Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein

July 19, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

Cold Fury by T.M. GoegleinCold Fury by T.M. Goeglein
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Putnam Juvenile on July 24, 2012
Genres: YA Paranormal, YA Thriller
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from a swap
two-stars
Jason Bourne meets The Sopranos in this breathtaking adventure

Sara Jane Rispoli is a normal sixteen-year-old coping with school and a budding romance--until her parents and brother are kidnapped and she discovers her family is deeply embedded in the Chicago Outfit (aka the mob).

Now on the run from a masked assassin, rogue cops and her turncoat uncle, Sara Jane is chased and attacked at every turn, fighting back with cold fury as she searches for her family. It's a quest that takes her through concealed doors and forgotten speakeasies--a city hiding in plain sight. Though armed with a .45 and 96K in cash, an old tattered notebook might be her best defense--hidden in its pages the secret to "ultimate power." It's why she's being pursued, why her family was taken, and could be the key to saving all of their lives.

Action packed, with fresh, cinematic writing, Cold Fury is a riveting and imaginative adventure readers will devour.

If I keep seeing the exact same issues in YA over and over again like I have been lately, I am going to put down the books for a little while and start making buttons in Photoshop. Typing out the same complaints over and over again gets old very quickly and  if those buttons would create such a great shortcut for books like Cold Fury, whose problems I have all seen before and detailed my dislike of before. Negative portrayals of most women, spoilerific narrative choice, a badly developed heroine, and a slew of other issues made me happy to finish the book as quickly as I did.

On the bright side, I read this in a single day. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger and it’s easy to keep turning the pages. Maybe it was a little easier for me because I was trapped on a six-hour road trip and I wanted to get Cold Fury finished, but it stands that it was good enough for me to take only one day to read.

If a character is female in this book and their name is not Sara Jane Rispoli (and if they are not her mother; absent as she is, her mom doesn’t get any characterization), they are almost certainly negatively portrayed. Uncle Buddy’s wife Greta: cardboard character who is controlling, mean, and the implied reason the feud between Uncle Buddy and his brother got worse. Mandi Fishbaum: cardboard character who calls Sara Jane a slut and whose friends (all girls) join in to make fun of her. Gina: gossip. The major antagonist is also female.

What is that supposed to accomplish? Is Sara Jane supposed to look better in comparison with every other woman in the book? It doesn’t work. It only makes me dislike the book more because that device is old and rather offensive to me. To be frank, Sara Jane could be genderswitched into a boy named Jack Rispoli and I would not know the difference. There is nothing authentically female about her voice or character.

Speaking of Sara Jane, I don’t like action movies. This book, down to the hollow lead character who doesn’t get any depth and just does what she needs to so the plot will advance and the lack of development, reminds me too much of the action movies that made me dislike the entire genre. Sara Jane had so many viable opportunities to show she has depth–a little bit of resentment toward her parents when she discovers how male children are prized over female children in Outfit families, for instance, because that’s perfectly understandable–but she never takes them. She lives and breathes and moves, but inside, there is nothing complex going on. She’s hollow.

Cold Fury has such an interesting, awesome storyline going on with the Chicago Outfit (better known as the mob), but the way in which it’s executed and its history is explained is so droll that it becomes less interesting and awesome as a result. We learn the history of the Outfit and each family’s place in it through pages and pages of infodumps by Sara Jane as she reads the notebook. I cared about what was being explained, but when delivered in such a dry way, I lost interest.

A few continuity issues range from mild, like when she first felt cold fury (we learn early on it happened during a boxing match; later, she says it happened after a girl called her a slut) to something more important like her birthday (her family’s disappearance and the Spring Dance in late April/early May fall on her birthday, but it’s an important detail that her birthday is November 23, 1996 because it opens an all-important suitcase). Because my copy was an ARC, I’d love for a friend with a finished copy to look through it and confirm whether or not those details are still there. If they aren’t, that’s fantastic and the continuity issues are nil. If they are still there, I may need to trim off another star.

My final complaint is the narrative choice. First-person past is what I prefer, but Sara Jane’s reflections on her past tend to dole out spoilers like a card dealer in a Las Vegas casino. Spoilers aren’t fun, especially when a book’s own narrator is doing the spoiling. Though the jacket copy tells readers her family is involved in the Outfit, she herself doesn’t learn this for at least half the book. Her reflections on the past make it so obvious what is about to happen or how important a moment is, but I don’t want her to tell me this. I want to discover it and/or figure it out myself! Annoyance at this device made me put the book down multiple times.

