childhood as a werewolf.

I'll admit that I was never really a big fan of Jeremy, or of the werewolf novels in the series in general. Nothing against them; I just didn't find them as engaging as the witch novels. My opinion changed so radically after reading these, and that's a good thing. I fell in complete love with Jeremy. Before this, I don't think we ever got a clearer picture of the way Jeremy loves and protects Clay. It was really heartwarming how well he took care of Clay and how fiercely Clay came to love him.

That was the strength of the novella, I think-- seeing how the gradual bond formed between Clay and Jeremy. I have a much better understanding of them now, and I liked that so much. Clay was a good narrator; having not read "Beginnings" since 2005 or so, I'd forgotten his narrative voice. A lot of his lines made me laugh, and I liked how well Armstrong captured his reactions to things we take for granted (since Clay, having been a feral child for years, has to be re-educated about human life). For me, Savage was definitely the best of the four.

Ascension: This one concerns Jeremy's rise to Alpha and how Clay protects him against the growing threats of the other Pack werewolves and "mutts" (non-Pack-affiliated werewolves).

For me, this one felt rushed, and I don't think it was Armstrong's best work. She skims over periods of Clay's life in order to get back to the action. Things like Clay's college years and Nick's first Change are turned into tidy little paragraphs. I would've liked to see how Clay adjusted to socializing in college, since he was so bad at it in high school. I think this one just suffered because of the amount of times Armstrong had to skip over something.

I've never been a fan of Pack politics, though, so it was a little bit boring at times. The suspense is also gone, since we know Jeremy is indeed the Alpha. But it was nice seeing characters like Peter that become red-shirts in Bitten, so I enjoyed that part of it.

"Kitsunegari": This one deals with Jeremy finally learning about his heritage.

This one made me really like Jaime and Jeremy as a couple, and even though I saw plenty of them in No Humans Involved, that one mostly concerned the development of their relationship. I liked seeing who they were now. They were fun and flirty, and I liked that Jeremy helped Jaime deal with her insecurities about men in general. Jaime provided a lot of the humor, and I really liked that.

The exposition on the Kitsune themselves felt rushed, and I don't know when they'll play into the story again. It felt like a giant info dump in the last few pages of the story. I hope they do come into play again and aren't only in this story.

Overall, the book itself was very even and paced well. I really, really liked reading it and seeing things I hadn't before, which greatly improved my opinion of characters like Clay and Jeremy. The stories were compelling and kept me turning the pages; Armstrong works as well with short fiction as she does with novel-lengths. I'm so excited for the next anthology. Recommended for fans of the Otherworld series and perhaps a beginning reader of it who might want a good place to start.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Angelic'

The Book: Angelic

The Author: Kelley Armstrong

How I Found It: I'm a huge fan of Armstrong's and have been since I was fourteen. I reviewed the second of her YA books towards the beginning of this blog.

The Review: This was a different thing for me-- an audiobook. I meant to buy the actual book when it was out, but it was a limited edition and I didn't snap one up fast enough, so I got the audiobook off of Audible and listened to it today. It was short-- just over 90 minutes-- since this was a novella.

Since the first book of Armstrong's I read was Haunted, narrated by Eve, Eve was always my favorite narrator. I always wanted to see another book from her point of view, but it never became a reality (though the book coming this summer will be from the point of view of her daughter Savannah). I was really glad to see Armstrong wrote this, but I was a little disappointed to not see more of Trsiel, Eve's angel partner.

This might be a little spoilerish for anyone that hasn't read the series, but Eve's book was around in 2005, so I doubt I'm spoiling anything for anyone who has. (I'm also a few books behind; the last Otherworld book I read was No Humans Involved.)

To put things very simply, Eve Levine has been dead for some time now, having died prior to the second book in the series, Stolen. She is a very powerful witch who also has half-demon blood, and she is a highly powerful and respected master of dark magic. More than anything, Eve cares about the daughter she left behind (Savannah), whose father (Kristof) she reconnected with in the afterlife. (Kristof was accidentally killed by Savannah in Dime Store Magic, I believe.) At the end of Haunted, Eve was offered a job by the Fates: hunting down spirits and other nuisances and sending them to Hell. She became an angel and was partnered with another angel, Trsiel, and the deal is that she spends six months of a year doing work for the Fates, and gets six months off with Kristof as a ghost.

