Oops, I Am Addicted To Witches of East End

A review of Witches of East End, based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz

Lifetime, 2013

Witches of East End

by REBECCA, August 20, 2014

witches of eastwickWhoopsiedoodle! My sister and I just accidentally scarfed the first half of a season of Witches of East End. I won’t lie: I took one look at the fact that it’s on Lifetime and the fact that it’s set in North Hampton and thought, “this will be terrible; I must watch this.” But, while I was expecting the show to be a kind of Revenge + witches, with lots of conspicuous consumption, low-cut dresses, and people having incredibly strong opinions about canapés while they ruin people’s lives, it’s actually . . . so funny. No, really. Within five minutes of the pilot, my sister and I were hitting each other and shamefacedly saying, “OmigodIlovethisshow.”

witches of east endWitches of East End is based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her YA series, Blue BloodsNow, I’ve never read anything by Melissa de la Cruz, but I am totally not surprised that it’s based on the work of a YA author because what Witches of East End is totally winning at is not taking itself too seriously. Witches of East End could easily seem like a seen-it-all-before show about thin, pretty, white women who can do magic—and let’s face it, do we need more when we have Practical Magic?—but instead, it’s a really fun, funny family drama with a little romance and a few thrills thrown in.

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is an immortal witch. Her daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum of Step Up pedigree) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) don’t know that they have any special powers (a change from the books, it seems). Joanna is cursed to see Freya and Ingrid die over and over and be born again—she’s lived through their lives in every century and seen them die in every way imaginable. So, this incarnation, she’s decided that she’ll keep their magic a secret, hoping to protect them from themselves. This has worked fine for the last thirty years, and the Beauchamps have been happy in North Hampton. Freya is engaged to marry rich doctor, Dash (Eric Winter), and Ingrid is pretty happy with her job at the local library.

Witches of East End

don’t mind me; i’m just smelling your face now

BUT, before you go thinking that everything is fine, dunh duh duh duh, there is a CAT. A black cat. And is not JUST a cat. It is Wendy (Mädchen Amick from Twin Peaks!), Joanna’s sister, who is a cat shifter (avec proverbial nine lives). Joanna and Wendy haven’t spoken in a century, but now Wendy has had a VISION: someone is after Joanna and they have to stop them. And with Wendy around, there’s no way that Freya and Ingrid will remain in the dark about their magic because SHENANIGANS ensue. Not only can the person who’s after Joanna shift into any form, but Dash’s estranged brother is back . . . and Freya might also be in love with him. WHAT? YOU GUYS. No, seriously, though, it’s so FUNNY. Ingrid is hilarious and so, so nerdy.

Okay, so Julia Ormond is kind of terrible (but I have fond feelings about her from Legends of the Fall and Smilla’s Sense of Snow . . .) because she just seems like a very cold person (and also her accent, which is apparently her real Britamerican accent, is whackadoo), BUT Aunt Wendy totally makes up for it. And did I mention INGRID! Best thing: it’s two sets of sisters!

Are you watching Witches of East End? What do you think?

Finally, Outlander!

A Review of Outlander (episode 1), created by Ronald D. Moore and based on the books by Diana Gabaldon

Starz, 2014

Outlander

by REBECCA, August 13, 2014

Battlestar GalacticaY’all, I have been dreaming of seeing Outlander on the big screen since I first read Diana Gabaldon’s book circa the turn of the century. Like many fans, I approached news of Starz optioning it with the mixture of hope and trepidation that always attends beloved adaptations. Would they cast it right? Would it evoke the same feelings of the book? What if I hate Claire and Jamie onscreen? Knowing Ron Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame was at the helm made me hopeful, though, because he has such a great track record with sprawling, epic stories, of which Outlander is certainly one.

But, like many fans . . . I don’t actually have TV, much less Starz. Rather than watching episode one, “Sassanach” when Starz put it up for free viewing last Saturday, then, I waited until I came to visit my parents (who do have Starz—and a large TV) to watch. But now I have, so, though I’m late for the game I’ll be goddamned if I don’t talk about it. In list form. Because . . . mostly it’s just stuff I liked.

Most importantly, for me, I really liked Claire (Catriona Balfe). She was capable and brave and spunky without seeming like she had a chip on her shoulder. She seemed wise and mature, which she’s supposed to be, but still with a sense of humor.

I didn’t love Tobias Menzies as Frank, Claire’s husband. Since he and Black Jack Randall are played by the same actor, I really wanted someone who, as Frank, looked really appealing and cultured, and to me he looks like a villain as Frank, too, making his transformation into Black Jack less striking. He did a good job, though, and, most importantly, Ron Moore was smart to spend the meat of the first episode developing their relationship so that it will be understandable why Claire wants to get back to her own time.

OutlanderJamie. We didn’t see much of him, but he’s clearly Jamie-ish. Sam Heughan definitely looked the part and seemed to have Jamie’s tender youth and bravado pretty much sewn up. Also, you know, extremely handsome. Still, Jamie makes me slightly concerned about the cheese-factor . . .

My problem with the episode is actually a problem with genre. Diana Gabaldon’s book is not really a romance novel. It’s sweeping historical fiction at the center of which is a couple. But it’s often shelved in the romance section (I learned the embarrassing way in high school) and spoken about in terms of the romance genre. The character of Jamie isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that when viewed in romance terms, Jamie’s character has become a huge romance cliché: the strapping, red-headed 18th-century Scottish agitator who speaks with a brogue, threatens to throw women over his shoulder (in a nice way . . . ) and has, for the times, relatively progressive gender politics. It’s practically a staple now, nearly twenty-five years after Gabaldon wrote the book. So, I worry that simply by virtue of presenting Jamie faithfully, Outlander will verge into cheeseball territory.