Cold Fury is the first in a trilogy, but I’m unsure whether or not I will come back for book two. Hints at a possible love triangle between Max, Sarah Jane, and Tyler, a seventeen-year-old CEO who is an Outfit kid just like Sarah Jane, are scaring me away. Sara Jane already claimed she may love Max even though they barely interact during the novel–classically bad insta-love–and that doesn’t give me much hope in any romance this series has to offer As I’ve learned, I really should stop saying never when it comes to sequels because sometimes, I break down and read them. This time, I’ll say “maybe.”

Divider

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

July 18, 2012 Reviews 0

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan DennardSomething Strange and Deadly
Buy from AmazonBuy from The Book DepositoryBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by HarperTeen on July 24, 2012
Genres: Gothic, YA Paranormal
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
one-star
The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

Something about the cover of this book always struck me as being off. The model’s expression, maybe? The way her right eyebrow seems to dive straight into her eye? I’m not sure. Though I enjoyed Something Strange and Deadly for its first hundred pages, that same feeling of something being off came to me again, this time about the book’s content. It took me less than half the book to figure out what’s off this time: the predictability of the story and a few other details that ultimately made me dislike Dennard’s debut novel.

The story was well-paced and well-plotted enough for me to read the majority of the novel in one day and the prose was quite nice. It wasn’t a book I had to force myself to read by any means even when I lost the desire to keep reading. Though her character arc was not as great as I hoped it would be, what changes Eleanor went through did make me happy. These better facets of the novel keep it out of the zero-star range I save for terrible books, but they weren’t enough to redeem what I considered book-breaking points.

What really broke Something Strange and Deadly was the fact that its mysteries–who the necromancer is and their motive, why certain people in Philadelphia are dying, who Elijah’s bullies were, and more–were as subtle as a nuclear bomb going off.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. All the small hints at the larger picture aren’t really that small.The answers were so obvious that I thought they had to be red herrings, and I wasn’t happy to discover that my predictions were, in fact, correct and none of the answers I’d come up with were wrong. I wanted to be surprised and enchanted and sadly, I was not either when it came to this novel.

The reliance on tropes that are becoming more common in YA novels didn’t help either. Mothers using their daughters in an attempt to attain money for them/their family and heroines being motivated by their missing/in-danger brothers? I’ve seen enough of both of those tropes to last me a few years. Stock characters thrown in here and there (I have become a lot more sensitive to and annoyed by stock characters as of late due to some recent nonfiction reading), weak characterization for almost all the characters who weren’t named Eleanor Fitt, and how inauthentic the 1876 Philadelphia setting felt were other weak points that kept me from enjoying myself more.

Yes, I disliked Something Strange and Deadly. Yes, I am giving it only one star. Strangely enough, I do have an interest in reading the sequel–not to laugh at it, but because I’m genuinely interested in where Dennard will take her characters next. I have a good feeling A Darkness Strange and Lovely will be a vast improvement over this book. It’s very rare I feel this way after reading a book I dislike; only one other book, The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton, has ever gotten that reaction from me before and it’s a very good sign.

Divider

The Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J. Maas

July 17, 2012 Reviews 0

The Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J. MaasThe Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J. Maas
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 1, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
one-star
When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, she jumps at the chance to strike a blow against an evil practice. The misson is a dark and deadly affair which takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer—and she doesn’t like what she finds there.

This novella made me wish it were in print so I could throw it across the room without hurting my e-reader. That should be a fine summary of its quality, but reviews are best when detailed and I always try my best when writing reviews. I liked the first novella and cared less for the second one, but this third one offended me a little with how it treated female characters whose names weren’t Celaena Sardothien.

There was a little bit of merit to the novella and I will recognize that much. It’s well-paced, smoothly written, and largely interesting. Readers can figure out the truth behind Celaena’s mission if they pay attention, though. It appears Maas is not skilled at writing mysteries because this problem happened once before too. The build-up with Sam comes to a head and the attention to continuity is something I can respect. I’m sure the events of these novellas will play a part in the novel too.

