Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review: Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass 1I grabbed a copy of Sarah J. MaasThrone of Glass from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-Throne of Glass 2thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. 

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. 

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. 

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Review:

This book was an all right YA read, but it didn’t live up to its hype or that cool cover—the one with the dangerous looking hunting knives, not the sweet sixteen (which actually does match the tone of the book, to my disappointment). Do me a favor, open a new tab and do a quick image search. Find both copies and have a look. They give totally different impressions of what the book will be like.

I like and wanted a gritty, tough assassin-woman and the first cover promises that. I’m not all that fond of sensitive, if skilled, teenage girls slowly falling in love. The second cover could easily relay that…Of the two the second cover is far more appropriate for the book.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have picked it up. Just goes to show the importance of a book’s cover. I COMPLETELY read this book because the version I got my hands on has the first one and the awesome cover pulled me in. I was fooled.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Celaena is said to have been the best and most notorious assassin in all of the kingdom. However, in the course of the book we NEVER (not once!) see her act as an assassin. The closest she comes is using that skill (which we’re repeatedly told she has but almost never see) to save someone’s life. At ~85% there is finally a fight scene, but due to extenuating circumstances she’s not even in peak condition for it. So, her as an assassin really was an existential thing.

As a result, I found Celaena COMPLETELY unbelievable as an assassin. Because, as I said, we almost never see her act like one (you know, killing anyone or even perpetrating violence of any sort). She was involved in a truly imbecilic competition in which almost all of the challenges were individual events like archery, knife throwing (both at targets) or identifying poisons and the vast majority of them were actually glossed over. So, even though the competition is referred to as “brutal” in the sequel’s blurb, it was actually really tame. She did a lot of reading and flirting and almost no fighting.

But also because she had such a lovely disposition. She had the personality of a nice girl next door most of the time. Yes, she’d let the occasional threat fly and frequently imagined how she might kill someone, but otherwise she was pleasant as can be. For someone with as much horrible history as she was supposed to have, she was remarkably well balanced.

I think it’s unfair to the reader and untenable for an author to separate a character’s history from her current manifestation. Celaena was supposed to have been trained in assassination since she was 8. She was referred to as the ‘Queen of the Underworld.’ This is a woman who was supposed to have endured, seen and perpetrated enough heinous acts to terrify a nation. That is the premise of her character. But the nice girl she actually was in the story, the one who valued life so much and felt so bad about killing or slavery, CANNOT SUPPORT THAT PAST. It just can’t. And if the very structure on which the story is build is compromised by such a yawning hole, I guarantee the rest will collapse for me.

I’m not saying the book is bad. In fact, it’s remarkably well written, with snappy dialogue and a rare heroine who, in one sense, chose her own freedom over some mythical idea of true love. I really, really respect that and was impressed by it. (I imagine it will be undone in future books, but here I got to be pleased.) It just that it sets itself up to be this heavy, ponderous, maybe even violent book when it’s actually pretty light and fluffy. It’s not what I expected to read, based on the cover and blurb, and while a lot of people love it (I didn’t actually hate it) I did feel cheated out of the story I was promised.

Hey, by the way, I notice that until June 18 Goodreads has a contest to win a copy. Go here.

Review: Her Perfect Mate, by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate

I received a copy of Her Perfect Mate, by Paige Tyler, from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
Their attraction is more dangerous than any weapon of mass destruction.

When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is chosen for an assignment with the Department of Covert Operations, he’s stunned to find his new partner is a beautiful woman who looks like she couldn’t hurt a fly, much less take down a terrorist.

Ivy Halliwell isn’t your average covert op. Her feline DNA means she can literally bring out the claws when things get dicey. She isn’t thrilled to be paired with yet another military grunt, but Landon is different. He doesn’t think she’s a freak-and he’s smokin’ hot. Soon they’re facing a threat even greater than anyone imagines… and an animal magnetism impossible to ignore.

Review:

Reading is subjective and what one person likes another won’t. Thank goodness we all know this, because I have to admit that, despite generally good reviews, I pretty much hated this book. More accurately, I hated the character portrayals, Ivy especially.

The short version is that weak, teary, insecure heroines who are supposed to be top agents but spend all their time jumping to ridiculous, self-effacing conclusions and whinging, make me want to scratch my own eyes out with a dulled lemon zester.

Pair them with a man, described as practically god-like and allowed to makes all the decisions for himself and, said, pretend strong female lead and I’m ready to throw my head in an electric mixer instead. I’m just totally baffled how anyone could think this is the type of pairing self-assured women would want to relate to.

