Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: A NIGHT LIKE THIS by Julia Quinn

a night like this cover

Abandon disbelief, all ye who enter here.

Anne Wynter-with-a-Y is a governess to some Smythe-Smiths, and is roped into playing the piano at one of their infamous musicales. Daniel Smythe-Smith, the Earl of Winstead, recently returned from abroad, sees her from across the room and decides he HAS to have her. So he chases her down after the musicale, sticks his tongue down her throat, and voilá! Anne and Daniel are in love. But since they're both on the run from nefarious no-good-doers, will these two crazy kids ever get together?

Before I start this review, I should probably mention that I have a habit of being indifferent about the Julia Quinn novels everyone else seems to love, and really liking the Quinn novels other people hate. Notice I said indifferent and like, not love and hate--her fluffy romance has always been a little too fluffy for my tastes; but she does write charming historical romance really well. Or she used to--I hadn't read any of her novels since Mr. Cavendish, I Presume; but a few of my favorite bloggers assured me that A Night Like This was enjoyable, so I was interested in checking it out.

I didn't hate A Night Like This, but I had some problems with it. First and foremost, there was no chemistry between Daniel and Anne at all. The only things they seemed to see in each other were 1. physical attraction--Daniel likes Anne because she's pretty; and 2. on Anne's part, Daniel's an earl and rich. Actually I have no idea what Anne felt about Daniel because Quinn never bothers to explain or demonstrate Anne's feelings on the subject until page 306 when she declares she loves him. He sexually accosts her in a hallway before they're even introduced and her reaction is, "Eh." And this woman's life was supposed to have been destroyed by a man who took advantage of her? Seems like an unrealistically mild response on Anna's part. Daniel then proceeds to be a total creeper and forces her to live under his roof, which should at the very least annoy her. Or maybe she could be like, "Hooray, I can finally get my claws into that rich bloke and quit teaching these brats!" But no. No reaction at all. Like, hellooooooo? *knock knock* Anyone in there? She could seriously be a talking sex doll and evince as much personality.

I also had a problem with the Smythe-Smiths. They were gimmicky joke that was starting to get old in the Bridgerton series (the family with two last names that's tone deaf but insists on holding yearly musicales, laff laff), and now they have a whole series all to themselves? Scraping the bottom of the barrel, are we? I wouldn't mind so much if they had ANYTHING else going on other than the fact that they're terrible at music, but they don't. Seriously, that is THE ONLY THING going on with this family, and there are four incredibly long conversations in this novel about how the whole family is bad at musical instruments. We get it already!

I did enjoy parts of A Night Like This--the parts that had nothing to do with the romance. I especially liked the chapter where Anne's charges put on a very imaginative play titled "The Strange, Sad Tragedy of Lord Finstead," and made Daniel play the lead role. That play sounded really fun and interesting, and I wish A Night Like This had half of that imagination. Alas, it really felt phoned in, and the parts that were fun to read weren't enough to make up for the complete suspension of disbelief required to swallow the plot, or the lack of romantic tension.

Thank you to TLC Booktours and the publishers for sending me this book to review!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: BEHEMOTH and GOLIATH by Scott Westerfeld

behemoth cover

Despite my problems with Leviathan (review here), I still felt compelled to go to my library and immediately pick up Behemoth and Goliath. What can I say, I really wanted to know how Alek and Deryn's relationship was going to shake out. So basically I read this entire series in under a month, which for me is quite a glomfest.

If you don't know what the Leviathan series is about, it takes place in an alternate WWI, where the Axis powers' technology is machine-based and the Allies use genetically modified animals for their technology. In Behemoth, Alek, a runaway Austrian prince, and Deryn, a girl serving in the British Air Service, are on board the Darwinist airship Leviathan and headed for Constantinople. Alek needs to escape both the Darwinists and the Germans, but Istanbul is under German control, and both he and the Leviathan are in danger. How will they escape? And will Deryn EVER tell Alek she's a girl?

Shortly after starting Behemoth, I had a revelation: this series is kind of like a steampunk version of Battlestar Galactica! Alek is Apollo, Deryn is Starbuck, Count Volger is Adama, and Dr. Barlow is... Six? Okay, maybe it's not really that much like BSG, but in both cases the only thing I care about is the romance between the two main characters. And as long as Deryn and Alek were together, Behemoth was much more interesting than Leviathan. I loved the interactions between Alek and Deryn, and the scene where Alek confesses he loves the Leviathan may be one of my favorite YA scenes ever.