Now then, what offended me. Throughout these first three novellas, four relevant female characters have been presented to the readers. Two were villains, one was a horribly characterized caricature, and one was Celaena. A large portion of Throne of Glass‘s hype rests on its strong female heroine, but weakly characterizing or demonizing all other female characters so Celaena will look good is not the way to go. She’ll look worse, actually. I sure wouldn’t recommend the series to girls if it took that route of characterization, so I’m hoping ToG won’t go that way. (Post-reading ToG: It doesn’t go that way, thank goodness. I am beyond happy about that.

As it was solely within this novella, the caricature girl, a courtesan named Lysandra, had no effort put into her characterization. The way Celaena looked upon her and the other courtesan girls carries a tone of implied slut shaming as she calls them all insipid. This also makes Celaena a hypocrite, since she uses her beauty to accomplish her goals exactly the way a courtesan might. I think the only courtesan looked kindly upon is Sam’s mother and she’s dead.

Reading more of this series right now would result in a blown gasket and considering what is going on at this point in time in my life, a blown gasket is not what I need right now. One of my friends absolutely loved Throne of Glass and she is often as sensitive to issues of female representation as I am, so I’m hoping these novellas are a fluke and the novel itself will bring me back and make me fall in love. What can I say? I give things chances even when people say I shouldn’t anymore.

Divider

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. Pozner

July 15, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. PoznerReality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Seal Press on October 19, 2010
Genres: Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 392
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
five-stars
Reality TV is intentionally cast and edited to get us to think less and buy more. In Reality Bites Back, journalist Jennifer L. Pozner takes a funny yet unflinching look at ho our favorite shows reinforce stereotypes and force-feed us messages about who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to want. For most of us, reality TV is a guilty pleasure we indulge in and give little thought to, but Pozner exposes the commercial and political agendas behind this influential genre, revealing how our favorite shows negatively impact women, people of color, and future generations.

I fancy myself a media critic, though I’m not always a good one. My focus is YA novels and though I can certainly sort out good subtext from bad and call out seriously problematic elements with ease, I’m nowhere near as sharp when it comes to movies and television. The premise of Pozner’s book interested me after I finished another nonfiction novel last year, so I put this on my to-read list and finally jumped for it a few months ago. Wow. Just wow. I did not expect this book to open my eyes like this. Read more »

Divider

Saving June by Hannah Harrington

July 13, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Saving June by Hannah HarringtonSaving June by Hannah Harrington
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Harlequin Teen on November 22, 2011
Genres: YA Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: finished copy from the publisher
four-stars
Harper Scott's older sister, June, took her own life a week before high school graduation, leaving Harper devastated. So when her divorcing parents decide to split up June's ashes, Harper steals the urn and takes off cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going--California.

Enter Jake Tolan, a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession... and an unknown connection to June. When he insists on joining them, Harper's just desperate enough to her him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanor and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what Harper needs. Except... Jake's keeping a secret that has the power to turn her life upside down--again.

Frankly, I’d never thought twice about Saving June before a copy of it showed up in my mailbox without warning. I get picky about which “family member dies and main character” stories I read because there are very few gems among the many stories along those lines. I wasn’t sure Saving June would be a gem, but a few days and 322 pages later, I happily proclaim it so. Readers aren’t always going to like these characters, but their compelling storylines and thorough characterization will make it almost unimportant.

Oh, Harper. Selfish and overly angsty as she was, I kind of wanted to scream some sense into her fictional little noggin, but .I’m the June of my family in terms of expectations put on me and brains, but I get how Harper feels because socially, I’m the Harper and my older brother is the June. It sucks to live in someone’s shadow and it can really hurt you to be in that shadow for too long. Laney, Harper’s best friend, and Jake, the guy who basically barges his way into the girls’ trip to California with June’s ashes, may be supporting characters, but they receive equally well-done characterization and character arcs.

Though music is in my genetics (my grandfather sings gospel, my dad and his brothers were once in that gospel group, and my brother is a drummer), I haven’t got a musical bone in my body. I love music nonetheless and the way Harrington incorporates music into the novel is fantabulous. Though the novel is ultimately about Harper dealing with her sister’s suicide and the road trip to California, the undercurrent of what music means to people and what it can do for them was weaved in beautifully. For anyone who wants to play along at home, the songs used are listed in the back of the book. If I ever have time to reread books, I’ll want to reread this one while listening to all the mentioned songs at the appropriate moments so I can get the full experience.