OutlanderOf course, I would still happily watch a cheesy, romantic version of Outlander, but I don’t think that really does justice to the complex drama of the books, and it makes me a tidge worried that Starz won’t get the extra-literary viewership that it will want to justify renewing the show.

Okay, but aside from the tragic problem of Sam Heughan’s attractiveness and chest muscles, I thought the episode was great. Maybe this was a testament to my parents’ TV, but the long, sweeping shots of Scotland . . . that shit looked amazing. I loved the way the 1945 scenes were shot with a muted palette and dim or washed-out light; it makes the gorgeous natural colors once Claire goes through the stones really pop.

OutlanderThe music was gorgeous (not that I’d expect anything less from Bear McCreary, who also did the music for Battlestar), as was the cinematography. And I can already tell that I like the pace Ron Moore has chosen. It’s lingering, like Gabaldon’s books are, but not plodding. It meant that we got the great scenes of Reverend Wakefield’s housekeeper reading Claire’s palm, and the quiet moments of walking and driving around Inverness. The episode did a great job of establishing Inverness as a respite after the war—a safe place for Claire and Frank to reconnect after a long absence—which made it all the more shocking when Claire was ripped from it. Good show!

Scotland Decides 2014I am a little freaked out to see that Starz is splitting the first season, though, with episodes 1-8 running through the end of September and then going on hiatus until after New Year’s. I guess it’s good in that it will stop me from sitting in front of my computer staring and wishing I was in Scotland. Sigh. Also, I love that a show about independent Scottish clans will be airing simultaneous with the Scottish independence referendum (September 18).

Anyhoo, I was pleasantly surprised and cannot wait to snuggle back into the familiar world of Outlander! Did you see it? What did you think?

Fire & Flood: A Race For the Cure

A Review of Fire & Flood (Fire & Flood #1) by Victoria Scott

Scholastic, 2014

Fire & Flood Victoria Scott

by REBECCA, March 31, 2014

hook

yay, montana“Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything. Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.” (Goodreads)

review

Victoria Scott’s Fire & Flood is perplexing. I could tell from the first page that I was going to dislike it, but I’m a sucker for an adventure story (and the cover’s beautiful), so I read on. There are several truly major problems with the novel.

brimstone!

brimstone!

1. There is absolutely no explanation given for the Brimstone Bleed and no world-building around it for the first, oh, 85% of the novel. Then, when the origin/motivation of the Brimstone Bleed is explained, it is absurd and ridiculous. As a result, the entire time I was reading about the characters going through the Brimstone Bleed, I was like, “What in the hellfire is going on and why would I possibly care?”

2. I don’t care. At all. Given that we have no context to care about the world or the plot, it only makes sense that we’d have to care enough about the characters that all that wouldn’t matter. Nope. Tella’s brother, whom she’s running the race to save, is a total blank about whom we know nothing. Tella is a bloody nightmare. There are a million reasons I dislike her as a character (her intense superficiality and terrible sense of humor are but a few of the petty ones), but mostly I just could not possibly care less whether she lives or dies. There is nothing remotely appealing or unique about her. The author’s one attempt to make her palatable is to suggest that she is the only one out of 122 people who likes animals. Seriously?

3. The structure is obviously in service of the marketing of a series as opposed to the book. “The Brimstone Bleed will last three months and will take place across four ecosystems: desert, sea, mountains, jungle,” we learn (19). I didn’t know right away this was a series, so I started out thinking it was a standalone, but it became clear pretty quickly that there wouldn’t be time to get to all four ecosystems in one book (and, P.S. neither fire nor flood really feature here, so that didn’t give anything away). Fire & Flood features the jungle and desert ecosystems, and it’s a very choppy structure that leaves off after the second ecosystem without any ending whatsoever. There’s a kind of vague outward gesture that suggests the stakes might be higher in book two, but it’s a perfunctory gesture at best.

desert foxHere’s why I’m perplexed, though, as opposed to simply irritated that I wasted my time on Fire & Flood. While the entire first half, including the jungle ecosystem section is laughably terrible, the second half is more compelling, quick-paced, and has a few instances of pretty cool micro-plotting. This chunk—the desert ecosystem—reads much more like a survival story and less like a crappy, lazy, riding-the-tails-of-Hunger-Games dystopia. So, if Victoria Scott can actually write moments like those in the second half of the novel, I’m so confused as to why the first half is so incredibly weak and uninteresting.

This, along with the total lack of world-building and the lack of an ending, makes Fire & Flood read as a first or second draft rather than a finished novel. There are certainly those who will down Fire & Flood along with the slew of slapdash, apolitical neo-dystopias that litter the YA landscape, but it’s one of the more uneven and unpleasant books I’ve had the displeasure of reading lately.

readalikes

Proxy Alex London

Proxy (Proxy #1) by Alex London (2013). Where Fire & Flood completely fails at world- and character-building, Proxy slowly constructs a complex and intriguing world peopled with exciting characters. Check out my full review of Proxy HERE. The sequel, Guardian, comes out in May.

The Testing Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing (The Testing #1) by Joelle Charbonneau (2013). The second half of Fire & Flood reminded me of the final component of the test in The Testing, where the candidates have to journey from busted up Chicago back to the University.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publishers (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott is available now.

Neither Sense Nor Sensibility: Austenland

A Review of Austenland, written and directed by Jerusha Hess; based on the novel by Shannon Hale

Austenland

by REBECCA, September 4, 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a movie in possession of both Keri Russell and literary intertexts, must be worth seeing, amiright? Rarely has a universally-acknowledged truth been so epically false.