Angelic lets us follow Eve on a very simple example of the jobs Eve does. Since it was a novella, things weren't nearly as complex as they could have been, and I did find myself wishing it was a full book. There were some appearances by other characters in the series, albeit briefly (Jaime, Jeremy, and Kristof are the major ones).

When the book starts, Eve is attempting to prepare for a vacation with Kristof. The Fates have already postponed her six months of freedom by a week, and Eve is getting annoyed. The Fates call her back to ask her to deal with a problem: djinn who are torturing the people who summon them. Eve has a difficult time saying no to cases involving witches who are being hurt, and thus agrees to the job. Even though she says yes, Eve is annoyed with the Fates' poor (in her view) treatment of her and decides she wants to quit her job.

The book follows Eve as she finds who is behind all the attacks, attempts to stop them, and realizes the orchestrator might not necessarily be who she thinks it is. Through it all, she debates whether or not to leave her job, and finally has to enlist the help of Jaime and Jeremy.

As I said before, it would've been so nice if this could have been a full book. As it was, it was nice, but so much could have been done with it. I really missed hearing the story of Eve and Kristof from her point of view-- seeing them in No Humans Involved was nice, but Eve was a good narrator and she was always my favorite. So hearing from her again was good, but I just wanted more. I wanted to see more struggling on Eve's part to get the case solved. I wanted to see more of her with Kristof. I wanted Trsiel to show up and kick ass and take names.

As it was, I liked it. Eve was fun and a couple lines made me laugh. It was nice seeing a little Greek mythology worked in. My one problem was that it's been so long since I read the early Otherworld books that I was a tiny bit fuzzy on little plot details from them that show up briefly. But I liked the insights we got into Eve, and the reveal that Kristof's son knew about Eve was interesting. I wonder if that will play into Savannah's upcoming book.

Though the book could have been longer if Armstrong had had the time and inclination, I didn't fault it for being what it was. It was nice of her to do it for the fans in the first place. It was well-paced and I was never bored, though I do wish it was widely available in book form. The audiobook was well-done, though the narrator's voice felt a little too girly for Eve. The voices were distinctive enough, but we didn't really see enough of each character to require it, so it wasn't a big deal if they were or not.

Overall, I think the only people this book will appeal to are Armstrong's fans-- though you don't have to know her world, I can't really see anyone else picking this one up. For what it is, I think it was very good. I'm hoping Eve will figure more in the next few Otherworld books, but until then, I'm glad Armstrong gave us this.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'A Single Man'

The Book: A Single Man

The Author: Christopher Isherwood

How I Found It: I saw the movie after learning it was based on a book by Christopher Isherwood, who really interests me. I tried reading his Berlin stories when I became really interested in Cabaret, as they are the basis, but got bogged down by the politics. I will have to return to them.

The Review: It is the early sixties, in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. George, fifty-eight years old, is adrift after the recent loss of his younger lover Jim in a car crash. His goal is to make it through the day.

It is this day we follow George through-- his morning rituals, the class he teaches at a local university, his visit to a former (female) lover of Jim's, his visits with friends, and his connection with a young student who befriends him. It is the mundane things we observe that give us a look at George's psychology and the psychology of humanity as a whole.

To start with, there are differences between the book and the movie, but both are equally important to me. The movie is getting a tiny bit fuzzy in my head given that I saw it shortly after Christmas, but important things have stuck in my mind and I'll enumerate them below.

I do have an interest in the history of the movement for gay rights and just the history of gays in America in general. Their plight appeals to me and is important to me, merely because I feel they should not be discriminated against for something out of their control. I say all this to make clear why I was so deeply touched by the movie and the book.