Another thing that made Behemoth more interesting to me than Leviathan was that there were more women in it! Yay Team Vagina! There were two new female characters: a young woman named Lilit, and her grandmother, Nene. Nene is in charge of a group of Istanbul revolutionaries, and Lilit pilots a walker, fights in her family's revolutionary army, and publishes pamphlets about women's rights. There was definitely some subversion of gender stereotypes in this book--at least as far as the stereotypes the characters have, including Alek, who can't believe a girl would be capable of fighting or piloting a walker.

Even beyond that, though, women are just more visible in the street scenes and society of Istanbul than they were in Germany or England. I feel like the setting itself is more feminized than that of Western Europe and that's at least part of the reason. Both Germany and Britain are attempting to court Istanbul, whose Sultan behaves with remarkable passivity. Even the Istanbul technology, a mix of Darwinist aesthetics and Clanker mechanics, seems like a compromising, gentle version of the two extremes.

Although there were scenes that went on a little too long, and the story definitely lagged in the middle while Deryn and Alek were separated, for the most part I think Behemoth is the best book in the entire series. There's tons of action, and the world building Scott Westerfeld set up in Leviathan starts to really pay off.

goliath cover

In Goliath, Alek and Deryn are headed to Japan on board the Leviathan when a message from the kaiser of Russia (the book's terminology, not mine) reaches them asking for help in a rescue mission. The man they pick up, Nikola Tesla, claims his weapon of mass destruction, the Goliath, will stop WWI. Shades of the atomic bomb! Naturally the British want their hands on this weapon, and soon the Leviathan is sailing over America on its way to London, where the only action the characters are in danger of facing is that which is shouted by a director from behind the lens of a motion picture camera.

Honestly, I was a little disappointed in Goliath. This book is different from the previous two in that the Leviathan is largely removed from the European theater and instead spends at least half the novel in America. Tesla wants to use Alek's notoriety as the lost Hapsburg prince to generate publicity and investors for the Goliath, and as a result the only challenges Alek seems to face have to do with newspaper reporters and cameras.

The fact that I just used the words publicity and investors in the same sentence should tell you all you need to know about this book.

As for Deryn, she wasn't given a lot to do in Goliath. She loses a lot of her swagger and literally spends a good portion of the book in her room, whining over how everyone is going to find out she's Team Vagina. I also felt like her autonomy was undermined in this novel--subtly, but it's still there, especially in the use of cameras. The camera has often been connected to the "male gaze," and when Alek first encounters them he's very uncomfortable about being exposed. Yet soon he's watching--along with a bunch of other men--a woman on the screen in Perils of Pauline, and when Deryn is captured on film it presages the fact that she's about to be exposed as a female.

As far as the threat of Tesla's superweapon was concerned, I thought was a little lame. I was never entirely sure how the Goliath worked, what it was supposed to do, or why I should care. It was quite snooze-worthy, and I couldn't help but wish the Leviathan had headed west instead of east.

I do still love the world of this series as a whole, and a part of me even wishes there were more books about the Leviathan to read, but I think the highpoint of the series was definitely Behemoth.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

TSS--Where to Find Edgy Books

the avant-garde

A few weeks ago I was on twitter and over-"heard" a conversation about who is to blame for the homogeneity in current romance fiction: authors, readers, or publishing companies. To sum up part of the argument, authors can now self-publish, and potentially make more money doing so than they would with publishing companies; so if authors WANTED to write different types of stories, one would expect to see them self-published as eBooks, no? Yet the majority of self-published books follow the current trend in traditional publishing; ipso facto, homogeneity cannot be entirely (or even mostly) the publisher's fault. Either people aren't buying other types of romances, or authors aren't writing them.