Austenland by Shannon HaleAustenland is the story of plain Jane (Russell), unlucky in love and (not unrelatedly) obsessed with Jane Austen—the books, the characters, the time period, the aesthetics, everything. Her guest room is an altar to her obsession with Mr. Darcy in particular, and she has a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth’s Darcy in her living room. Apathetic and convinced that the only good men are fictional, Jane buys a package to go to Austenland, an immersive vacation where guests stay in an Austenesque manor and are the center of their own story, complete with men, food, entertainments, and, of course, romance. Jane can only afford the basic package, though, so rather than a Lizzie Bennet, she is relegated to navys, browns, and the servants’ quarters. Drama (kind of) ensues; you can guess the rest.

People, I kind of don’t know where to start with this mess.

keri russell felicityAustenland is always torn between showing scorn for Jane as a pathetic, deluded loser who romanticizes fiction instead of living life, and showing that she is different than all those other losers, so she’s not an appealing character. And I fundamentally refuse to believe that this character yo-yo-ing is Keri Russell’s fault. I mean, this is freaking Felicity we’re talking about: girlfriend makes pathetic romantic appealing as hell.

The premise of Austenland is that the actors there act charming and dote on the women, giving them the experience of their fantasy Austen heroines. The movie is determined to pull one over on its audience in the “reveal” of a clever “twist” (my scare quotes, if it isn’t clear, suggest that this “reveal” is no revelation) having to do with whether the men are really acting or if their romance is real. However, it doesn’t matter whether whether the romance is real or contrived because both the Mr. Darcy character and the stableboy character are so absolutely unappealing.

Don’t even get me started on Jennifer Coolidge, whose “dumb American” character has, at this point in cinematic history, become so unrelentingly clichéd that she may as well have been plucked out of another movie and stuck into this one. James Callis and Georgia King add dashes of random absurdity that do little more than remind the viewers that we wish this movie would be as absurd in its execution as it is in its premise.

Really, JJ Feild, as the Mr. Darcyish character is the only one who can get away with playing it straight, because Austenland, for all that it alleges to be comic, is, at heart, a fairly uncreative and conservative reinscription of the notion that every woman’s fantasy is Mr. Darcy, and if they act Lizzy Bennet-esque, then that fantasy will come true.

austenlandAnd that’s the real failure, I think: that the movie, in the end, only replicates Austen as opposed to conversing with her.  Jane’s journey is an unsubtle parallel of an Austen character’s and fails to address any of the questions that could have been interestingly raised about a modern woman obsessed with Regency times. In a movie packed with gags, references, uncomfortable humor, and lots and lots of curled hair, there really isn’t a single moment of charm. Nor is there any hint of what someone like Jane might find appealing about Jane Austen’s world to begin with. Indeed, Austenland seems to be operating under the assumption that it doesn’t need to explain what’s appealing about Austen, because we all already agree. Rather, from the opening scenes of the film, it is clear that young Jane will be taught a lesson: you must be disillusioned of your fantasies to have a chance at real happiness. It is equally clear, I think, that this is a lesson Austen has taught us many times over—and with far wittier dialogue.

Where is my boundary-respecting romance? Crazy, Stupid, Love. and This Lullaby

by Tessa

I believe that people should be free to read, listen to, and watch what they want, as long as people weren’t harmed in the production of the stuff being read, watched, and listened to. I also retain my right to be offended by the culture that is reflected in such entertainment items, and my impulse to go and blog about it.
So please don’t take this criticism as a call to censor the stuff I’m criticizing.

On the way back to the States last Wednesday I decided to indulge in the inflight entertainment system. I picked a romantic comedy that I’d heard of called Crazy, Stupid, Love. mostly because a former very personable America’s Next Top Model contestant was cast in a minor role and I wanted to support her in some intangible way. And the rest of the cast was respectable: Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone.  And it had received good reviews. They called it “touching“, “honest,” “satisfying, mature” “smart and heartfelt“, “consistently engaging“… and I could go on.

220px-CrazyStupidLovePoster

Crazy, Stupid, Love.  isn’t absurd or awkward enough to be funny and its ideas of love are mostly repulsive instead of romantic. The throughline of the picture is the idea that if you love someone enough you’ll fight for them, and in doing so find yourself. On its face, not the worst philosophy on which to base an ensemble romantic comedy.  Unfortunately, the result is a jumble of people at best ineffectively expressing themselves and at worst engaging in stalking and harassment.

I need to summarize the movie in painful detail to make it clear why I hate it. SPOILERS.

Steve Carrell’s character’s wife (Julianne Moore) wants a divorce because, as a couple, they can’t connect with each other anymore. She’s slept with a guy at work (Kevin Bacon). Steve Carrell rolls out of a moving car so he doesn’t have to hear her rationalizations and slinks away to drink in bars and mutter about Kevin Bacon. He mutters so much that Ryan Gosling hears him. This bar is Ryan Gosling’s usual spot for chatting up ladies and taking them home. He feels bad for Steve, so he does a makeover montage, slaps Steve’s face a lot, and teaches him how to pick up women, starting with Marisa Tomei, who Steve sleeps with and never calls again. This works wonders for Steve.

MEANWHILE, Steve’s kids have a babysitter (Analeigh Tipton). His 13 year old son (Jonah Bobo) is in love with her. She catches him masturbating. He apologizes but says it’s okay because he was thinking of her, and their age gap won’t matter in a little bit. She is appropriately horrified. He continues to send her gross text messages and proclaim his infatuation in front of the whole school. He also is mean to Kevin Bacon when Kevin Bacon goes on a date with his mom. He is operating on the assumption that love means one soulmate, and that means if you’re in “love” and your object of “love” doesn’t accept that, you should not listen to them and plow on regardless because love conquers all.

ALSO there’s this girl (Emma Stone) who is dating a clueless lawyer who doesn’t appreciate her. When he doesn’t propose to her and in fact expresses doubts about whether he wants to be that serious, she dumps him and seeks out that hot guy who hit on her in that one bar one time (Ryan Gosling). Against their intentions, they make each other laugh and want to have conversations with each other, and soon are boyfriend and girlfriend.

