Random Review: The Selection

Stucco palace.

Just think about that phrase for a moment. Hold it in your mind. Turn it over, consider the implications. It has a lot to do with this review.

The Selection by Kiera Cass, 327 Pages

I was really excited about this book, I really wanted to like it. I am not immune to the lure of a beautiful cover featuring a beautiful girl in a gorgeous dress. A dust-jacket featuring a svelte redhead in endless ruffles of turquoise tulle reflected back in different poses by a bank of water-spotted mirrors, wrapped around a Tiffany-blue hardback stamped with a silver tiara. Despite my disdain for bodice-ripping romances I can enjoy a made-for-TV romantic comedy or an episode of The Bachelor while I’m cooking dinner, so I was game to give the YA dystopian fantasy a shot.

This is a book that tries to bridge the gap between The Hunger Games and Twilight. Someone was bound to try soon enough, those two incredibly popular series combined would seem like a golden ticket to publication. On the one hand, we have a highly regulated society in which many are starving and it is very difficult to move across the government’s dividing lines, hosting a competition to publicly elevate one of its number above the rest. On the other we have a novel completely centered around a love triangle, with a heroine who is a bit of a Mary Sue.

America Singer is a tri-lingual, naturally beautiful musician with a secret boyfriend of a lower caste. Being a Five is not so great, it is an artisan class with sporadic work that leaves her family perpetually short on food, but her boyfriend Aspen has it worse as a Six in the servant class. She has the big-time hots for this boy and they have two years worth of treehouse trysts backed up, creating an incredible pressure that they’d like to relieve post-marriage (pre-marital sex is ground for imprisonment). Big no-no, America’s momma is hoping she will use her pretty face to marry up at least two castes. When a Cinderella-esque invitation arrives exhorting America to enter a lottery for a chance to win a place in a competition to win the hand of the crown-prince of Illéa, becoming a One in the process, her mother is practically foaming at the mouth and even secret-boytoy Aspen doesn’t want her to pass up the opportunity.

She is persuaded to enter, and of course she is selected.

Many blogs have already likened this novel to The Bachelor, and I would have to say that it actually reads like Bachelor fan-fiction with a prince subbed for the schmuck. America is incredibly judgmental of the other Selected, often based on a single visual impression or line of dialogue, yet these judgements are never false. The sexy brunette is seductive and conniving, the bubbly blonde is sweet as pie. Everything plays out as exactly as you might guess, in the most clichéd manner possible. The palace is repeatedly attacked by mysterious rebels with no definite purpose in scenes that fail to thrill. The book is light on both dialogue and description, propelled by endless stated actions and sentiments “I walked downstairs and then sat in a chair and then ate dinner. It was delicious. I felt full.” There were several paragraphs in which every sentence began with “I”. The scant dialogue all sounds the same, though the novel depicts characters from a range of social classes and geographic locations. I wouldn’t even know if I split an infinitive, but there were many glaring errors in mechanics, as though someone printed their fan-fiction straight from the computer and had it bound. Unfortunate dialogue tags abound, everyone “sings” everything. At one point I wondered if this book were supposed to be a musical.

The heroine herself comes across as inconsistent and disingenuous. She is home-schooled and plays the victim of incomprehensible feminine politics, but makes unerring judgements of her fellow ladies and presumes to give Maxon advice on interacting with them. At one point she states that she wants nothing more than to be alone with a violin, on the next page she is alone in her room with a selection of instruments and says she can’t “be bothered” with them. She claims to be madly in love with Aspen but only seems to think or feel anything about him when he is directly in her line of sight. She performs actions that are inconsistent with the reader’s knowledge if her character, simply because they seem to be on the author’s checklist of princessly characteristics.

The romance is pretty dull. With America and Aspen it is a lot of forbidden horny leg-rubbing; America and Maxon engage in slightly more interesting conversation about why he sucks (America is a real charmer).

This is not the worst of it, you guys, and I’m sorry for rambling on. I’m almost done.