To me this conversation reflects the age-old push and pull between the market and artistic expression. On the one hand, you want to make money. On the other hand, you have a vision for what you want to do with your work. Is it really reasonable to expect self-published authors to answer holes in the publishing market? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I'm not super-familiar with self-published works out there, but I do know there's a lot of them. Any person browsing for cheap eBooks on Amazon sees maybe 1% of what's been self-published, and most of what appears in the top 100 is by authors who are already established by traditional publishing. So judging how authors are pushing the boundaries of the genre through that lens may not be entirely fair. There are undoubtedly TONS of books that would never traditionally be published on Smashwords, Amazon, and B&N right now; but they're are hard to find because the authors don't show up at the top of the buy lists.
  • Any writer worth their salt writes for an audience, but what is the audience for self-published work looking for? This is largely unclear, especially to writers just starting out. Publishing houses have marketing departments that not only find out what's selling, but tell people what to buy. An author by themselves has twitter, facebook, and their words. This reminds me of a post I wrote earlier this year about how publishing resembles the beginnings of modern art (post here). In that post, I mentioned the Salon des Refusés and how the artists who participated and become scions of modern art actually wanted to be part of the establishment. It took a generation after that Salon for artists to begin to identify and paint for an audience looking for independent alternatives to the Academy. I do think this idea of self-publishing being the place for pushing boundaries of a genre or experimenting comes from modern art. But if we look to self-publishing for the creative energy to drive literature, will traditional publishing become dinosaurs in the same way the Academies did?
  • One of the things my students often come into class thinking, and which I try to disabuse them of, is that art is about self-expression. That may be true in our current society, but in fact most artists in history created art for other people. The Pope didn't tell Michelangelo he wanted him to express himself, he said, "Paint me a ceiling about the Bible, bitch." (Maybe not in those exact words, of course...) Michelangelo still managed to express himself in spite of what the market--which in this case was the Church--demanded. Innovation and self-expression usually happens in spite of the market, not because of it.

I don't really have a point here, but based on what I know of history, I think publishers DO deserve the majority of the blame for what's in the traditional market. Writers will write for the market, and if a publisher says they want to publish X, they will get submissions for it. Also, there is a market for everything--the internet and self-publishing proves that. It just may not be a large enough market for the Big 6 to put time and energy into it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: A SPY IN THE HOUSE by YS Lee (The Agency No. 1)

the agency cover

Mary Quinn is a young woman with an uncertain future. An orphan, she grew up in Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls; but now at the end of her education, she's not sure what she should do. When she turns to the Academy's headmistresses for career advice, they reveal that the Academy is actually a somewhat creepy training ground from which they cull new recruits for their secret organization of all-female investigators! Mary jumps right in and is soon posing as the paid companion of a completely dreadful brat in the home of a merchant, trying to find hidden Indian* treasure.

I really enjoyed the first part of A Spy In the House, which Anachronist from Books as Portable Pieces of Thought was kind of enough to send me. The Academy had a fun Men In Black feel to it--except they're women--and I'm a sucker for plots revolving around stolen pieces of art. But once Mary goes to the Thorolds' house, things started to unravel.

First of all, the person who's the big baddie--if you can call them that--is obvious from the beginning. All of Mary's investigations are simply an excuse for her to be rescued by James, the love interest who is a completely unappealing and unpleasant jerk, as is every other single character in this book. What makes it even worse is that Mary excuses all their behavior toward her.

The point at which A Spy In the House lost me, however, was the "plot twist" in the middle where it's revealed Mary is not entirely Irish. Race should never be used as a plot twist. That is my personal opinion. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the fact that Mary is not white, or that it was necessarily revealed in the middle of the book. More that it was played with a tone of, "Surpriiiiise, the main character isn't white! Doesn't that change your assumptions about her?" Um, not really, and I don't quite understand why it would, from a contemporary OR historic perspective. Didn't 19th century English people consider the Irish not-white and the lowest of the low anyway?

The rest of book was okay. There was a lot of infodumping, unbelievable coincidences, and awkward scenes, but what really got to me was that I disliked every single one of these characters, especially James. What an arse. I'd like to read more about The Agency, which I think is a great concept, but I'm not sure I want to spend more time with Mary Quinn. I take it the other books still focus on her character?

*The sub-continent, not the American Indians.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: SO WHAT ARE GOING TO DO WITH THAT? by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius

what are you going to do with that cover

A PhD is traditionally seen as training for a life of teaching or doing research in academia. But there are thousands of people who get PhDs every year, and only a relatively small number of tenured positions. Where do all those PhDs go? There are tons of reasons why someone with an advanced degree might want a career outside of academia--money, geography, temperament, or maybe they just need a change. Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius propose to help these lost PhDs find homes outside the Ivory Tower.

