Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Note: You'll probably see me reading more YA books in the coming months because my granddaughter has read all of Harry Potter and I am looking for more books to pass along to her.

I picked up Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr and three of its sequels at a library book sale. I figured I would simply read the first and, if I enjoyed it, I could read the rest or, if I didn’t, I would simply donate them back to the public library for sale. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t have the second book in the series but figured that out when I got home.  Oops.  I’ll bet the second book was somewhere at the book sale and I overlooked it. 

One of the reasons I decided to take the plunge into this series is that it has fairies and my daughter-in-law loves fairies.  I figured, if I liked the books well enough, I could pass them along to her.  But I also knew I was going into the first book with some prejudice.  After all, I still cannot get over how many people have no issue with the abusive relationship between Bella and Edward in Twlight.  So a part of me hoped I would like this first book and a part of me was ready to hate it.

I actually like it.  I don’t love it but it stands up far better than I expected.  Okay, so maybe my expectations were pretty low.  After all, this is a supernatural romance and I am not especially fond of romance novels.  But the premise is intriguing.  Aislinn, called Ash by her friends, can see fairies, a trait she has inherited from her mother and her grandmother before her.  Her mother passed away in childbirth and her grandmother has taught her a few simple rules. 

Rule #3:  Don’t stare at invisible fairies. 
Rule #2:  Don’t speak to invisible fairies. 
Rule #1:  Don’t ever attract their attention.

But when Ash attracts the attention of the Summer King, a royal among the fairies, the rules no longer hold up.  She is pursued by him even as she tries to hold onto her normal life, including in particular her best friend, Seth. 

Marr has created an intriguing world and the four main characters—Ash, Seth, Keenan, and Donia—are compelling enough to keep the reader engaged. The Winter Queen is supposed to be the major threat of the novel but she seemed mostly trite and almost cliché.  I feel like her back story might have made her something more but, as it was, I just didn’t see her as a considerable threat because the reader is never really shown what she can do.  More camp than substance, I suppose.

I could have loved this book because Ash isn’t putting her entire life on hold in hopes of attracting the boy.  She doesn’t change herself to be more appealing.  She is who she is.  And Seth, although he is described as looking like your stereotypical “bad boy” is a good friend who cares about her very much. 

Where Marr nearly lost me is in Keenan.  He starts stalking Ash, which is precisely how she describes it.  In spite of this, she allows herself to go out on a date with him.  Ugh.  No.  This is not a message young readers should carry with them.  Absolutely not.  Anyone who is stalking should not be encouraged in any way. 

I almost gave up on the book at that point but I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t.  I wish the author could have found another way to move the story forward or had not made Keenan stalk Ash at all. I feel that Donia could have been used as an impetus or even the Winter Queen, perhaps making the latter more frightening and solidifying the idea that she and she alone was the real threat to Ash.

That said, I liked how the book ended, that although much of what Ash experiences is beyond her control she manages to take back some of her own.  I also liked that the girls in the novel who are also friends to Ash are sexually active and comfortable with their sexuality.  Ash is a bit too hung up on “protecting” her virginity for my taste but I can see why the author does this.  And at least Ash is unashamed of her sexual attraction.  She doesn’t resist temptation for the sake of some ideal; she does so because the temptation comes in the form of something she’s been warned against her entire life.

Will I continue reading the series? Yes.  I put in a request for the second book in the series which, thankfully, is available through my local public library.  I’m hoping that the four main characters are further developed and that we get more of a back story.  There’s clearly potential for more back story as allusions to connections are made in the first book.  And perhaps the Winter Queen will be fleshed out some more? I would like to solidify in my own mind what, exactly, makes her such a threat and not just a two-dimensional Disney-style villain.

So four out of five stars.  Very good.  Not quite excellent but I’ll be passing this book onto my daughter-in-law and not donating it back to the public library book sale.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fear of Dying by Erica Jong

There was a time when there was nowhere you could go without seeing a copy of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying on a bookshelf.  Feminists embraced it for its celebration of a woman’s sexuality.  Frankly, I’ve never read it but when I was offered a chance to read Fear of Dying I was intrigued.  In a telephone conversation, I even mentioned it to my mother who immediately grunted dismissively.  I figured it was because Jong is known for writing about sex, something my mother doesn’t especially enjoy.  I proceeded to read the book with some curiosity.

Chalk this one up to yet another beach read.  In some ways, this novel serves as a sequel to Jong’s previous bestseller although the protagonist is not Isadora Wing but her best friend Vanessa Wonderman who is fighting her age even as she is surrounded by death and loss.  She turns to the “zipless fuck” in spite of her supposedly being happily married.  And why wouldn’t she be happy?  Yes, her parents are slowly dying but they have lived long lives and age is simply not a state-of-mind.  Her husband, who loves her and with whom she still has a sexually active life, loves her without looking away from her flaws.  And bonus:  He’s wealthy!  Her only daughter is expecting a child.  It’s all there.  Every reason for her to be happy.

Which is why her selfish narcissism is all the more distasteful.  At no point did I sympathize with Vanessa, and I felt as though I should because I am old enough to appreciate many of the frustrations that come with aging.  The novel is described as searingly funny, but I found it overly hetero-normative and judgmental of sexuality.