The worst failure of this novel is a failure of the imagination. I could deal with a stupid plot and two-dimensional characters if I got some great poetic language, engaging world-building, or sumptuous descriptions of luxurious locales and fashion. The author seems to have an obsession with cap-sleeves, everything America wears has them! I’m not sure if it was a deliberate choice to make her seem demure or a lack of creativity. The sumptuous cuisine? Bacon, eggs, and pancakes; or vanilla ice cream with fruit. Literally dozens of female characters have names but no physical descriptions or personalities, even when they have speaking parts. COME. ON. The palace is made of stucco (but has marble floors). Stucco, you guys. It was described in a way that made me picture the mansion they always use on The Bachelor, but it is somehow big enough to house more than two hundred people, forty or so with their own rooms and enormous individual bathrooms. Magic.

I am disappoint. This could have had real potential if a tougher editor had entered the picture.

So now that I have ripped this poor book to shreds, I am giving it away. Whether it’s morbid curiosity or a genuine belief that this might be just the story for you, I encourage you to enter.

Chair Rating:

Pretty and girly on the outside, bizarre on the inside. If you find it a good fit, you might be crazy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY

To enter my giveaway for a hardcover copy of Kiera Cass’s The Selection all I ask is that you post a comment featuring:

1. A picture of what you would wear to meet and woo royalty

OR

2. A description of the most incredible meal you can imagine

If you choose to do both, I will count it as two entries. I will randomly choose a winner on Wednesday, May 2nd at midnight PST. This giveaway is limited to the continental United States and Canada (I’ve seen a few canucks pop up on the map). Spread the word!

“Steve York” Porn Why Lawyer

WordPress has a lot of nifty features for the blogger, one of my favorites is the little map that shows me where hits originate from geographically. I went consistently global sometime last week! Hello India, France, U.K., and Thailand! Thanks for coming back! Recently, another feature has become even more interesting than the map or the bar graph of daily hits: Search Engine Terms. There is a list compiled daily of the things people searched for that brought them to my corner of webspace.

Many of them make perfect sense, like:

is katniss everdeen a good role model

underrated books

Some make a weird, fragmented sense, even if I’m not sure the searcher found what they were looking for:

ink girls tube

dispose dry oleander brush

Others just leave me laughing (and scratching my head):

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance douchebags

“steve york” porn why lawyer

A daily dose of Dadaist poetry generated just for me. Steve York would dig it.

Yesterday I got myself on down to the bookstore and bought New Books at Full Price

I read The Selection by Kiera Cass first, as it was the newest release, and I will post my review later tonight along with a giveaway of my copy. On the slate this week I have: a review of Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway, two character studies (one from the Harry Potter series), and a post on how my writing is going.

Watch this space!

Random Review: will grayson, will grayson

Because I loved The Fault in Our Stars, and because it was the only John Green novel not checked out of the local library, I thought I’d try

will grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan 310 pages

The paperback copy I read had a great cover, it looked exactly like a night out. Refracted bursts of light, a metallic sheen, and bubbles emerging from the darkness. The novel itself consists of alternating chapters between the eponymous Will Graysons. One is a shiftless music lover destined to become a doctor by default, the other is an extremely angry closeted homosexual being medicated for depression. Yeah. I think I’d like to tackle this one Will Grayson at a time.

Punctuated Will Grayson sort of maybe likes the only girl who crosses his path during the novel, but she maybe has a boyfriend and he definitely wants to be passive-aggressive about it. Throughout the duration of the  will-they/won’t-they I wanted to tell Jane:  “I know this guy, and he’s not worth your time.”

will grayson is a constant blast of rage, when he isn’t passive-aggressively tormenting his depressed goth “friend” Maura. The one bright point in his lowercase universe is an online boyfriend.

The WGs are brought together one Friday in Chicago outside an unlikely store, both feeling betrayed. The only reason for them to meet is to spread the fabulosity of

TINY COOPER

Tiny is Will Grayson’s best friend and will grayson’s sometime paramour. He is also easily the most interesting thing about the novel. He is a six-foot-plus blast of pure personality, a one man gay pride parade with enough ex-boyfriends to form a football team (and then some). Tiny sweeps both Wills along in his musical-writing, parent-charming wake. He somehow manages to wake both moody boys and get them to climb out of their own heads for five seconds. All iterations of his musical are hilarious. I’d pay to watch it.