I've been trying to find a career outside of academia for about a year now, so when I chanced upon So What Are You Going To Do with That? at the library while searching for something completely unrelated (I think it was the Mad Men cocktail book), you can imagine that I gots all excited. After reading it and trying some of the things Basalla and Debelius suggested (there are a lot exercises to do), my feelings on the book are a little torn. On one hand, none of the things I tried were very helpful. On the other hand, I do think there's a lot of valuable information here, and it did inspire me to keep on searching.

PhD comic

What I personally didn't know until I went through grad school is that it seriously rewires your brain. This is a great thing if you find, or want to find, a job in academics; but if you want to transition into the real world, things that are obvious to most people can be completely obscure to an academic. For example: did you know that most people get information from talking to other people, not from books? It's weird but apparently true. Therefore Basalla and Debelius suggest talking to other people instead of looking at books for tips on how to find a new career (ironic, all things considered, but at least they know their audience). I.e., the dreaded NETWORKING. Gah. Basalla and Debelius make networking in the real world slightly more approachable by basically breaking it down into a research project. Research! Academics know how to do that! They suggest informational interviews, sending someone you admire a gracious note, or e-mailing people who work in a field you're interested in to see if you can ask them a few questions.

Another hurdle is turning a CV into a resume. Curriculum vitaes are über-detailed histories of your academic career. Apparently I've been failing utterly at turning my CV into a working resume, and the chapter on resumes was very illuminating for me.

That being said, I still feel like a lot of the stuff in here didn't apply to me. The books says it's for people with either a master's or doctorate, but everyone Basalla and Debelius talk to are either PhDs or ABD (all-but-dissertation); and many of the jobs people got were more by chance than design.

Still, it would be impossible for any book, especially one like So What Are You Going To Do with That?, to cover every specific problem a person might face. The book is quite general, but it's also very encouraging. More than anything else I think Basalla and Debelius' goal is to assure academics that their degrees and skills are valued outside academia, and there's no reason not to look for a job in the real world other than the fear of failing. They definitely succeed--I was on the verge of giving up, but So What Are You Going To Do with That? gave me renewed energy and optimism in my job search. For that reason I think this is a valuable resource for anyone who wishes they could do something new but feels constrained by their degree and experience.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld

Look, it's a pretty decent book trailer!

In 1914, Europe teeters on the edge of an all-encompassing war. Alek, a Hapsburg prince, is a "Clanker"--the term for people whose technology is reliant on machines. Deryn, a girl just inducted into the British Air Service, is a Darwinist--those who develop animals into their technology (clearly they're the good guys). Alek and Deryn probably would never meet under normal circumstances, but with a war going on anything can happen.

I normally steer clear of novels with the premise of Leviathan, but when I read Lusty Reader's great review of Goliath, I decided to give it a try, since I know we tend to love the same books. First of all, I have to say that as a physical object Leviathan is gorgeous--great, tactile cover, lovely thick paper, and lots of illustrations (have I ever mentioned I LOVE books with illustrations?). On top of that, it tells an awesome story. Yes, there were some battle scenes that started to feel a bit long-ish, but for the most part this is the type of novel that feels like it's going by really fast. I'm not sure I would say it was unputdownable, but it was pretty engaging.

leviathan cover

That being said, I feel like I enjoyed Leviathan despite my better judgment, because it's kind of sexist. I already touched on this a bit in Fun with Gender Stereotypes (post here), but that was really just the tip of the iceberg with this novel. In this entire book there are only two women. TWO WOMEN. IN THE ENTIRE WORLD of this story.

That. Is ridiculous.

Now, one might say that since the book is set during WWI and takes place largely on an airship, this makes sense. But that is such a cop-out response. Firstly, this is a fantasy version of WWI, so Scott Westerfeld could write women into the armed forces if he wanted; other steampunk authors have done so. Secondly, in real life there were thousands of women involved in WWI, so including them would actually be more historically accurate than not. And thirdly, although much of the book does take place in a military setting, there are a few civilian scenes, and there are no women there, either! When Alek visits the German village, all the people he takes note of or interacts with--even just to buy a paper--are men. The same is true when Deryn is in Regent's Park--aside from the lady boffin, the other female character in Leviathan, all the people doing anything worthy of description are men.