The thing I loved about Isherwood's writing was how minutely his observations were recorded. The descriptions of George getting out of bed, George driving, were of the sort that made me say to myself, Yes, I do that, too.. I'm a nineteen year old girl, I'm living a good forty years after Isherwood, and I'm about as far removed from George's situation as can be, and yet there was a universal quality to the story that is really striking. Someone on Amazon had a good observation-- you can take the "single" in the title two ways. George is single after the death of his lover, but he is also a single man out of a larger society. It is partly this that makes his story universal.

He is grieving a loved one. I have experienced that and surely, so have most people, unless they are incredibly and unusually lucky. He feels alone in the world and wants some kind of connection with others. He is isolated. He is starved for love. These are things any of us can relate to.

I appreciated the book for how well it delved into George's head, for how it gave me a glimpse of the person George and, by extension, Isherwood truly were. I realized some time ago that Isherwood always put some part of himself in his novels; Don Bachardy, his longtime lover, has said it himself. I'm really interested now to read his others and see just what part of Isherwood's personality this one fit. Either way, I really related to the range of emotions George was experiencing and I could connect to him and want to cry for him sometimes.

Emotionally, though, the film really, really made me feel some fraction of what it must been like for George. I have to applaud Colin Firth with all of my heart for his performance-- if Jeff Bridges hadn't been the lock, I was rooting hard for Firth to win the Oscar. Tom Ford gave me something I hadn't realized I wanted to see in the movie-- a taste of the attitudes of the sixties towards gay men like George.

There are two truly heartbreaking instances in the film that resonated with me for a long, long time after I saw it. The first is when George is given the news that Jim has died by a relative of Jim's during a phone call. George asks if there is a service he could attend and the relative curtly responds that the service is for family only. The second instance was when Charley, a female friend and one-time lover of George's, asks George if Jim was ever a "substitute" for the love they could have had together. George breaks and yells at her that he was with Jim for sixteen years and that Jim was never a substitute for anything.

Seeing, really seeing the attitudes of these people on screen just broke my heart. The fact that George was not considered family when he loved Jim so deeply just killed me. Similarly, the fact that Charley couldn't understand what Jim meant to George made me angry. It was implying that Jim was somehow less than, that a person cannot truly love someone of their own gender because it is not fulfilling. While I felt Isherwood gave brilliant insights into George's mind, I believe Tom Ford gave equally brilliant insights into the minds of the society of the time. I came out of the film emotionally drained, but in a good way. I think the movie changed some small part of me by showing me what it did, and I'm grateful for that.

Overall, I really felt the book and the story itself were just beautiful. I appreciate Christopher Isherwood's efforts to show the world that gender does not matter in love-- it simply is. George grieves the loss of his love in the same way a person of any other orientation would. It is moving, it is beautiful, and it is deeply personal. For anyone with any interest in the topic, I really highly recommend the documentary Chris and Don, about Christopher Isherwood and his lover, Don. I saw it in 2008 and Don's story of their life together really moved me and my mom, who saw it with me. It's another story of a man grieving his lost love, but Don offered some really keen insights into his life with Chris and I remember being really touched at seeing how much he loved him. The same with this book-- it really showed me the universality of love.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Which Trai Realizes The Alcott Sanctum Has Been Violated

Greetings, all. I haven't done a book-related rant since the first day or so I started this blog and I feel this is in order now. Bear with me.

They're starting to touch Louisa.

By they, I mean the monster mashers. I introduced The Monster Mash in my last post, the review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls. But I don't just mean the monster mashers-- I mean the other trend that is starting to invade fiction, the taking of author's lives and making them into romantic historical fiction.

I recently learned about two books-- Little Vampire Women (yes, SERIOUSLY) and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. The first invoked mild dismay and a tiny bit of a laugh, and the second just made me wonder if Alcott is going to become the new Austen in terms of fictionalizations.

Little Vampire Women at first horrified me-- Little Women is one of my absolute favorite books. I still have the desire to one day be a tour guide at Orchard House. I still seriously consider moving to Concord because I just love it there. I wrote my college essay on my visit to Orchard House and how much Jo inspired me. I know every word to the Little Women musical and I've seen it on stage twice. So how in the name of Alcott can they add vampires to the story? (As I write this, I looked up the book on Amazon and guess what? Little Women and Werewolves is coming out on the same day. I feel a pre-order coming on...)