Ultimately, this book didn’t quite work for me. Tiny was interesting enough to keep me reading, but I doubt I would have picked it up if I hadn’t already enjoyed a John Green novel. If you desperately love hipsters or are interested in reading a couple of fresh angles on teenagers who happen to prefer their own gender sexually, this might be a good read for you. I’d give it a solid three, but I probably wouldn’t read it again.

Chair Rating:

Seems cooler than it is. Style over substance. Too hip to function.

Top Ten Tuesdays: All Time Favorite Characters

Lookin' heroic!

by ChloeRhiannonX on DeviantArt

The world has spun round seven times to bring you another edition of that fabulous meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. It’s a good one this week: Top Ten Favorite Characters of All Time. Here they are, in no particular order (because the order will ever be entirely dependent on my mood).

1. Cadel Piggott (Darkkon), Evil Genius by Catherine Jinx

Cadel is a fantastic character: a brilliant, amoral, incredibly lonely boy who has been raised to become an Evil Genius, right down to the creation of a school just for him. He begins the novel all science and systems, doing things to see if he can, but through a burgeoning relationship with puzzle-lover and chess whiz Kay-Lee he begins to form a philosophy. Cadel is a truly unique male character in a sea of glib dreamboats and navel-gazing wimps. Watching him find his way to the moral and spiritual from a place of cold scientific fact was a pretty awesome literary journey (and one hell of a fun read).

2. Finnick Odair, Haymitch Abernathy, and Cinna; The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Yeah, so this is actually three characters. Bite me. Peeta may be my Panem dreamboy but Finnick, Haymitch, and Cinna are three of the most compelling characters in the series. Each has a depth and grit to match their more obvious talents. Finnick is shrewd and observant when it comes to people (and a big old softie when you get down to it), Haymitch an incomparable strategist, and Cinna more courageous than any Capitol fashion designer has a right to be. SPOILER IN WHITE I didn’t cry for Prim, but I had to take a moment for Finnick. Must have read that page five times just to be sure it was true.

3. Dolphus Raymond, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Dolphus Raymond seems like the honey badger of Maycomb at first blush, but Scout eventually discovers that he knows what people think and he’s clever enough to keep them from hassling him. His Coke-as-whiskey ruse allows him the freedom to stroll about a town of busybody Baptists doing and saying what he pleases. Boo Radley ought to take notes.

4. Katie John; Honestly, Katie John by Mary Calhoun

My mom used to spend weekends scouring yard sales and The Salvation Army for affordable treasure as a form of (mostly) free entertainment. I would always tag along in hopes of finding a  decent paperback or two amongst the endless mysteries and romances for the low low price of a quarter. Honestly, Katie John was one of my Salvation Army finds and I fell directly in love with its prickly porcupine of a heroine. Lipstick-biting, Halloween-loving, cootie-catching Katie John was my kind of gal. She was defiantly stomping her way through puberty and I loved every minute. I read this book over and over until it got misplaced in my mother’s move from trailer to apartment.

5. Erin Whitney, Erin and Triple Trouble of the Whitney Cousins series by Jean Thesman

Erin was another of my Salvation Army finds, the main character rendered as prickly as Katy John by personal tragedy rather than puberty (though puberty seems the most personal of tragedies). Erin Whitney was smart and cynical with a thick mane of red hair and fearless thrift-store fashion sense (appealing to a girl whose every stitch came from Salvation Army or Costco). She was also a wonderful artist, despite being emotionally guarded. Her wittily narrated journey from bitter expelled orphan to square-dancing one-legged orphan keeps her in the running for favorite character.

6. Arnie the Doughnut, Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller

Being rather gullible and naively optimistic about my future and my friends, I found Arnie to be a supremely relatable (and delicious) character. Arnie has the audacity to dream that a doughnut can be more than a delectable snack, and he gets out of that bakery case and makes his dreams come true! What a winner. That pastry’s an inspiration.