BUT, TWIST! She’s Steve Carrell’s daughter. And he can’t deal with the fact that his daughter is dating this cad who very generously helped save him from a terrible depression and regain his confidence. He decides instead never to speak to his daughter again as long as she’s dating this dude she really likes and who is serious about her. It even ruins his chances of reconciling with his wife who seems to maybe miss him?

HOWEVER, seeing his son make a graduation speech about how love is not worth it, because the babysitter has made it clear that she was in fact in love with Steve Carrell this whole time by taking a nude photo that she never sent but her parents found, makes Steve Carrell realize that his son is wrong now, but right previously, that he still needs to fight for his one true love whom he met in 5th grade. He interrupts his son’s speech to make his own speech, which the audience seems to find heartwarming instead of slightly deranged, and this speech even warms the babysitter’s heart. She slips the son one of those nude photos after the graduation and implies that he was right all along, maybe in a couple years he’ll be a stud and his persistence will have paid off and isn’t life wacky?

And I guess Steve Carrell forgave Ryan Gosling?

END

illustration by Laura Mardon, CC licensed on Flickr

illustration by Laura Mardon, CC licensed on Flickr

Reasons to hate this movie:

1. It tells us that persistence is a sign of True Love, through the wisdom of a 13 year old who should know better.

2. It tells us that True Love is destiny and can never be broken, and there’s one perfect person for everyone.

3. Steve Carrell’s character is wishy-washy and unself-aware in an almost boring way – he’s hung up on his wife’s infidelity, quickly falls for the double standard of being disgusted by the same one-night-stand behavior from Gosling that allowed him to start feeling a little human again. I’m sure these are pretty universal character traits, but they’re so rote as to be yawn-inducing – aren’t we beyond this yet? Can I see something a little different from a sad-sack recent divorcee? He’s got legitimate pain but processes it selfishly and then doesn’t own up to that, and his redemption isn’t self-discovery as much as retreating to an old version of himself that feels comfortable, because he can’t stand the pain of trying to be a new person.

Reasons to like this movie:

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s scene where they first go home together and share real laughter and Ryan Gosling says “They’re pants for my calves. Calf-pants.”

After watching the whole movie I was reminded of my reaction to a Sarah Dessen book I read last fall. Rebecca, a fan of the Dessen, suggested her for a Sharing Our Snacks post, or possibly a joint discussion, because “she’s extremely formulaic in a way that usually makes me hate someone, but in the ones of hers I liked (Just Listen,The Truth About Forever, and Lock & Key) even though I could tell they were formulaic, I found myself so impressed by the formula that I didn’t care.”

thislullaby

I read This Lullaby and The Truth About Forever and did enjoy them both, for the reasons R. mentions.  But I couldn’t help but like This Lullaby against my better judgement. Its love interest, Dexter, starts out in his pursuit of the protagonist, Remy, by demonstrating textbook signs of a narcissistic, controlling stalker, and no one seems to notice or care. Haven’t they read The Gift of Fear yet?

Things I hated about Dexter, listed in chronological order

Interaction One:

When he first accosts Remy in the dealership he “plop[s] down hard” in the chair next to her, “knocking [her] sideways against the wall; it was jarring and [she] hit [her] elbow on the modling there, right in the funny bone.” (10). He smiles at her although she is visibly angry about it  and pretends that nothing is wrong, instead asking “‘How’s it going?’” and when she asks what his problem is, and has to elaborate because he pretends not to know what the problem is, by saying “You just slammed me into the wall, asshole.”(11) He sidesteps her direct confrontation by admonishing her use of foul language.  In fact, he doesn’t acknowledge it until he’s told her that he saw her across the room and felt chemistry with her, and it was only his enthusiasm that caused him to bump into her – as if this is excuse enough.  She tells him directly to “‘Go away.’” (12) and he just smiles and tells her that the song that’s playing will be “their song”.  When she tries to ignore him and catch someone else’s attention he grabs her hand and writes his name and phone number on her palm.

But we’re supposed to side with Dexter because Remy is so cynical & impervious to LURVE that her attitude is out of line. Remy is “such a hard-ass” (48) according to her co-workers.  She’s damaged by her past choices–after all, she places bets on the length of her mother’s marriages, how heartless of her.

So Dexter is totally justified in being a creepy stalker to get through her terrible facade. According to the book.

Interaction Two:

Remy is at the bar. Dexter comes up behind her, brushes up against her, whispers in her ear, and includes his drink with her order even though she is clearly not happy to see him. She tells him “You are not with me.” (33) and he replies “…not technically. But that could change.” He tells her that he’s in a band and will write a song for her. She is not impressed and tells him to not call her a “chick.”  Then he says “I think you like me” and she responds “I really do not.” (34)

At this point, a normal person with a clear sense of boundaries would leave her the hell alone. But Dexter is not that person. After she pointedly does not introduce him to any of her friends, and walks off telling them to ignore him so he’ll lose interest, he says “Oh, ye of little faith. I’m just getting started.”

Yes, and I am getting started on documenting your behavior so I can file a restraining order against you. Seriously? This is your romantic protagonist?

He sits down at the booth, uninvited, and tells the group how he met Remy, who asks him AGAIN if he will go away (35). He gets up, not because Remy asked him but because the band is ready to play. He asks Remy: “I’ll see you later?” She responds “No.” He says “Okay, then! We’ll talk later.” (36).

Warning signs! Warning signs! Here’s a guy who ignores your direct, stated requests for him to leave you alone. He has demonstrated that he has no interest in who you are or what you care about, because he’s in a delusional fantasy world where you two are meant to be together. He doesn’t want to talk to you and get to know you, he wants to force himself on you and talk about himself.

Hearsay interlude, or, Remy cannot escape Dexter even when he is not there.