It brings to mind an episode of Friends-- Rachel's favorite book is Little Women and Joey's is The Shining. They decide to read each other's favorites and Joey asks Rachel, "So these little women. Are they like scary little?" I'm wondering if the motivation for these two adaptations is making boys read the book, as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has done for Pride and Prejudice.

At first, I had that horror-filled reaction. But then I realized, Louisa probably wouldn't be as dismayed as we imagine Jane to be. Louisa wrote potboilers to bring money to the household, and it appears she really enjoyed it. One wonders if she really enjoyed writing the moral tales she is most known for-- so one also wonders if she would get a chuckle out of her work being usurped by vampires and werewolves. I guess as long as they don't sparkle, I'm fine with it. [/obligatory put-down of Twilight]

The Lost Summer book, however, I'm still trying to wrap my head around. It's recently become all the rage with Austen-- trying to surmise who could've been the "real-life Mr. Darcy." With Alcott, I'm sure people want to know the "real-life Laurie." I've been to Orchard House and I got my answer on that one by asking a tour guide-- Alcott took traits of two close male friends and combined them to make Laurie. Bam. That's it. But of course, since Alcott died unmarried, everyone wants to give her some romance in her life. It can't be that she thought up Laurie and Professor Bhaer on her own, just like Austen made up all her heroes-- no. It's always got to be that the female author just HAD to have a man in her life.

I'll admit, after I visited Orchard House, I had a grand vision of one day writing a historical fiction book about Louisa. I really connected with Jo and, by extension, with Louisa (hence the college essay). I'm sure I entertained the idea of giving Alcott a Laurie of her own, but I'm just annoyed by the idea of most historical fiction writers that there just had to be a man in the lives of authors who were brilliant without them.

I don't want to complain about things I haven't read. So yes, I'm going to pre-order the Little Women monster mashups. Later this week, I'll order The Lost Summer and offer my verdict as soon as I get a chance to read it. But until then, I'm going to be the Sole Defender of Alcott, and darned proud of it.

- Trai

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls'

Hello, everyone! This is a really special review for me, and it's part of a big Dawn of the Dreadfuls promotion by Quirk Classics (the publisher)! Other bloggers like me are also posting their reviews today, in advance of the book's March 24th release date. As part of the promotion, there's something in it for you!

A special contest is going on for the readers of the bloggers participating, and the prize is a huge amount of swag. To enter, go to this message board and mention that my blog (Tutor Girl Reads) directed you here. That's it! Now, onto the review!

The Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls

The Author: Steve Hockensmith

How I Found It: I read the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last summer and had a fun time with it. I was excited about this promotion to see if the prequel would be as much fun!

The Review: The Bennets as well as most of Meryton are attending the burial of a local man who has recently died in an accident. Except it turns out he's not really dead... because he's sitting up in his grave. This sight dismays Oscar Bennet, who immediately knows this is a sign of bad things ahead-- he's seen and slayed zombies before.

Though Oscar tries to get them to take charge, both Mary and Elizabeth cannot slay the creature, and Mr. Bennet does it himself. The incident makes him realize two things: Meryton and the whole of England are no longer safe, and that he must train his daughters in the warrior code he was always supposed to.

This book takes place four years before the events of the original PPZ. Lydia is only 12 or so (as opposed to 16 in the original P&P and PPZ), Jane is the only one who is "out" in society in the family, and Lizzy's coming out is not all that far away. That is, if the warrior training will allow the girls to even have time to be ladies.

Mr. Bennet, despite the objections of Mrs. Bennet, sends for a master to teach his girls the deadly arts. This master is Master Hawksworth, a young man who takes no pity on the Bennets and immediately begins their education. The girls are not, to say the least, up to his expectations-- Jane is too shy to be much of a fighter; Lydia and Kitty are more concerned with how attractive he is; Mary might be trying too hard to please... but Elizabeth is the one who is the most skilled. When Hawksworth tells them to unleash their battle cries, their inner tiger, the four girls muster weak cries. Elizabeth gives a piercing battle scream, prompting Lydia to remark, "She's got a tiger, and it's rabid."