Harper and Jake’s slow-burn romance really worked for me because when they finally got together, I understood exactly why they liked each other. Over two-hundred pages of banter, occasional thoughtful conversation, and bonding over music culminated in a relationship that felt real and good. Though I wished the focus was less on their romance and more on Harper’s relationship with her sister, I suppose it was better than it could have been. There are always those books where the romance completely possesses the novel like a demon.

My two problems with the novel were small, but I couldn’t ignore them. The characterization of one-shot character Gwen annoyed me. She’s portrayed as a jealous snob who is possessive over her ex-boyfriend Jake and she’s almost made out to be a joke, which is a bit of a problem when I agree with some of her ideas. The second was some arbitrary slut shaming that happened in the novel. Was there really a need to call the cheerleader June’s boyfriend Tyler cheated on her with a skank? No, there was not. Sex is overall handled positively in the novel and it’s almost always objected to when someone else throws around the word “slut”, but that one little piece made me make a very ugly face.

Seriously, don’t slut shame in novels. One throwaway instance of calling someone a skank or a slut might turn out to be all that keeps the novel from getting a glowing five-star review from a young woman who isn’t easily impressed.

Divider

Beautiful Disaster Acquired by Atria Books: My Thoughts

July 12, 2012 Discussion Post 3

I hardly ever post anything on this blog that isn’t a review or a meme, but I’ve got something to talk about today. Followers old and new can have a taste of some of my deeper bookish thoughts and a better sense of who I am. I hope I don’t alienate anyone with this post, but this book news gave me thoughts I just couldn’t hold in.

Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful #1)

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. It’s a pretty damn well-known self-published book for what appear to be three main reasons:

  1. A lot of people like it (I’ve seen many call it “a disaster they can’t look away from”) and a lot of people hate it (they tend to call it a flat-out disaster).
  2. The content is extremely problematic; the male lead flips the fuck out when the female lead leaves his apartment without telling him. He throws his stereo across the room, scares his roommates, trashes his apartment in various ways, and more that all appear to be items on the checklist for an unbalanced person [review I cite this from].
  3. The author can really wank up a storm.

This novel and its sequel (BD in Travis’s point of view) Walking Disaster have been acquired by Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. I have many feelings about this and none of them are good.

(But first, a quick summary of her wank. She has attacked a negative reviewer in a blog post made solely about that reviewer and their review. She let people call her books YA on Goodreads and asked them to vote for it as a YA novel in the Goodreads Awards without comment for months before she tried to say it’s an adult novel. For liking a comment criticizing her about her contradictory statements concerning BD’s genre, I got blocked from her Facebook page.)

(The reason I haven’t linked to any “proof” in that previous paragraph, though I can certainly pull it up, is that I’m not concerned with proving my claims in this post; this is about how I feel about this book and the news it will be professionally published. If you want to think I’m lying to make the author look bad when you can tell this post is pretty serious thinking on my part, that’s your problem. You obviously don’t know me very well.)

It feels strange to criticize this book without having read it, but I have a very good reason for not reading it: I am aware it will trigger me. I am very sensitive to the nature of relationships in novels and when they’re unhealthy, I get really uncomfortable. When it’s as unhealthy as it is in Beautiful Disaster, I get triggered. I have difficulty breathing, all my thought processes slow down or stop, and I am basically a useless, hyperventilating ball until I can calm down. It’s not pretty. I have read many summaries of the novel from many different people, both fans and critics, and I have been triggered a few times while reading more in-depth, graphic summaries.

I can take a lot of bullshit in books and I end up reading quite a few bad books whether or not I intend to, but reading Beautiful Disaster is something I cannot and will not do. Reading bad books is one thing. I’m not going to jeopardize my mental health with something I know will trigger me.

In my quest to become a discerning media critic who isn’t afraid to call out problems in YA novels and won’t miss anything, I recently started reading a nonfiction book about the social implications of reality TV’s portrayal of women, people of color, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups. A statement made in the introduction rings true not just for reality TV, but for all consumable media, including books:

All media must have social responsibility.