I considered casting the book on the DNF pile at ~35%. At this point Ivy had made what she perceived to be a mistake on a mission. When her partner appears angry she got teary, emotional and evasive. The reader was then subjected to pages of her weepy self-recriminations and ridiculously jumping to conclusions. All this followed by giving in to her passion for Landon.

Said another way, the author took a supposedly strong female character, broke her down and proved her to in fact be extremely fragile (as all women apparently should be) then threw her in the arms of a man. All this as if to suggest that given a stressful situation Ivy couldn’t be expected to control her emotions too and that the man’s sexual appreciation would prove her self-worth and, as Landon seemed to find it all so darned attractive, it must really be OK in the end anyway. Gag, I say. GAG!

When I pick up a book with a purported strong, skilled heroine, that’s what I want, not some weepy pseudo-damsel in distress whose only evidence of inner strength comes from the compliments of the hero.

Speaking of our hero, Landon, he can apparently do no wrong. Perfect hardly scratches his surface. He is utterly and unbelievably unflappable. Come on, finding out that your new partner is a shifter, when you didn’t even know they existed, requires at least one expletive. It just does! But he never even cocked an eyebrow. Plus, he’s gorgeous, ripped, polite, loyal, trustworthy, good in bed, tough, dangerous, sexy, etc. He needs a flaw…at least one.

But the thing that pushed me over the top, that made me go from grumbling discontent to flat out hostile dislike was seeing the two of them interact. Landon joined the DOC in the beginning of the book. Ivy however had worked for them for a number of years. So, even though he’s plenty experienced in the military, he’s the newbie to the DOC and what they do. HOWEVER, not once (pay attention, NOT ONCE) does she make a plan, give an instruction or take the decision-making role in one of their missions.

They are supposed to be partners, but behaviourally she’s his subordinate…DESPITE HER SENIORITY. I guess that vagina negates it, because he’s definitely in charge and she’s just barely hanging on as a sidekick. Plus, in addition to all her internal insecurities (that she really shouldn’t have if she’s a valued, experienced field agent and has been a shifter since birth) she’s shown to be inept repeatedly while Landon makes no such mistakes. There is a definite sense that the woman in this situation really needs a man to take care of her and her job because she obviously can’t cut it on her own. What kind of Bologna is that? The kind that’s been dogging women for generations. Dare I say it again…GAG!

And it only got worse. Not only was Ivy inept, insecure, prone to jumping to conclusions and endlessly second guessing herself, she also wasn’t even competent enough to control HERSELF. It was amazing how many times the phrase “she couldn’t help herself,” or something similar was used in reference to her. (But almost never for Landon, I might add.)

Then there was the sorry excuse for sexual control. The whole idea of being ‘in heat'(which was never established to be a sure thing, just an excuse really) felt a whole lot like the recurring ‘women can’t control their urges’ BS that backdoors permission for a whole hell of a lot of problematic behaviour.

So, she can’t control her animal side, she can’t control her self-emulating thoughts, she can’t control her own sexual urges, she doesn’t control their mission…what can she control? **That’s the sound of silence, yeah?**

Moving past the painful gender disparities of this book, the fact that she is a natural-born shifter is also problematic, since there is no world building. There’s no indication that shifters are kept super secret in general, Ivy’s sister is living a normal life and other shifters have normal jobs, for example. But it is inferred that no one knows about them.  The DOC doesn’t want her blood work (DNA) seen by the CDC, for example. Certainly, Landon didn’t seem to have known shifters exist. Um, how does that work then? I needed a lot more to situate shifters into the contemporary world.

Lastly, there is the romance. *shakes head* It’s pretty much a case of insta-lust. I could live with that. We’re dealing with shifters and finding and pairing with ‘mates’ is a fairly common trope in the genre. But honestly, within less than a month he’s offering to give up his career to make her happy and asking her to marry him. Really? Is that believable?

Plus, the book is contradictory, as an example (thought I suppose the not hidden secret shifters is already an example) Ivy goes on and on about how freeing it is to finally find and be with a man who knows what she is so she can let it loose in bed. But she has a shifter-friend who’s been fairly aggressive in pursuing her romantically. So, even if she chooses not to accept his affections it’s obvious that she hasn’t been without opportunities to let her shifter free in the sexual sense. How can the book simultaneously say some opportunity doesn’t exist and use the same as a side challenge for one of the characters? Am I supposed to not notice?

So, final thoughts? Mechanically, structurally and editorially this book is fine. Ms. Tyler can write…it’s just too darned bad I hated what she wrote so much. I’d be willing to selectively give her work another shot to see if it’s just this book that rubbed me wrong. Certainly, her prose are perfectly readable. But if I had a physical copy of this book I would be tempted to burn it. As it is, I’ll have to satisfy myself with the delete button.