One of Dexter’s bandmates shows up to her salon to apply for a job. He tells Remy: “He’s still talking about you.” She says “Why? He doesn’t even know me.” Fair question! the guy says “Doesn’t matter. You’re  officially a challenge. He’ll never give up now.” (51-52).  Remy is not a person. She is “a challenge”.

feel free to picture Dexter this way, as Google interprets "scary guy" (drawing by fortes on Flickr)

feel free to picture Dexter this way, as Google interprets “scary guy” (drawing by fortes on Flickr)

Interaction Three:

Dexter’s band is playing at Remy’s mom’s wedding. Remy spies on him from behind a Dumpster and thinks maybe he’s kind of cute even if he is “annoying”. She is apparently ignorant of the warning signs of abusers, probably because it’s not covered in health class. But before she can go over to him some girls come out of the back door to flirt with him, and she leaves before she hears his answer to “Do you have a girlfriend?” assuming that she knows how he’s going to finish his sentence, because she is apparently stuck in a badly plotted teen movie.

Anyway. Both she and Dexter are conveniently stranded at the end of the reception. She goes over to him and sits down so she can call a cab. They’re actually kind of having a real conversation, but then he decides to force her to eat cake. She has to refuse FIVE TIMES in a row.

Then they actually talk to each other and he doesn’t try to force himself into her cab. And at this moment, she starts to like him. Probably because he’s not being a total creep.

But… but then he gets her to give him a ride in her car (86) and deliberately sticks fries on her gearshift when she tells him she has a no-food policy in the car, like a toddler.

Re-reading these parts to remember them, I feel angry at myself for continuing to read the book and enjoying part of it. I should have thrown it across the room after the second interaction. But originally I wanted to continue reading to see if Dexter was revealed to be the abuser he clearly was. HINT: HE IS NOT. THEY END UP FALLING IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER.

And yet, there are many different kinds of romantic relationships depicted in This Lullaby (not even going into the non-romantic ones)

Relationship map:

Remy + Jonathan
Remy + Dexter
Remy + her past
Lissa + Adam
Chloe + singlehood
Chris + Jennifer Anne
Remy’s Mom Barbara + Don
Remy’s Mom Barbara + Remy’s Dad
Drummer + Coffee Shop Manager

And they’re dealt with realistically. So much so that I went on to read more Sarah Dessen, and I will continue to read her books and enjoy them.

This Lullaby really makes me uncomfortable and challenges my commitment to saying that books don’t have to teach lessons, especially young adult books. Because I really wanted this book to give Dexter a smackdown. I wanted it to clearly state how much of an ass he was being, how wrong his behavior was, and to punish him for it.

Remy doesn’t condone his behavior but she does give him a pass and she looks beyond his wrongheaded attention-grabbing tactics, and Dexter ends up having some good qualities.  This Lullaby doesn’t come down either way on the issue of how Dexter and Remy meet. And there is a large part of me that wants a big warning sign slapped on the front saying “THERE ARE BETTER WAYS and DEXTER IS THE EXCEPTION”, but I also know that that wouldn’t solve the problem. I’ll just imagine that Dexter grows up and finds less scary ways to talk to women.

Every time I see entertainment reflecting the way popular culture accepts this kind of behavior as romantic it makes me sad. Can someone recommend me some better alternatives?

An Edinburgh Reading List

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

by Tessa

If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)

In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday.  Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch?  If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.

DISCLAIMER:

My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction.  And it is not YA-specific.

BOOKS I DID READ:

gooseberry

The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard

This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.

knotsandcrosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin

I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city.  My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin!  Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”

Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.

lamplighter

The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill

A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues 😥 , but ended up reading it, :D.

It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell

If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).

Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.

He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).

Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy.  Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:

28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”

17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”

19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”

“THURSDAY 15 JUNE [1769]. Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”

BOOKS I STILL WANT TO READ:

edinburghcityofthedead   townbelowground

Edinburgh: City of the Dead and The Town Below the Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson

Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”

and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.

*brrrr*

mrsrobinsonsdisgrace

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! !  Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.

bodypolitic

The Body Politic by Paul Johnston

According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong?  This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.

As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”

anatomymurders

The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:

“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”

There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare.  This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:

burkeandhare

onegoodturn

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson

“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.”Goodreads

wintersea

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This could be a (great) time travel romance…

“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” – Author Description

troublewithmagic

The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice

There is no way I could improve on this hook:

“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”

singerofsouls

Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple

SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis.  When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.

Count me in.

Romance Under the Spanish Moss: a Safe Haven movie review

A Review of Safe Haven, directed by Lasse Hallström (2013)

Safe Haven

Friends, I have to come clean with you about something. My name is Rebecca and I . . . I have really been looking forward to seeing the latest Nicholas Sparks movie.

So, last night my sister and I made the pilgrimage and, well, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Julianne Hough plays Katie, a woman running from a violent past, who ends up in small town North Carolina. There she meets Alex, a widower with two kids. And the rest is romance history. I haven’t read the novel Safe Haven, so I can’t comment on it as an adaptation, but I did think Hallström did a nice job: the romance was understated and believable (if a little flat), the setting beautifully evoked, and Katie’s past legitimately sinister.

Safe HavenMy favorite thing about Safe Haven (besides Katie’s house), though, was Julianne Hough. I have no idea whether she’s a good actor or she was just being herself, but either way, I found her very refreshing. So many romance couples are swoony and cutesy, but even in the face of small town hospitality and romance Hough was wary, a little skittish, self-preservingly impolite, and has a great husky voice. We’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the disturbingly thin line in some YA romances between romantic beau geste and stalkerish creepiness. In light of that, I found Katie’s character’s negative reaction to Alex’s beau geste (even though it wasn’t intrinsically creepy) particularly refreshing, especially in a genre that usually isn’t. Josh Duhamel as the grieving widower was good, too—he didn’t overplay any of the emotions, but he’s sweet, sincere, and endearingly unsuave.

