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A Beautiful Little Fool

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The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton, Cynthia Griffin Wolff
Dracula
Bram Stoker
The American
Henry James, William C. Spengemann
Star Kissed - Lizzy Ford I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I would recommend this for those readers: who enjoy romance more than science fiction, who are fans of “opposites attract” plots, who will not mind a mash-up of plot devices that will be familiar from movies and TV series of the last 50 years.

I am not saying the novel was bad. What I am saying is that there was nothing that will make me remember having read this book a month from now. This is why I have started keeping detailed notes of all the books I read. I now read over a hundred books each year and there are scores of plots that have nothing to recommend themselves to my memory. Star Kissed is one of these books.

I think Ford's Witchling series is proof that she has far more potential than a book like this would seem to indicate.

PLOT: The plot is a mess. It is not that it is not workable, it is that it is a mash-up of about every science-fiction movie I have seen from the last 50 years. The plot revolves around time travel to the future. That sounds a lot like Planet of the Apes. Then there is a premise about the main character, Mandy, traveling back home through a stargate. That sounds a lot like the movie and the two (or was it three?) TV shows “Stargate.” The other main character, the Naki prince Akkadi, is caught between two worlds, the human world of passion and emotion and the Naki world in which he has been raised and whose customs dictate that he deny passion and rely on clinical rationality. The blood of both worlds struggle inside of him. This is, of course, nothing less than Spock’s familiar plight in Star Trek. Also, “Naki” sounds a lot like “Na’vi” from Avatar. Finally, the story of a woman who is lost in an unfamiliar world and beset by unfamiliar forces has a very Rod Sterling Twilight Zone-esque tone.

CHARACTERS: Taken together, these fragments of classic American sci-fi pop culture might have been successful, at least in creating a novel that could be read as a kind of nostalgia. Where the novel failed in making me feel any kind of nostalgia was in its portrayal of sympathetic and interesting characters. Mandy and Akkai are neither. About 40 pages into the book, I really couldn't care if either of them would be alive by the end. I only cared moderately more if either of them were alive by the end of the book. It wasn't as if I wanted them dead--I was just not invested in either of them because I was never really given a reason to care for either of them.

For example, Mandy is a model. At the beginning of the novel, we are told that she is shallow and selfish. What we expect is a novel of growth in which she discovers that there is more to the world than herself. Although Ford tries to provide this with her narrative, I wouldn't say I was satisfied that this happens. Akkadi, unlike Mandy, is ruled by duty. What we expect from his novel of growth is that he learns that sometimes the greater duty is towards oneself. I felt that by the end of the novel, Mandy remained stubbornly self-centered while Akkadi wildly alternated between the two extremes of selflessness and selfishness, never finding a centered medium.

VERDICT: This is a quick read that relies heavily on plot devices reminiscent of popular science fiction films and TV series. The main characters and their relationship are not unbelievable, but it is this inability to rise above their fatal flaws that seems perhaps too real.
The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater The market has been saturated recently by an influx of paranormal romances and urban fantasies. I still admit, even though I read and enjoy both, I have no idea what the difference between the two genres is despite multiple attempts on my own part of trying to figure it out. When I started reading The Raven Boys, I expected it to be paranormal romance. I hadn’t read the Shiver series by Stiefvater, but writers don’t tend to cross genres.

The Raven Boys is not a paranormal romance. I came to this realization when I found myself recommending it to my dad. Okay--”recommending” may not be the word to adequately describe how I was describing this book to him. I was on the phone with him...”imploring” him to please read this book even though (1) it is a teen book, (2) it is marketed to girls (albeit more subtly than some series), and (3) it revolves around teenage characters. The last series I “implored” him to read was the Harry Potter books. I feel that The Raven Boys--although it is nothing like Rowling’s books-- has a similar potential for cross-base appeal.

So, what is Stiefvater’s series? Well, that’s a bit harder to describe--at least in a few words--because its cross-base appeal is rooted in the hybrid concoction of genres that makes the novel so completely unique.

First, the novel is a good, old-fashioned fantasy. The kind of fantasy I am describing, however, is not high or epic fantasy (Tolkien or Martin) that shows the reader a world she could never access. Stiefvater’s world is more akin to Harry Potter or those in paranormal romance (or urban fantasy...like I said, still not sure how the two genres are different) in that the reader could stumble across Platform 9 ¾ or she could get bitten by a vampire like Simon in City of Bones. Frankly, I like those kind much better. I remember waiting for my invitation from Hogwarts. The possibility that it could be real makes this kind of fantasy more magical for me.