7. Kobie Roberts, the Kobie Roberts series: Almost Ten and a Half, Going on Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Holding, and Fifteen at Last

Kobie is a pain in the ass, the bull in the china shop. While I liked Alice (of the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor series), she was a bit too average for me to connect. Too normal, she fit right in. Kobie was weird looking, high-strung, an artistic perfectionist doomed to suffer under the tyranny of group projects. She cared too hard about some things and not at all about others, with frequently embarrassing results. She was often completely out of touch with reality. Those were shoes I could climb into and walk around with ease. I think I found Thirteen at a garage sale and liked it so much I tracked down the rest at local libraries. From her offended dignity over insults to her representation of clouds, to the keenly felt wounds of puberty and growing apart from a friend who had grown into the look of the moment while she struggled with difficult hair and bony everything, I always got where Kobie was coming from.

8. Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix through Deathly Hallows

Even the smart kids have their weirdos, a fact I am all too familiar with from my days in GATE. Luna is my girl, just hanging out and doing her thing until something threatens her friends. She’s aware of pretty much everything that’s going on at Hogwarts, has even thought deeply about it in many cases, but it’s all on the same level of curiosity to her. Her Quidditch commentary alone would be reason enough to sit in the stands no matter how foul the weather. I was a little disappointed with the last film pairing her with Neville. I love Neville, but Luna didn’t need to be paired off and wrapped in a tidy bow. Socially acceptable because a boy (and a suddenly heroic one) had given her the stamp of his approval.  Up until book five I had always figured I’d be a Hermione-style Gryffindor, but with Luna on the scene it became clear that I was Ravenclaw all the way (stupid Cho Chang notwithstanding).

9. Julia Shumway, Under the Dome by Stephen King

Julia Shumway may be the best female character King has ever written, certainly the best in any of his novels that I’ve read. She is competent, capable, and courageous without becoming a caricature of a “strong woman”. She is also empathetic, thoughtful, and practical…a truly strong woman. Under the Dome is full of great female characters, actually, from determinedly protective mother and dope dealer Sammy Bushey to reformed (then off-the-wagon) rageaholic Reverend Piper Libby. Ms. Shumway is front and center, the unwavering editor of the town paper who wades into the thick of everything whether the enemy she’s facing is the U.S. military, a small-town government bully, or an invisible dome of unknown origin.

And not once does she think about her vagina or breasts (thanks for that, Steve!).

10. Astrid Magnussen, White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Astrid is an interesting character because she is the absence of one at the beginning of the novel. She is her mother’s shadow, following behind her and absorbing her pearls of wisdom, waiting patiently for her to come back when they are apart. When Ingrid is imprisoned and Astrid begins her time in the foster care system, she begins to develop into a person in her own right. Reading this as it happens, with Astrid’s musings and observations on her own experience, has etched her indelibly in my mind.  She makes mistake after mistake in the most spectacular fashion possible, each one leaving its mark on her both physically and emotionally. By the end of the novel she is, as a character, the sum of these experiences. Really, isn’t that all any of us are?

Umwelt and the Bad Thing

I quit my day job today. Not due to any wild artistic delusions but simply because I was being used every single day I got out of bed and drove off to an appointment. A company that takes brazen advantage of one set of people (new college grads) to help another set (underprivileged public school kids), isn’t really adding much good to the world. Maybe if I was an upper-middle-class kid from the ‘burbs with parents bankrolling the wait for the perfect job I could have kept on with that company, but I’m not and I couldn’t. I was basically paying to work for them.

So now I am floating untethered in a sea of artistic possibility. Here’s hoping I don’t drown. My intentions are to take a week or so for some balls-to-the-wall creative work, before finding a part-time cashier’s job where the work stays at work so I can keep chasing those elusive hopes while keeping my family fed. I have two illustrations jobs (one paid, one a family affair unlikely to pay so much as a single drop of gratitude), two printmaking projects, a few jewelry projects, a novel that needs critiquing, and a novel that needs editing lined up. I also have ideas for the sequel to Grove knocking insistently at the back of my brain. The idea of doing freelance cover illustration/design for self-publishing authors is also something I am toying with.