How can a book from an author who is praised for her sexual liberation be so sexually regressive?  The men who respond to her online anonymous-sex search happen to be interested in “deviant” sexual practices making the men seem like perverts rather than sexually different from the protagonist.  Clearly, in the author’s mind, the only acceptable forms of sex are traditional but not necessarily monogamous. 

More distasteful to me is how banal Vanessa’s and even Isadora’s sexuality seem to be.  The novel is told in the first person and here I quote Vanessa:
Erection—how we all seek it!  The hard cock standing up and validating our existence.  Men think like this—straight men and gay men both.  And women too—at least when hunger drives us.  (227)
Wow.  Really?  I guess the author never noticed that women get erections too!  Oh, and I believe there’s a fairly large number of women who absolutely do not seek it so, no, Vanessa/Erica, we do not “all seek it.”  In fact, and this will clearly come as a shock to the author, there are some people who have no sexual interest in clit or cock or anything else.

Remember that grunt my mother gave?  I’m right there with her.  Ugh.  Nope.  Not recommending this novel.  Now that it’s read and reviewed, I shall happily rid myself of it. 

Best things about it:  It’s short and there are some good quotes sprinkled within. 

Oh, and there’s a HUGE spoiler for Collette’s Chéri and Last of Chéri so proceed with caution if you haven’t read them.  Better still, don’t bother reading this novel and read Collette instead.  Seriously. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

I’ve been a bit Tudor obsessed since I was a young girl.  And by young I mean 8 or 9 and by bit I mean a lot, really.  Whenever I need a Tudor fix, I always turn to Alison Weir.  I made the mistake of reading a highly popular novel about Anne Boleyn and hated it.    The author made Anne aggressively power hungry and went so far as to “confirm” the worst rumors about her.  And what her enemies said about her is blatantly hateful.  I enjoyed The Tudors, even though they didn’t explore the lovely early part of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and took liberties with facts.  All things considered, however, they could have easily made the story more sensational by letting each and every rumor fill the screen.

So glad the writers and producers didn’t go there.

I was fairly confident going into this novel.  Unlike most Tudor novelists, Alison Weir is a Tudor historian.  So rather than just knowing a few historical facts, Weir has dug deep into the documents.  She’s brave enough to change her opinion about previously held facts when more research suggests another interpretation because of new documents.   

Weir manages to make her biographies highly readable, knowing how to tell a story without sensationalizing reality.  Which is why Anne Boleyn:  A King’s Obsession works so well.  There is no compromising of facts.  Rumors about the Boleyn family are often overshadowed with sensationalized rumors.  Unfortunately, these rumors have found a home in too many contemporary novels so I’m grateful to Weir for not wasting this reader’s time.

This is not to suggest that she writes a romanticized version of the truth, either.  In this novel, Anne is not an innocent child manipulated by the greedy patriarchy.  Neither is she manipulating King Henry VIII to her overpowering will.  Weir follows a young Anne to the Netherlands and France where she witnesses the power men have over women.  Her experiences in these countries undergird the choices she makes when she returns to England. 

Every page of this novel breathes life into the characters, although most of the male characters are two-dimensional.  The real challenge, of course, is to keep the reader turning the page when the inevitable outcome is set in stone.  We know how Anne’s reign ends and yet the urge to keep reading is there.  I wanted to devour this book, and likely would have had I not been busy with other things.  Now I need to go back and read the first book in what will obviously be a six book series,  Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen.  It looks like the books will be coming out annually, in May, so next year I’ll be sure to jump into Jane Seymour’s story as soon as it is released.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

My mother gave me her copy of Still Alice by Lisa Genova and I avoided reading it for a while.  When I eventually started reading I found traces of her left behind.  A couple of bits of napkin used to mark moments in the book—one a memory trick the protagonist uses early on to help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and another where she’s thinking about her religious upbringing.  I also found traces of frosting caked in the crease between a couple of pages. 

For as long as I can remember, my mother has been afraid of dementia.  It doesn’t help that she is innately forgetful.  It’s hard for her to trust that her forgetfulness is not a sign of something more dire.  I am the opposite.  I look at my forgetfulness as natural, an inevitable result of my being less mindful than I could be.  And of course, my age and menopause. I wanted to read this book the first time I heard about it.  So very glad I did!

The titular Alice is a fifty year old linguistic professor working at Harvard when she begins to have forgetful moments but it isn’t until a more alarming incident causes her to take seriously her menopausal forgetfulness that she seeks out a medical opinion.  Told in the third person limited, the reader lives inside of Alice’s head as her memory slowly shrinks.   Because we are inside Alice’s mind through most of the novel, the harrowing effects of the disease are

While this is obviously a fictional account of one woman’s experience, the author researched the disease and its progression, shared her manuscript with an Alzheimer’s organization, and they approved of the story and how it presented the experience of having Alzheimer’s.  And the experience is frightening. Watching the progression of this disease through Alice is harrowing.  I often found myself reading through tears in my eyes.

As soon as I finished the book, I reached for the movie. I love Julianne Moore and trusted she could carry the weight of this role beautifully. Alec Baldwin cast as the husband worked as well because I didn’t especially like her husband and I don’t like Baldwin much at all. The movie is good and I can see why it received good reviews and why Moore, in particular, received the accolades of awards.  It is not, however, has emotionally exhausting as the book itself. 

A good movie. A better book. But isn’t that usually how these things go?

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