The Raven Boys has a strong vein of the adventure novel or the quest. This is a tradition of storytelling that Americans have always enjoyed and done exceedingly well, particularly in cinema, as evidenced by Indiana Jones and National Treasure. Stiefvater employs the trope of the quest admirably. Readers who expect nonstop action in a novel should look elsewhere, however, as Stiefvater’s investment in character development slows down the resolution of the quest. The quest is real but it is also a symbolic surrogate for the search for oneself. The finding of one’s identity is the “true” quest at the heart of the novel.

Thus, The Raven Boys is at its heart a bildungsroman or a coming-of-age novel. This is the genre in which Stiefvater’s talents as an author shine and makes the novel so absolutely memorable. One of the first things that we learn about one of the protagonists, Blue Sargeant, is that her family, a gifted group of female psychics and mediums, has foretold that if she kisses her one true love, he will die. In the deluge of teenie bopper formulaic romances that have followed in the wake of Meyer’s Twilight, Stiefvater seems to preclude all chance of Blue’s happy ending. Of course, we know that by the end of the series Blue will not end up with a dead boyfriend (at least we hope so), but Stiefvater’s plot device is something that we have not seen and it is wildly interesting! Blue is such a likable character. Her hometown of Henrietta, Virginia is the location of an elite all-boys boarding school. Blue tells herself: “Aglionby Academy was the number one reason Blue had developed her two rules: One, stay away from boys because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” Her cynicism might seem out of place for a sixteen year old, but Stiefvater does such an exceptional job in showing us how Blue has built defenses in the possibility that she does kill the boy she loves.

Whenever anyone mentions coming-of-age story today, it is impossible not to mention The Catcher in the Rye. In some ways, this novel cannot help but be indebted to Salinger, but what I love about The Raven Boys is that the reader is not limited to the musings of one Holden Caulfield (that sure gets tiresome quickly). In addition to Blue, there are four boys (and another character who is just out of adolescence) who struggle with their search for identity in a world that offers them no assistance.

I am antsy and squirmy and a bunch of different words that describe bouncy and jittery to read the second installment of the series, The Dream Thieves. September is a long way away!
Winter Fire - Lizzy Ford I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about moving the focus of the series (at least for this book) away from Summer and Decker. I should not have worried because Lizzy has proven once again that she has a talent for effortlessly weaving a complex narrative that combines her characters’ minds and voices while managing to preserve their distinct personalities. Well done Lizzy!

I was ecstatic to delve into Morgan’s mind. We were introduced to her briefly in a teaser exchange between her and Beck at the end of the previous book in the Witchling series, Autumn Storm. Let me just recap the how things stand at the end of Autumn Storm and at the beginning of Winter’s Fire. There is so much about the situation that I like because it gives you an idea about what kind of character Morgan will be. In the last book: (1) Beck puts his soul on the line and doesn't get the girl (I didn't want him to be with Summer or anything, but you have to admit, this usually results in a bit of fangirling) (2) Beck comes to the grim realization that he may not be able to keep the Darkness at bay forever and that he has no one to help him to carry that responsibility both physically and emotionally (3) Beck and Decker wonder if the Master of Light could also have a counterbalance (You have to ask yourself, what kind of girl would even be a counterbalance for Beck? I mean, she would probably have to be strong and sarcastic, but other than that...?).

AND...in walks Morgan and offers to set Dawn’s shoes on fire. Lizzy had me fully invested in a character in five pages. Sometimes it takes me a whole series to like a character...other times I never like protagonists. Five minutes...might be a record.

I was surprised to find Morgan to be the most believable and human of the characters in the series thus far. She seems like a teenager--but that may just be a result of the impulsiveness of her fire element. Even when she gets into trouble, I never felt like she needed saving. She was far from a damsel in distress. If anything, she is the princess who the white knight tries to save, but who knocks him off his horse and rides off into the sunset so that she can go save others. Throughout the book, she saves or protects others even if she is facing the possibility of pain or death. She was similar to Summer in this way, but while there are parallels between the two characters--they are both self-sacrificing, brave, and smart--but they are in no way replicas of one another.

Winter’s Fire has an interesting plot that builds off the story arc of Dark Summer and Autumn Storm. It is face-paced that makes it anything but dull and (surprise!) it ends with another trademark-Lizzy cliffhanger. When I read the last pages, the five-year-old in me was stomping her feet in protest. The novel excels at weaving the voices of new characters like Morgan and Noah (Dawn’s brother) while also, for the first time, letting us into the minds of those characters we already love. I was so relieved when I read Biji’s thoughts that she is as snarky as I thought she was! She may be my favorite character in the series.

Lizzy, if you’re reading this, more Biji please...all snarky all the time...

And, poor Sam...aren't there girl Sams in the world? He could use some yeti love.