So, as far as the reader is concerned, the only two females who are physically present in the world of this book are Deryn and Dr. Barlow (both Deryn's and Alek's mothers are mentioned, in that they have mothers--obvs. But Deryn's mother is mentioned in passing, exists only off-page, and exerts zero influence on the narrative; the same is true for Alek, whose mother is killed before the book even starts. Compare that to both of the main characters' fathers, who exert a very strong influence on their decisions in the story and, while existing off-page, are both more fully realized characters). Once again I have to say: two whole women in the entire continent of Europe, really?! And let's take a look at these women.

First and foremost, we have Deryn, who is pretending to be a boy named Dylan so she can serve in the British Air Service. The BAS doesn't allow women, apparently. While I understand that Westerfeld might have wanted to give her a secret for narrative purposes, it doesn't feel fully realized. Deryn doesn't stew over inequality based solely on gender, has no qualms over how she's going to hide things like her menstrual cycle, or considers alternative where she doesn't have to lie and pretend to be a boy. And while she fits in with the crew with astonishing ease, there are still broad statements about gender that seem pretty sexist. For example, the only thing Deryn dislikes about hanging with boys 24/7 is that they're super-competitive. Really? Because girls aren't competitive? How many women did you spend time with back in Scotland, Deryn?

Thirdly, Deryn's status as a strong female character derives entirely from the fact that she's pretending to be a male. She wouldn't even BE in this book if she wasn't pretending to be a boy. The reason why we think of her as a "strong female" is basically because she looks and acts like a boy. So basically erase every speck of femininity you can and you'll be a strong woman? Nice one.

Secondly, there's Dr. Barlow. While Dr. Barlow makes no secret of the fact that she's a woman, Deryn makes a big deal out of noting how unusual it is for a woman to hold Dr. Barlow's position as a prominent boffin, or scientist. And how did Dr. Barlow come by such a career? Why is she so well-respected? Is it because she's intelligent, has worked her ass off for years and demands people's respect? Is it because she sacrificed a personal life and family for her career? NOPE IT'S BECAUSE SHE'S RELATED TO A FAMOUS MAN. Seriously, that is the only backstory we're given--or apparently need to know--about the only other woman in Leviathan.

The sum being that our two female characters have gotten where they are in life--which is to say, worthy of the notice of a story--by hitching a ride on the penis train: either by being more or less male, or by virtue of their fathers. Nice. Sorry if you have a vagina, kids, better luck next time! Just resign yourselves to a completely powerless existence without any autonomy now and make it easier on yourselves. I suppose technically Leviathan passes the Bechdel Test, because Dr. Barlow and Deryn do discuss beasties and not men on a few occasions; but I'm not sure it counts if, as far as Dr. Barlow is concerned, Deryn's a male.

Obviously I'm not the target audience for this novel--that would be teenage boys, to state the glaringly obvious--but I was a little taken aback by some of the sexiest assumptions running through Leviathan. So even though I did enjoy the story, and want to find out how Deryn and Alek are going to get together, I can't help but feel ambivalent about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review(ish): BECAUSE YOU'RE MINE by Lisa Kleypas

because you're mine cover

Five reasons why you should read this awesome historical romance:

  1. "The theatre, the theatre, whatever happened to the theatre."  I LOVE the setting of Because You're Mine, which is a London theater called the Capital. Madeline, the heroine, runs away from school and heads straight for the Capital, where she wants to get a job. Not as an actress, but as a general assistant. I'm quite partial to books set in theaters, and Lisa Kleypas turns the Capital into its own little world, filling it with well-research details about theatrical production in the early 19th century. You all know I love research.
  2. Secondary characters  Naturally, if you set a novel in a theater, you need eccentric characters to fill it! I loved the secondary in Because You're Mine, from the supporting actors Arlyss Barry and Stephen Maitland, to Madeline's landlady, Mrs. Florence, who used to be an actress herself. They're all full of personality and make the story fun as well as bringing it to life.
  3. Logan  One of Kleypas' strengths is creating great romantic heroes, and Logan Scott, the director and lead actor at the Capital, is no exception. When we first meet him, Logan is hilariously grumbly, yet inspires loyalty and admiration in the entire company because he's fair and honorable. He expects a lot from other people, but he expects more from himself. He reminded me of a pirate captain, and the Capital definitely has the atmosphere of a ship that's a world unto itself and under his command, and for that reason alone he's a fascinating character.
  4. Madeline  By far my favorite character in Because You're Mine is Madeline. She's young and sweet, and she's anything but a "kick-ass heroine." I would argue she's a strong woman. Personally, I'm sick of encountering heroines who have no emotions and/or are total bitches, and somehow this is supposed to translate into a strong female character. Sorry, but I can't connect to characters like that. Maddy is guileless and extremely innocent, but she goes after what she wants and follows her dreams even when it's scary or the stakes are high, which to me is more evidence of a strong character than biting someone's head off. She's also no shrinking violet: she's the sexual aggressor in her relationship with Logan and is up-front about desiring him. How many female characters can you think of who do that and aren't villains?
  5. Feminism  I'm not about to say this book is a feminist treatise, but it does pass the Bechdel Test. AND IN A ROMANCE NOVEL, NO LESS! For those of you who aren't familiar, the Bechdel Test is a litmus test for fully-realized female characters and gender equality, mainly applied to TV shows and movies, but also books. It consists of three criteria: The story has 1. a female character who 2. talks to another female character about 3. something other than a dude. (For more about this, you should check out the excellent post, "A Question About the Bechdel Test," at Jenny's Books.) Think about the last few books you read and ask yourself if they pass the Bechdel Test; you'll be surprised at how many don't. Because You're Mine, however, does: Madeline gets Mrs. Florence to tell her stories about her family and working as an actress, and talks about pregnancy and party planning with her friend and Logan's business partner, Julia. Just to reiterate: this is a romance novel. If there's any type of book where it might be expected for two female characters to meet for the sole purpose of talking about the hero, it would be a romance. But Because You're Mine isn't just a romance, it's an adventure that centers around a woman. As good as Kleypas is about writing male characters, it's Madeline's story.
Because You're Mine isn't one of Kleypas' best novels--they are a few too many convenient plot devices and sometimes Logan's decisions don't make sense--but it is one of her (many) keepers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: THE FLOWER BOWL SPELL by Olivia Boler

flower bowl spell cover

Memphis Zhang is a journalist/dog walker living in San Francisco who can see fairies and do magick--even though she chooses not to. When she meets the older brother of a long-deceased friend, however, Memphis' past starts coming back to haunt her in a big way. First a woman she knew passingly when they were both children drops her kids off for indefinite babysitting, and then the older brother--who just happens to be an attractive rock star, win--invites her to go on tour with him. It's only after Memphis agrees that she begins to suspect some rotten magick is afoot.

I am a sucker for books about witches. A book about a witch set in San Francisco, with a rock star to boot? I'm all over that. While I did like a lot of individual elements in The Flower Bowl Spell, it didn't quite come together for me.

For the most part, this is due entirely to the way the story is told--I felt like this book might have had a great story arc, but the plot doesn't get going until you're halfway through the novel, and before that it seems like every five pages more backstory pops up, which slowed The Flower Bowl Spell down considerably. When major plot developments do happen, it's difficult to tell if they're important or not because the pacing of the novel is pretty much set at one speed. It could--and probably should--have been edited down by about a fourth.

Even with the slow pacing, though, I have to say that, thanks to the writing style, I wasn't bored--just impatient. Once Memphis goes on tour with the rock star's band, things pick up. Admittedly, this might be because the rock star--whose name is Tyson--was the only thing I cared about in this novel. Memphis' regular boyfriend, Cooper, is a creeper. You can tell because he used to be her high school French teacher. Not to mention that Tyson is a ROCK STAR! I loved every minute he was on the page, even when what was going on made zero sense to me.

There's more to this novel than Tyson, though--a lot more, and while it's interesting and not formulaic, sometimes it doesn't seem to lead anywhere. I can't help but compare The Flower Bowl Spell to A Discovery of Witches (review here), another novel I read recently about a witch trying to lead a normal life. Both books have similar problems, but I think I prefer the writing style in The Flower Bowl Spell. I also like the main character of The Flower Bowl Spell, Memphis, and find her more believable and mature than the heroine of Discovery.