The book mainly concerns the girls' training in fighting and their first encounters with and slayings of the "dreadfuls." Also coming into play is Lord Lumpley, a promiscuous nobleman who has an interest in Jane. Learning where he lives was quite a pleasant surprise! Another important character comes in the form of Dr. Keckilpenny, one of those absent-minded doctor types who believes he might be able to cure the plague, and who vies with Master Hawksworth for Elizabeth's affections.

To start with, yes, I did have fun with this book. Hockensmith did rely somewhat on stock characters-- the clueless doctor, the foreign master, the nobleman more interested in sex than the people, the men who have survived "the Troubles", etc. I did really like some of the characters, though-- for some reason, Capt. Cannon and his "Limbs" really entertained me (if one can call giggling at the antics of a man in a rudimentary wheelchair being entertained). Lt. Tindall was also an interesting if little-seen character, though it was odd to see the sisters being courted by men other than Darcy and Bingley. The prequel mainly sought to explain how the girls had been trained and how they had come to be the way they are-- for example, why Lizzy is the coldest killing machine in PPZ.

I enjoyed the book but had minor quibbles. The speech did not always sound as it should have in Regency England-- it actually sounded a bit too modern and American at points. The narration was a little better, as it was more formal in tone, but the dialogue could have used some tweaking to make it sound more, well, like Austen. There were also a few typos that could have been caught by an editor or proofreader. (I want to be an editor in the future so it always annoys me a tiny bit when I see things like that.)

There was a huge, glaring Regency etiquette mistake that somehow made it past a proofreader-- both Capt. Cannon and Lt. Tindall call Elizabeth "Miss Bennet". *takes huge breath* Regency England does not work that way! Only the oldest girl in a family (Jane, in this case) would be called "Miss Bennet"; all other daughters would be called by their Christian name and surname ("Miss Elizabeth Bennet"). That it was said twice in two pages by characters who really would have known that bugged me. It is a huge deal, especially to Austen, and especially in male-to-female relationships. (Heck, even in female-to-female: in Northanger Abbey, it's a pretty big deal that Catherine and Isabella almost immediately start calling each other by their first names, which is not done back then, and their friendship is unwise and inappropiate. Miss Tilney, on the other hand, and Catherine have the proper amount of respect for each other, indicated by them calling each other by "Miss *surname*" and their relationship is proper and appropriate.) [/Janeite rant]

Most of this is nitpicking, however. Though the dialogue wasn't always period-authentic and the plot, motivations, and eventual fates for each character were fairly predictable, it was fun seeing the common zombie-movie tropes in a Regency setting. It reminded me in a good way of my favorite zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead. (If you are living under a rock and haven't seen it, rent it now.) There's the doctor trying to cure the disease, using makeup and faking the appearance of a zombie to go unnoticed, a mass onslaught of zombies, the realization the problem may be more severe than initially thought, etc. Recognizing the tropes in an unusual setting was fun and I enjoyed thinking about the scenes in relation to recent movies like Shaun and Zombieland.

I also enjoyed that Hockensmith utilized the perspectives of a few different third-person narrators. We even get a peek inside Mary's thoughts, which was a welcome change (excluding the book of which Janeites do not speak). I wish a teensy bit more had been made of the relationship between Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth, and between Elizabeth and Jane, but there is enough of that in both the original P&P and the zombiefied one that I can let it pass. It was nice to hear from characters we did not normally hear from, like Mr. Bennet and Mary.

Most of my fellow Janeites don't share my enjoyment of the monster mashups, but they're pretty much the funniest things I'll read in a calendar year, given that I read so much plain fiction and such, and at a time like this when academic things are stressing me out, some laughs and zombie mayhem were just what I needed. Recommended to fans of the horror genre or of the original PPZ; it's great, gory fun!