Recap: the “Taking Care of my Own” challenge

challengeOne month ago, I set myself the 30-day challenge of only reading books written by people I ‘know’ on Goodreads. This was an attempt to actively engage and give meaning to those oh-so-important social media connections we all spend so much time cultivating, but then generally ignore. (Surely, I’m not the only one guilty of this!) It was also a way to give a little back to the less-than-anonymous authors I share digital space with, many of whom I’ve also enjoyed thought-provoking, intelligent discourse with in various forums, tweet exchanges, blog comments, etc.

Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the logistics of this when I started and part of the purpose of this post is to work through those aspects of it that I found, well, challenging. This is so that I don’t compromise myself in the future when I, for example, decide to finally do something about my overflowing physical bookshelf. A paperbacks only challenge would be one way to go about that.

The absolute first hurdle I faced was choosing what to read. This actually posed a different problem at the beginning than the end of the challenge. Before starting, I collected a list of almost 100 books written by people I ‘know.’ But I gave almost no consideration to the standard I would use to choose amongst those books. I opted to begin by flushing the shortest, most easily read ones and spent the first few days reading all of the novellas. After that, however, I was left deciding what struck my fancy.

For me, choosing a book is often a lengthy process. This is largely because, despite having sooooo many books, I regularly look at them and find nothing appeals at just that moment. Having limited myself keep-calm-its-just-one-month-1to 90ish books (after the novellas were read) only exasperated the problem. Toward the end I found myself cheating, reading books not included in my challenge with the intention of extending the deadline to allow myself to make up the time spent on non-challenge books. I never did it. At the end of the month, I was spent. I was done with it. I wanted no more. So, lesson one, 30 days is too long for a challenge that limits me to only reading certain books. In the future I’ll either choose time irrelevant genre, subject, author, etc challenges or only set myself a two week time frames.

The next challenge I faced was the review. My idea of ‘giving a little back’ was to provide a review to those authors I ‘know’. Indie authors are always hustling to find more reviews. Lacking the backing and legitimizing  effect of an agent or publishing contract, a slew of positive reviews is the most effective way to show readers their work is worth giving a chance. However, never was it my intention to promise good reviews, just honest reviews (same as always).

Now, I’ve always been of the opinion that any review, even a negative one, is beneficial to authors. I even wrote a whole post about it once. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about having to be the bearer of bad news when writing a bad review. I always cringe a little when I do it. And here I found myself realizing that I was about to crosspost reviews, some of them less than flattering, that would pass the authors feed.

I could vividly imagine someone blithely logging into Goodreads andKeep-Calm-moving-company-review being smacked in the face with a negative review right in their own activity feed. I was really uncomfortable with this. I did it, but I liked it even less than normal. So, lesson two, just like in real life, there is more of an emotional backlash from giving negative feedback to people you know than people you don’t. 

Lastly, just like trying to write a concluding chapter of a book, I needed to decide how to wrap the whole thing up. I knew going in I wasn’t going to get to read 90+ books in a month and, therefore, not all of my ‘friends’ would benefit from this challenge. But on the last day, when I looked at the list of books that hadn’t been chosen, I felt bad. This isn’t gym class dodge ball. I didn’t leave the poor player to be chosen last. If I’d run the challenge in another month I would have chosen different books. But where I’ve been in the past month, with real-wofrozen_let_it_gorld events, discussions, moods, weather, ANYTHING effecting what I felt like reading at any given time I chose the books I chose. This was not a value assessment of any sort. It’s just the confluence of life. So, lesson three, you have to accept your limitations, give what you can give, and let the rest ride. (You have no idea how hard I tried to find a not-Frozen-related “let it go” image.)

Three fairly important (to me) lessons learned. But there was a fourth one too. I really enjoyed a lot of things about doing this. Yes, I got bored with my limited selections. Yes, I hated having to give keep-calm-because-its-worth-it-2negative feedback to my ‘friends.’ It made me feel disloyal, even if I know it’s all for the best. But, I also got a small extra thrill out of every review I posted. Since I ‘know’ the authors behind the books and they know me I received a lot more ‘hey, thanks’ emails than normal. I always appreciate that. So, lesson four, despite the occasional difficulties inherent in such a challenge it was 100% worth it. 

Although I didn’t like all of them (we all have different tastes, of course), I read a lot of great books in the course of this month long challenge and they were (in no order):

montage

Dancing with Gravity
Whisper Cape
The Protector’s series
The Celtic Legacy series
Voodoo Love
Clutch
The 4 Gs
Shades of Grey
Dark Legacy
The Guests of Honor
Necropolis
Wheel & Deal, Dead Doughboy Walking, The Rock Star in the Mirror, When You Were Pixels, Kiss & Spell, The Phoenix Cycle