Books are not just books. They are forms of media that shape people’s ideas and feelings. People who tell me books are just books when I’m criticizing an element of it (like, say, if I’m calling out misogyny in the Halo series by Alexandra Adornetto) and I shouldn’t get so worked up about it infuriate me because in that respect, books are not just books. When people tell a person they should slit their wrists, that’s when it’s appropriate to say that a book is just a book. No one should be told to kill themselves or be given death threats because they think Beautiful Disaster is a crock or they didn’t like Wicked Lovely.

One of the chapters in that nonfiction book (Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner) actually deals with how violence against women is romanticized/brushed off/played for laughs, discusses its effect on both genders, and makes it clear why this is a really bad thing. Beautiful Disaster and the way some fans want a Travis of their own when he is clearly unstable and a relationship with any man like him would end badly is a clear example of what happens when media doesn’t take responsibility for the messages it sends.

I feel sorry for Jamie McGuire. I really do. Because the media she grew up with said “it’s just entertainment” when someone made a valid criticism of it, thereby refusing to take social responsibility, she can’t recognize that Abby and Travis’s relationship as she has written it is unhealthy. She had denied it multiple times, but a rule I live by is that intent is not magical. Just because the author says so-and-so element of his/her novel is not problematic doesn’t mean it’s not problematic.

I may feel bad for her because she has normalized and possibly romanticized the traits of an unhealthy relationship in her mind, but I will continue to be critical of her novel and the ideas it perpetuates. The media she grew up with didn’t take on its social responsibility, but I think the media she has produced must take on its social responsibility. When there are teenage girls saying they unironically love Travis and they want a boyfriend just like him, that is a problem. Books really can shape a person’s romantic ideals. God knows they shaped mine when I got into reading at age thirteen (and thank goodness I found books that made me realize the romantic ideals I had for nearly three years were traits of unhealthy relationships).

If anyone thinks I’m being a jealous hater, I really don’t care. In that case, I will take my delicious cherry-flavored haterade, sit out by the pool with my sunglasses and a stack of books that don’t normalize/glorify rape culture and domestic abuse, and keep on truckin’. A media critic’s work is never done, especially when her concentration is YA novels.

Divider

The Assassin and the Desert by Sarah J. Maas

July 11, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★

The Assassin and the Desert by Sarah J. MaasThe Assassin and the Desert by Sarah J. Maas
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on March 30, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
two-stars
The Silent Assassins of the Red Desert aren’t much for conversation, and Celaena Sardothien wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s not there to chatter, she’s there to hone her craft as the world’s most feared killer for hire. When the quiet is shattered by forces who want to destroy the Silent Assassins, Celaena must find a way to stop them, or she’ll be lucky to leave the desert alive.

After being vaguely impressed with Maas’s first Throne of Glass novella, I eagerly started reading my copy of the second, The Assassin and the Desert. It saddens me to say I’m disappointed in this novella. Predictable and poorly paced, I’m hoping the next two novellas and the novel do not resemble this novella in any way.

Celaena is slowly developing into a more realized character with flaws, and the novella itself details how she is having to suffer the consequences of her actions (since she is sent to the desert as punishment for freeing the slaves in The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, the previous novella). Still, the convenient way everything works out for her in the end does not escape me. Once is once. Twice is coincidence. Let’s hope there won’t be a third instance to make it a pattern.

Most of the novella is spent on training. Running six miles across the desert, imitating an asp, doing all this other stuff… It doesn’t make for a very readable story and I kept picking it up and putting it down. There was no driving force to The Assassin and the Desert until the seventy or eighty percent mark, when Celaena finally realizes what is happening and hurries away on her new horse to save the day.

And really, I figured out the entire plot in half the time it took Celaena. Everything added up as easily as one plus one plus one plus one. This dude’s hint here, this characters stupid action there, this chain of events over here–I almost felt insulted  and I got impatient waiting for Celaena to catch up. If Maas is this bad at writing mysteries and it’s not a one-shot deal, then Throne of Glass (which appears to have a mystery as its primary plot) may not be as enjoyable of a read as I am hoping it will be. Either way, such a poorly assembled mystery did not entertain me like the action of the first novella did.

Next is novella number three: The Assassin and the Underworld. It can’t be much worse than this, but one thing I’ve learned as an often-masochistic reader who is usually determined to finish a book no matter how bad it is? A bad book/series can always get worse. I’m hoping it will be better, though. Fingers crossed, rabbit leg nearby, and so on.

Divider