Umwelt is a concept I learned about in a GE course in college: Social Behavior and Biology. The idea is that every animal, and every individual person, experiences the world differently due to their particular set of characteristics. For example: because I am a myopic, astigmatic middle child with excellent hearing I experience a different world than my eagle-eyed baby brother and his average ears. I think about this a lot, especially when processing critique of my work (visual or written). What I see one way could read as the exact opposite to someone with more women in their family than men, or who learns kinesthetically rather than auditorily. I was stunned to realize that I was the only child in my family who ever wore hand-me-downs. Something that was a fact of life for me was non-existent for my older sister and younger brother.

A few years ago I read an article about Tina Fey in Vanity Fair, where her husband shared the story of how she acquired her large facial scar. She spoke of a friend who had experienced something similarly traumatic in childhood, how they understood each other because they had each experienced the Bad Thing. Her husband went on to describe how having a Bad Thing in your past changes the way that you look at the world, how you don’t expect goodness or fairness or feel youthful invincibility like your peers. How it affects your decision-making, the awareness that sometimes Bad Things happen to not Very Bad people for no reason at all. This has been part of my umwelt since I can remember, my Bad Thing predates my consistent memory, and it colors everything I do. I can’t see the world any other way, I can’t even remember a time when I did. It is hard to relate to readers who want every single character to be good, or at least have a redeeming quality. Some real live people don’t. I feel so lonely when I read a book full of lovely people in lovely places who have everything go their way, because that is just not my experience.

This is on my mind because I am editing, and it comes down to making changes based on my understanding of my work and my intentions for it, versus how others will receive it. A sticky wicket.

One of my favorite parts in the creation process is the moment when I set my work free to be observed and absorbed by others. I rarely preface its presentation with any commentary of my own, because I love to hear people’s pure reaction. Things I could never have imagined.

Sometimes those things are touching, or eye-opening, or hurtful…but they are always interesting.

And now, by way of Write a Book With Me, ten things I love that start with the letter H: Husband, Helium, Hopping, Hydrangea, Humor, Honeysuckle, Holidays, Holliday (Doc), Harp, Humming. If you’d like to play, leave a comment and I will give you a letter.

Random Review: The Fault in Our Stars


This book made me cry like onions. Not wracking sobs that necessitate throwing the book to the ground while you get them all out, but a steady stream of just-bearable tears constantly pouring from my eyes. I kept reading through the tears because, like onions, this book is exquisite and worth every minute of pain. It also made me laugh through my tears, like my husband when I am cutting onions.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

318 Pages

I can’t even remember the last time a book made me cry. Maybe never. I don’t read cancer books, or books about the sick or suffering in general, because I can’t deal. I am a very smart person, like, abnormally smart. I am not especially pretty, funny, nice, athletic, cool, charismatic, polite, or easygoing. I have a surplus of only two traits: brains and empathy. The surplus of brains means that many people encouraged me to become a doctor in my youth, something which I didn’t consider for a single instant because of my other surplus. I cannot bear people suffering. Heartbreak, disappointment, massive head trauma, skinned knee, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Can’t handle it.

So, when I saw this novel about the relationship between a couple of teens with cancer popping up on all my favorite book blogs, I was very reluctant to place it on my to-read list. Having read the whole thing in less than one day, I can confidently state two things: John Green is a dick, and you should read this book.

What could possibly cause me to besmirch the name of an innocent YA author such as Mr. Green? He is ridiculously talented, and he knows it. Also, people who make me cry make me mad. There is not a single cheap tear to be had in this whole novel. No lingering hugs at dawn, empowering speeches, or Hallmark schmaltz: this book is bitterly painful from the bottom of its heart to the depths of its stomach. Just when it’s getting too painful to bear, it gets hysterically funny. Something insane will happen right as the lump in your throat reaches critical mass and you will be guffawing through your tears. Literally laughing out loud is another thing I don’t often do while reading novels, but my husband could hear me doing so from two rooms away.

Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters meet-morbid at a support group meeting for kids living with cancer. Hazel is terminal, it’s a question of when not if. Gus is a one-legged special guest, former basketball-star and osteosarcoma survivor, attending at the request of the one-eyed, soon-to-be-blind Isaaac. Yeah, it’s not your typical light’n’fluffy romance. It’s also not a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl with terminal illness forever changes the rakish hero before kicking the bucket” romance. Hazel and Augustus fall in love in between dealing with full-body tumor scans and oxygen tanks, and the glory of it outshines the clock ticking in the background for our guarded heroine. This is a raw and real look at what it means to be a kid who has few illusions left, one who doesn’t have the option of hoping it will all turn out all alright in the end, and deciding to live anyway. It is also a book about love, familial and romantic, and its power to wound and heal.

It is resonant.

Chair Rating:

Solidly built, fascinating, and painful.

 

Random Review: Why We Broke Up

Wednesday, as I was waiting for a student to arrive at the public library for a session, I took a look around for some new reading material. The librarians helpfully put the new YA novels on book-stands atop the shelves, and it was there that I first spotted this beauty:

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, Illustrated by Maira Kalman

354 Pages

The bold red cover caught my eye, with its painting of a falling teacup (A painting, not a stock photo of a pillow-lipped teen princess!), and the title sealed the deal. When I picked it up the book was solid and heavy, the pages thick and slick to serve the delightful illustrations sprinkled throughout the text. Though I didn’t discover it until after I finished the novel last night (I already knew this book was coming home with me), the blurbs on the back are all well-known authors commenting on their own experience with heartbreak. A sampling: Neil Gaiman, M.T. Andersen, Sara Shepard. Inspired.

This book is a jam.

Min Green is writing a letter to her ex, en route to deliver a box filled with the precious garbage of their relationship. Her letter starts at the beginning, with the very first memento, and wends its way through the weird and wonderful collection to build a whole picture of the bud, blossom, and wilt of her relationship with Ed Slaterton. The couple are an unlikely high school pair: Ed is the well-known Lothario co-captain of the basketball team and Min is a coffee-swilling film-obsessed gal with limited romantic experience. Min’s anger vibrates off the initial pages, blaming herself more than anyone for embarking on the doomed voyage, but soon gives way to bittersweet melancholy. The reader has the benefit of Min’s hindsight, but she is so well-written that it’s possible to see how she could have fallen for a boy who uses “fag” as an adjective.

Their courtship is sweet and frustrating and alarming, like most high school romances, compounded by their bird-loves-a-fish social situation. Every character in this novel is painfully three-dimensional, relatable even when being awful or stupid. The illustrations add a lot to the emotion of the narrative, adding a visual reference for each chapter of Min’s final missive to Ed while functioning as a pacing device. Small trinkets fill a single page while more significant ones draw out the suspense over two or three.  Is there a girl on the planet who hasn’t amassed a box of silly treasures in the the throes of new love? Min may be more of a hoarder than most, but you will absolutely feel her pain looking at the ticket stubs, sweet notes, and more esoteric items that mark the milestones of her first love as she explains why it imploded.

I don’t want to spoil anything at all, this novel is very much about the journey since the reader knows at the outset that the breakup is imminent. Handler is also known as Lemony Snicket, and the wicked wit of those books is in great supply here. The book sails along on a tide of dialogue intercut with Min’s reflections, and her hindsight-musings on how those fit into the bigger picture now that she can see it. The narrative is not glib. Min is funny and acid and a mess, and refreshingly honest with herself, even as she is suffering the pain and humiliation of the breakup. Frankly, I am amazed that this book was written by a man, because it is so dead-on. It is the female answer to Rats Saw God.

Buy it, borrow it, read it, love it.

Chair Rating: 

Unusual but striking. Beautiful to behold.

Unusual but striking. Beautiful to behold.

To answer in the comments: What is the weirdest memento you’ve kept in the name of love? The most significant? Mine would be an empty plastic Easter egg and a quarter, respectively.