The dialogue is actually pretty good, except for the notable, and unfortunate, exception of the scene where Katie and Alex declare their love. But, you know, those scenes are pretty awkward in real life too. The drama is legitimately engaging. And director Lasse Hallström, true to form, really plays the small moments well: numerous shots of feet going from place to place, hands touching in the sand. And there are a few “twists,” which are pretty predictable, but add to the dynamics of the film.

In short, Safe Haven is a well-made, well-paced romance that manages to infuse a predictable plot with some legitimate suspense—so, as long as you’re not expecting anything more than that, you probably won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Obsidian, and Some Thoughts on the Genre of Paranormal Romance

A Review of Obsidian (Lux #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Entangled Teen, 2011

Obsidian Jennifer L. Armentrout

by REBECCA, February 11, 2013

characters

Katy Swarz: thoughtful book blogger Katy doesn’t take shit, but can’t quite resist Daemon, even when he’s shitty

Daemon Black: the infuriating and handsome alien boy asshole next door, Daemon is wary of Katy at first, but then drawn to her

Dee Black: Daemon’s twin, she and Katy are fast friends and she runs interference between Katy and Daemon

hook

When Katy’s mom moves her to rural West Virginia the summer before senior year after her dad dies, all she wants is to make some new friends, write her book blog, and recover. So, of course she would move in next door to aliens caught in an epic battle between cosmic good and evil. And of course one of those aliens would be an overly attractive shithead who breaks her laptop!

genre!

Katy’s world has been small lately. After her father died, her mother withdrew into herself and started working all the time, leaving Katy alone a lot. Katy started a book blog that lets her reach out and connect with people, and she’s poured all her energy into it. She’s chill and a bit shy, but smart and confident, so when she realizes that her next door neighbors are teenagers her own age she decides to make nice. Her first meeting with grouchy-pants Daemon sets the tone for their relationship: he’s overly attractive, obnoxious, condescending, and (of course) convinced that Katy is attracted to him (which, of course, she is).

Onyx Jennifer L. ArmentroutDaemon’s sister, Dee, is a sweetheart who befriends Katy right away. However, something weird happens every time Katy goes into town with Dee or tries to sit with her at lunch in the school cafeteria; people stare at them and seem hostile toward one or the other of them for no reason that Katy can tell—after all, she doesn’t even know anyone. One night, though, Katy is attacked outside the library and Daemon comes to her rescue with . . . special powers. Finally, he and Dee can’t keep their secret anymore: they are aliens and whenever they use their powers around a human it leaves a mark on that human that their enemies can see from far away. The only way to protect Katy from the enemy? Guess. No, I’ll wait. Yes, you’re right: it’s for Daemon to never leave her alone and vulnerable.

And thus unfolds a familiar romance/action plot line: Katy and Daemon frustrate one another, but are drawn together in the face of a common enemy.

I have been meaning to read Obsidian ever since I met the lovely Judith and Ellen from I Love YA Fiction at BEA this year, because it’s the book that made them start blogging. Now, one of my favorite things about talking to friends who care as much about books as I do is that sometimes we totally disagree. So, I’ll admit it, I approached Obsidian with great trepidation simply because the genre of YA paranormal romance isn’t my usual cuppa. But I just couldn’t resist a book that inspired some of my favorite people to start blogging (and that has 4.4 stars on Goodreads), so I dove in.

It was fun to read about Katy’s book blogging and I can totally see how it would be the inspiration for Judith and Ellen! But, alas, that’s about all I liked about Obsidian.

Let me be clear: I think that probably for folks who really enjoy the genre of YA paranormal romance, Obsidian will do the trick. It has a not-totally-unreasonable plot, some legitimately developed characters and fun secondary-characters, a not-overdone setting, sexual tension between Katy and Daemon that lasts for the whole book (that’s a thing people like, right?), a nice mom, and it’s a series. Also, it isn’t badly written at all—the prose is totally serviceable. So, all that (along with the many, many positive reviews I’ve read) suggests that Obsidian is the kind of thing that people who like that kind of thing will like. You know?

With or Without You Brian FarreyBut, if I didn’t already know it, Obsidian really showed me that the genre isn’t to my taste. And so I’ve been thinking about what, precisely, is the very thin line that divides “paranormal romance” from books that I do like. I enjoy a good romance plot, for sure, including several I’ve reviewed here: With Or Without You by Brian FarreyJust Listen by Sarah Dessen, The God Eaters by Jesse HajicekThe Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates, etc. And I definitely have no problem with the paranormal, as the above list will certainly testify.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Laini TaylorSo, what’s the difference between a paranormal romance and a book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which contains a paranormal romance? The biggest difference, for me, is that in paranormal romance (as in its mother genre, romance) the central goal of the book is to tell the story of two people entering into a relationship with one another and chronicling the obstacles to the success of that relationship—a success that is, by virtue of the genre, guaranteed. A book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone definitely has a romance plot, but it’s much more than just a backdrop against which the romance plays out. That difference, though, is, for me, the difference between a book that I enjoy and one that I find pretty boring. Daughter of Smoke and Bone or The Scorpio Races or Leave Myself Behind are larger than their romance plots—their scope is bigger and their stakes are higher. In a paranormal romance, the largest stakes are in the relationship between the two main characters—even when there is a cosmic alien battle between good and evil. This is to differing degrees, certainly, and some paranormal romances (and series) are more intricate and detailed than others. In Obsidian, though, if you took away the romance element you wouldn’t be left with anything; the conceit of the book is generic and flimsy without it.