The Flower Bowl Spell isn't perfect, but it is unique. Where else are you going to find a novel that has fairies, witches, French restaurants, rock stars, and a Chinese-American heroine? In a lot of ways I think think The Flower Bowl Spell is an ideal candidate for self-publishing, because it doesn't easily fit into any genre but is definitely worth checking out.

Thank you to the author and ABG Reads Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book for review!


If you would like to win a copy of The Flower Bowl Spell, please fill out the form below or go here. Contest runs from June 11th-15th and is for eBook copies only.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fun With Gender Stereotypes

leviathan cover

I'm currently reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, where one of the main characters is a girl pretending to be a boy so she can join the Royal Air Whatever (Brigade?). Fortunately she has a brother to show her the ropes. His major tip on not giving her status as a vagina away?
Last night Jasper had demonstrated how a proper boy checked his fingernails--looking at his palm, fingers bent, whereas girls looked at the back of their hands, fingers splayed.
Um, yeah. That's the way to prove your manliness--checking your fingernails! Where do people get this stuff?

The weird thing is, I've come across this before. It was in an MG mystery I read when I was about eight or so. The detective knew the male criminal was disguising himself as a female because he checked his nails palm-in. So women are wired to check their nails a certain way? Give me a fucking break.

First of all, it's totally untrue. Google image search "checking nails" if you don't believe me. In fact, here is a photo of model Vena Cava backstage, with long nails and a manicure, checking her nails the "manly" way:

vena cava checking her nails

But whether it's true or not (it isn't, so stop staying it) isn't the real reason why statements like this bother me: it's because people assume they're true, and then those ideas became justifications for notions of gender essentalism. Men behave one way, women behave another--ergo, if you act the latter way, you MUST be a man, or vice versa (see detective story, above).

And yes, this goes for stupid and inconsequential things like checking nails, too. Maybe even more so, because no one bothers to question the implications of nail-checking stereotypes, does one? Yet eventually assumptions like this are repeated as fact by such lovely organizations as Choosing the Best, an abstinence-only sex education program in the US known for its gender bias (Legal Momentum).

Here's an idea: maybe we could not fall back on these archaic notions of what men and women "are" and how they behave and instead just treat people like people? I know, I'm wasting my breath. But hopefully at the very least we can stop repeating this nail checking ridiculousness.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Armchair BEA: Introduction

Armchair BEA has managed to drag me back from my unofficial blogging break and got to me to start posting again. Today we're being asked to interview ourselves.

  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Who am I? I would ask SIRI but I don't have an iPhone. I've been blogging since 2005. My first blog was on Xanga--one of my friends from middle school told me I should start blogging because I would love it! After a few years on Xanga I decided I wanted to focus on book reviews, which is when I started this blog in 2009-ish. I also started two other blogs just this year: Liquid Persuasion and Project Gutenberg Project.
  2. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012? As I write this I'm reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld; but by the time Monday rolls around I'll have finished it. And I have no idea what I'll be reading then. So my favorite book of the year... probably The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart. But I also really enjoyed rereading Because You're Mine by Lisa Kleypas. And both of those books are pretty old.
  3. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. I have a doppelgänger. Not the nasty spirit kind (as far as I know...), just someone who looks like me. All through high school people would mistake me for her. We also have similar names, so it was very confusing. People would walk up to me and start random conversations, then be like, "Oh, wait, are you...?" The weird thing is, I've personally never seen her. I know you're thinking I probably just use this story to explain why I don't recognize people from high school, but I don't because no one would believe me.
  4. What literary location would you most like to visit? Why? Hm, that's a tricky one. If we're sticking to strictly the real world, I'd love to visit Tintagel Castle because it's part of the Arthurian legends--actually, I'd like to visit all the Arthurian sites, but for some reason I latched onto Tintagel when I was a kid.
  5. What is your favorite part about the book blogging community? Is there anything that you would like to see change in the coming years? I love knowing there are people out there who enjoy reading and obsess over books as much as I do! As for changes, I'd like to see more cooperation between blogs that specialize in different genres (i.e., romance and classic, literary fiction and mystery, etc.).


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