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
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.


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
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 »


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
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.


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.


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
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.


Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan

July 10, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Spark by Amy Kathleen RyanSpark by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by St. Martins Press on July 17, 2012
Genres: YA Sci-fi, YA Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
Waverly and Kieran are finally reunited on the Empyrean. Kieran has led the boys safely up to this point, and now that the girls are back, their mission seems slightly less impossible: to chase down the New Horizon, and save their parents from the enemy ship. But nothing is truly as it seems…Kieran’s leadership methods have raised Seth’s hackles— and Waverly’s suspicions. Is this really her fiancé? The handsome, loving boy she was torn from just a short time before? More and more, she finds her thoughts aligned with Seth’s. But if Seth is Kieran’s Enemy No. 1, what does that make her?

In one night, a strange explosion rocks the Empyrean—shooting them off course and delaying their pursuit of the New Horizon—and Seth is mysteriously released from the brig. Seth is the most obvious suspect for the explosion, and Waverly the most obvious suspect for releasing him. As the tension reaches a boiling point, will Seth be able to find the true culprit before Kieran locks them both away—or worse? Will Waverly follow her heart, even if it puts lives at risk? With the balance of power precarious and the clock ticking, every decision counts… every step brings them closer to a new beginning, or a sudden end...

Some call me crazy for continuing to read certain series even though I hated or felt ambivalent about a first book. True, the way that habit most often manifests in relation to me is more often masochistic than curious, but then there are books like Spark. I had a quite a few issues with Glow and didn’t feel much for it, but Spark really reeled me in and impressed me far more. This is one of those rare times the habit did something good for me.

Though Ryan’s prose still retains a certain robotic feel to it that can keep readers from becoming fully engaged, the emotional intensity of her story increased tenfold and its pacing sped up. Waverly and Kieran put their morals behind them even further in order to create scapegoats, torture men because it feels good, retain power, and more. Their characters reek of complex desperation and I couldn’t get enough of it. What’s Seth doing? Not much, just hiding out, sneaking around, and getting the snot beaten out of him a few times. His narrative didn’t add too much, in my opinion.

The state of the Empyrean is fragile at best and crumbling at worst with a saboteur on board and no solid government after the girls’ return. With a scant few adults still alive and none of them in any condition to do anything on the ship, the children have to take charge of everything, including the positions of Central Council members and Justice of the Peace. These kids have been forced to grow up so much in a few short months that I often forgot it was children twelve and younger were behaving in such cruel, obscene (obscene like graffiti of Waverly giving people sexual favors) ways. They seemed so much older.

Early on in the novel, when some recap is being done on what happened in Glow, this gets said: “[…]; the lab where they’d operated on Waverly, taken the most essential part of her to create their next generation of apostles;[…]” (ARC p. 9-10). The “essential part of her” they took being the eggs in her ovaries. I wish you could have seen my face when I came across that.

A woman’s baby-making organs are not the most essential part of her! You know what are probably the most essential parts of her? Her heart. Her lungs. Her brain. You know, those organs that keep the rest of the organs (like the baby-making organs) going. In the grand scheme of one human woman’s body–not an entire species, just one member of it–her eggs mean absolutely nothing. One could argue that was Waverly thinking that and not the narrative, but this novel is told in third-person omniscient, meaning it’s a separate narrator speaking. Narrative support of gross ideas does not a happy me make.

My only other complaint takes up far less space. The first three chapters build up a tense mood with the detailing of what feels like an explosion through Seth’s, Waverly’s, and Kieran’s points of view. What does it turn out to be? A thruster misfire! The anticlimactic resolution of that problem so early in the novel frustrated me, though the thruster misfire turned out to be a sign of sabotage about fifty pages later. Both of my concerns were actually small in the overall picture, but they took more words to explain. I really did like the novel, y’all.

With yet another cliffhanger ending, fans will be hyped up for the next book in Ryan’s series and I happily count myself among those anticipating it. Thank goodness for second chances!


The Assassin and the Pirate Lord by Sarah J. Maas

July 4, 2012 Reviews 0 ★★★

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord by Sarah J. MaasThe Assassin and the Pirate Lord by Sarah J. Maas
Buy from AmazonBuy from Barnes & NoblePublished by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on January 10, 2012
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes—and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about.

The first of four novellas leading up to Throne of Glass, Maas gives readers who weren’t around to read her novel on Fictionpress their first taste of Celaena Sardothien, Adarlan’s Assassin. I haven’t stopped hearing about the author for months now because of how her novel started out, and I was eager to see what all the fuss is about. I can’t say I don’t see how she got so many fans, but I can say she still needs improvement.

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