Hush, Hush Becca FitzpatrickAgain, I don’t mean this as a critique of the genre—far from it. Genre conventions are powerful predictors of taste, though, and readers who like a genre like it because of its conventions, not in spite of them. I’ve realized, in reading Obsidian (and other paranormal romances, like Hush, HushNevermore, and Fallen), that one of the conventions of the paranormal romance genre that I dislike in particular is the way that love or attraction are abstracted (metaphorized?) as an otherworldly connection. By this I mean that often in these books our protagonist (usually a girl) sees a boy she thinks is attractive and feels drawn to him for reasons she can’t explain. I’m annoyed by the resulting tendency of these books to equate attraction—that is, being physically drawn to someone—with love. (Note: hey, friend, I can explain why you feel drawn to him . . .)

In Obsidian, for example, Katy finds Daemon super attractive, but she cannot stand his personality (with good reason, because he is a grade-A jerkface). She wants to make out with him; she feels warm and flushed whenever he’s near; she thinks he smells good. Katy: that’s called being attracted to someone. But in the genre conventions of the paranormal romance, attraction—lust—(a totally normal part of life) is transmuted into an-inexplicable-force-drawing-us-together-across-time-and-space-that-must-surely-be-meaningful.

And part of me kind of thinks that the genre of YA paranormal romance in particular developed out of a resistance to portraying teenagers as lustful, preferring, instead, to render lust meaningful and, thus, romantic. Because the only real difference between feeling drawn to someone because you want to bone them and feeling drawn to someone because they are secretly connected to you by a werewolf mating bond . . . is genre.

A YA Frankenstein Tale That’s, Well, Broken

A Review of Broken by A.E. Rought

Strange Chemistry, 2012

Broken A.E. Rought

by REBECCA, December 5, 2012

characters

Emma Gentry: broken-hearted at the death of her boyfriend, Emma feels alone, until . . .

Alex Franks: shows up at Shelley High with his hood up, hiding a secret, and falls for Emma

Bree: Emma’s drama-club bestie, she really wants Emma + Alex to work

Dr. Franks: Alex’s surgeon father. I think you can guess the rest.

Emma’s mom: an overprotective headcase whose only apparent redemption is that she makes delicious breakfasts

Josh: Emma’s ex’s BFF, he has a crush on Emma, of the ponytail-in-the-inkwell variety, and red hair, as the author tells us 47,000 times, so it must be important.

hook

“Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all.” That’s what Goodreads tells me to imagine, so that’s what I imagined. And it sounded pretty good.

worldview

But it’s not. Look, y’all, I hate to start off a review as such a negative nellie (well, no, I don’t mind), and believe you me I tried to find something positive to begin with, but . . . there’s just nothing.

Let me begin instFrankenstein!ead, then, with saying that I think Frankenstein is one of the most perfect novels ever written. It is an amazing story that’s gorgeously written and packs as much punch today as it did in 1818. So, tell me you’re doing a Frankenstein-esque story, and I’m 1. excited! I love it! and 2. immediately suspicious, because who the heck do you think you are; this had better be amazing or you’re going to look like an idiot.

Now, last year, I reviewed Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book One. It was really good because it delved into the character of Victor Frankenstein and then constructed this origin story that explores how that character might have come to be who he was in Shelley’s novel. There are also several other Frankenstein-esque YA tales that have come out this year/are coming out soon—more on that in a tick.

The problems with Rought’s Broken are manifold. Most importantly, the short blurb above—”Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all”—gives away every single thing in the book. No, seriously. This major problem is exacerbated, further, because the book seems not to know that the reader already knows everything. And I found this infuriating. I promise, no spoilers follow . . . because you already know everything. From reading the blurb. Really. Here’s the longer blurb, from Goodreads:

A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry’s boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetery and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog.

When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she’s intrigued despite herself. He’s an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely… familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel’s.

The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there’s something very wrong with Alex Franks. And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks’ estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.

NOW YOU HAVE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK AGAIN! Look, I’m not trying to be nasty; I just don’t understand. There are certain things everyone knows when you say you’re doing a Frankenstein retelling. Chief among them? That there’s a doctor who puts together a person out of other people and brings it to freaking life. Right? We agree on this, I think. So, then . . . your book has to have other things that are surprising, otherwise . . . why in the name of all that is reanimated am I going to read it? Now, I blithely started reading my copy of Broken assuming, for the reason I just stated, that there were going to be surprises galore given that it had already told me so much of what would happen. Erm, no. There aren’t any. So, the blurb tells me that:

1. there have been a rash of disappearances

2. Emma’s boyfriend Daniel died

3. Alex’s dad is a surgeon

4. Alex shows up with eyes exactly like dead Daniel’s, he is strangely drawn to Emma, and he knows things about Emma that only Daniel knew (her locker combination, the nickname she shared only with Daniel).

5. She goes to his house and finds animals who died and are now mysteriously alive.

HOW ON EARTH COULD I NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH EMMA, DANIEL, AND ALEX? ALEX FRANKS. FRANKS. FRANKENSTEIN. And yet, despite Alex’s uncanny similarities to Daniel being discussed multiple times early on, the book still acts like this is some shockingly mysterious reveal at the end. COME ON, book! It’s like those infuriating people who don’t know what to say to you or they’re too self-absorbed to notice you, so they just pretend you’ve never met. Like, you’ve been introduced three times and on the fourth introduction the person’s all, Hey, nice to meet you. At that point, book, I have to say, We’ve already met! Three times! You’re not fooling me into thinking that’s shocking information when you told me in chapter one! Sorry to embarrass you, but there’s just nothing for it!

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Ahem. So, I think this book intended to use the YA paranormal romance genre to update one of the greatest books ever written and the gothic novel against which all others are measured Frankenstein. Did it live up to that intention? Well, it’s definitely a paranormal romance.

Here’s the thing. This is a book that I read and thought: How did it get this far? You know? Like, at some point in the process, people should have stepped in and said that the book wasn’t really doing anything; instead, it seems, they decided to really try and capitalize on Broken‘s connection to Frankenstein, hoping that would be enough to sell it. And I think that was to its detriment, really. I mean, on one hand, at least the Frankenstein element kept it from being yet another copycat paranormal romance—like, I can’t lie: cutting people up to make another person? Never boring. But putting the Frankenstein connection out front seems to have erased the book’s obligation to do anything else. Take away those elements and it’s not even a fully-fleshed out romance. I wish they had buried the Frankenstein stuff in the publicity for the book, been much more oblique about the connection between Daniel and Alex, and let it be a macabre surprise for the reader.

Lest you think that I’m only upset because I didn’t have a shocking (get it?! sorry.) reading experience, allow me to put that notion to rest. Not only is the writing sloppy and choppy, I have rarely seen a book more chock-full of clunky similes that interrupt rather than enhance the atmosphere. Sometimes my students will do that thing where they look up every word in the thesaurus and replace it with a bigger word in the attempt to make their papers more academic-sounding, the result of which is the kind of word-salad that’s only charming in a five year old kid who overheard her parents say “cumbersome” and then asks for some cumbersome in that salad. Broken, for a similar reason, has convinced me that somewhere on the internet there is a simile-thesaurus that lets you plug in your sentence and spits it back to you translated into a simile-studded jello mold. Like, I don’t really find it evocative to read that someone’s expression “pours” over your face. Four times. Ew.

Finally, that Broken is an update of Frankenstein has an unfortunate side effect. It’s Frankensteinness literalizes one of the worst habits of the YA paranormal romance genre: instalove. When Alex shows up already primed to love Emma, it doesn’t matter that it’s for grotesque surgical reasons—the narrative effect is the same. The story is obviated of any need to develop their relationship with any nuance. I find this doubly amusing, my reading of Broken coming on the heels, as it does, of A.E. Rought’s blog post over at Strange Chemistry, in which she names instalove as one of the Top Ten Tropes in YA (alongside the truly horrible non-trope “female protagonists”!—read Elizabeth’s Vail’s nice rejoinder HERE).

So, friends, I regret having to post an entirely negative review, but Broken falls into every trap that a bad update/remake/riff can. However, I’m glad I read it only because, as I mentioned before, there are several other Frankenstein-related YA reads in circulation, so I’m going to go find them, read them, and then get back to you with a post about what Frankenstein (apparently) has to offer the world of YA. Check back.

readalikes

In lieu of actual readalikes (because you wouldn’t want to) here are some other YA takes on Frankenstein.

This Dark Endeavor Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book One by Kenneth Oppel (2011). Great story of the childhood of Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother. The sequel, Such Wicked Intent, is out now. My review is HERE.

Henry Franks Peter Adam Salomon

Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon (2012). Here’s a take, published by Flux (yay!) that has gotten really good reviews. I haven’t read it, but I will and shall report back. There’s a serial killer, it appears.

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters Suzanne Weyn

Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn (forthcoming, 2013). Then, coming out in January is the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s daughters who try and continue his work and, it looks like, have some kind of love triangle. Ah, well, guess they can just make another one of whatever guy they like, no problem (note: if that turns out to actually be the premise of this book, I in no way intended to spoiler you).

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Broken will be available January 8th.

All I Want For Chanukah Are These Snazzy YA Reads!

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell Winger Andrew Smith Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, November 26, 2012

As I write this, it’s the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s the time for cursing my father for making me drink so much this weekend thinking about what holiday gifts we want! In the spirit of turning our backs on giving thanks and preparing to say “thank you!” for the gifts to come, here is a list of the books I’m hoping some lovely Chanukah fairy might send winging my way. Sure, I know some of these won’t be out in time for Chanukah, but a girl can dream, no?

So, wipe that turkey off your face, recycle all those empties, and join me in lusting after some delicious stories! (Plot descriptions from Goodreads.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

I love me some Neil Gaiman, and I can’t wait for this one. Primal horror, family drama, and unknown ancient powers? I’m in.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”

The SIn-Eater's Confession Ilsa J. Bick

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick

Chanukah has come early via NetGalley on this intriguing tale. I really enjoyed Bick’s Draw the Dark, so I can’t wait for this one.

People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?”

How to Lead a Life of Crime Kirsten Miller

How To Lead A Life Of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

This looks awesome; plus the cover looks kind of like the opening sequence of Stick It. Dudes, it’s not called gym-nice-tics!

A meth dealer. A  prostitute. A serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”

Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff

Number one, this cover rocks my world. Number two, I loved the subtle creepiness of The Replacement, and can’t wait to read Yovanoff’s latest.

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls. For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Teeth Hannah Moscowitz

Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz

I’m a Hannah Moskowitz fan, but more importantly, this is a gay mermaid story. Can’t wait!

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.”

Winger Andrew Smith

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows I love Andrew Smith—check out reviews of Stick and The Marbury Lens HERE and HERE. He has three books coming out in the next year and a half or so (yay!) but I’m particularly intrigued by Winger because it sounds like it shares some thematic interests with one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin.

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn’t get. He’s convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch—out to destroy his life; believes the girl he’s in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend—the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s life—likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.”

Moonset Scott Tracey

Moonset, by Scott Tracey

From the author of the Witch Eyes series, which I really like (reviews of the first two in the series HERE and HERE) comes this new series about a group of young witches!

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister, and their three orphan-witch friends have gotten themselves kicked out of high school. Again. Now they’ve ended up in Carrow Mills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organization known as Moonset—began their evil experiments with the dark arts one generation ago.

When the siblings are accused of unleashing black magic on the town, Justin fights to prove their innocence. But tracking down the true culprit leads him to a terrifying discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.”

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Kelly over at Stacked has really sold me on this eighties period piece! Great cover, too.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.”

So, what about you, my desirous friends? What tasty morsels are on your Chanukah lists?

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