Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock," by Matthew Quick (Little, Brown; 2013)

The Protagonist: Leonard Peacock. Today is his birthday, and he plans to go out the same way he came in - with a lot of blood and screaming as he shoots the boy who abused him and then himself.
His Angst: Um, see above.

Secondary Characters:

Asher Beal: Leonard's childhood best friend who then became his abuser and tormentor. Leonard plans to cap off his birthday by blowing a hole in Asher's head.

Walt: Leonard's kindly, elderly neighbour who often likes to watch old Humphrey Bogart movies with him.

Baback: A violin prodigy whom Leonard defends from bullies in return for listening to him make beautiful music.

Lauren: An evangelical, homeschooled Christian girl whom Leonard develops a crush on.

Herr Silverman: An inspiring teacher of Holocaust Studies, whom Leonard idolizes and looks up to.

Linda Peacock: Leonard's awful, oblivious, neglectful, utterly self-absorbed and useless mother.

Angst Checklist
  • Bullying
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Terrible Parenting
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Religion
  • Suicide
  • Homophobia
  • Depression and Mental Illness
The Word: December's a great month - full of twinkling lights and wishes and cookies and family. So what better thing to read for the Forever Young Adult Book Club than a novel about suicide?


It's Leonard Peacock's 18th birthday, and how does he plan on celebrating? By taking his P-38 pistol to school and shooting his high school abuser, Asher Beal, and then himself. First, however, he's got four presents to hand out to the four people who at least tried to make his life bearable. 

Jay Asher (the author of Thirteen Reasons Why) blurbed this book, and I can see why, as the narratives are superficially similar. Both plots follow the viewpoint of an abused, vengeful outsider explaining the reasons they've decided to end their life. Both books explore the myriad ways in which parents, friends, and educators can (and do) fail the children they're supposed to be protecting. 

However, while I couldn't quite connect with Leonard Peacock, it was nowhere near as hateful as Thirteen Reasons Why. For one thing, Leonard's pain doesn't beatify him or excuse his intentions the way Hannah's premeditated psychological torture of her "tormentors" was. 

Leonard's intentions are gruesome - but the narrative acknowledges the monster he's planning on becoming even as it examines how he got to this point from an empathetic standpoint. There's also an element of suspense that keeps one reading - each gift that Leonard gives evokes memories and flashbacks, but also serves as a countdown to Leonard's murder-suicide. Will he go through with it as planned, or will someone finally be able to talk him out of it?

Reading Leonard Peacock was similar in a lot of ways to Catcher in the Rye. The narrative, told from the outsider's point of view, keeps the rest of the world at a distance. Everyone is a poser and a phoney. Our protagonist reaches out for help but at the same time resists it, distrusting other people's intentions. Leonard has no hope for the future because he can't find a single adult in his life who demonstrates that adulthood is any less miserable than adolescence. 

There are some bright spots in the never-ending misery, but they are toned down and often bittersweet, such as the post-apocalyptic "letters from the future" that Leonard writes to himself. There are no magical happy endings or solutions.

At the same time, however, I reacted to Leonard Peacock in the same way I reacted to Catcher in the Rye. I couldn't really connect to Leonard. I empathized with his pain but at the same time felt removed from it. As a result, while the reading experience of this book was pleasant I didn't take anything away from it. It was just a story that existed. I'm also not sure the story argued its point very well, but to be fair it's a subject that is pretty murky and miserable.

In the end, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock gets the "m'eh" reaction from me. I never really felt for Leonard the way the author probably wanted me to. Still, the novel does have some insightful and clever moments and is an interesting look at an unusual point of view.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"First Comes Love," by Christie Ridgway (Avon, 2002)

The Chick: Kitty Wilder. Tired of living in the slutty shadow of her brothel-owning ancestors, she's planning on leaving her hometown of Hot Water just as soon as she earns enough money.
The Rub: Her plans are upended when her husband - who's only just realized their marriage is legal - returns to town. And he's not happy.
Dream Casting: Kristen Bell.

The Dude: Dylan Matthews. An FBI agent who's slaved away for the last eight years trying to atone for a teenage mistake that may have cost a woman her life.
The Rub: Finding out he's married forces him to return to a town he's desperately missed - but it's too full of excruciating memories of his failure for him to stay.
Dream Casting: Brett Dalton.

The Plot: 

Kitty: Just because I play a hooker in my town's re-enactments doesn't mean I'm one in real life! Wish my town could see it!


Kitty: Eep! Let me distract you with my cutesy shenanigans and pratfalls and adorably perky boobs for the next fifty pages!

Dylan: Curse your adorably perky boobs! But you're going to have to answer the question some time!

Kitty: Noooooope! Time for more pratfalls!

Dylan: Seriously, though.

Kitty: Oh, it was just that I've been secretly in love with you this whole time and never slept with another person because cheating is wrong! But I forgive you for doing it!

Dylan: … I inexplicably find your delusional stalkery behaviour appealing!

Kitty: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:
  • 1 Hardened (heh) FBI Agent
  • 1 Bad Reputation
  • Several Hooker Dresses
  • 1 Defiled Minivan
  • 1 Terrrrrrrible Vagina Euphemism
  • 1 Legalized Marriage Certificate
  • 1 Small Town Murder
  • 1 Secondary Parental Romance
The Word:
In First Comes Love, Christie Ridgway creates one of the most well-realized and metaphorically clever settings I've ever come across in romance. Hot Water is a former Gold Rush town that's devoted to the past - in more ways then one. Not only does the bulk of its tourism revenue come from its historical reenactment district (called Old Town), but its social stratification is also based on your ancestors' history. 

And Kitty Wilder is sick of it. Her family is descended from Rose Wilder, the town's first ho and proprietor of The Burning Rose brothel. Since then, every woman in the Wilder family has lived under (and up to!) that reputation - including Kitty's mother, who abandoned her as a baby. Kitty is nevertheless devoted to the town and works herself to the bone to crawl out from under her family's licentious history - but, in a hilarious paradox, she does so by dressing as a madame and reenacting that history every weekend for tourists. I loved this concept.

Kitty longs for conventionality, and deeply resents how the town continues to tar her with the same harlot brush despite her nun-like existence. And now that her scandalous mother has unexpectedly returned to town, revving up the Wilder rumour mill once again, she believes the only way to escape her past is to leave Hot Water for good - once she pays off her college debt to her great-aunt Cat.

All her plans come crashing down when the last man she expected to return to town interrupts one of her tours - Dylan Matthews, her husband of eight years. Who has only just realized this fact.

Dylan Matthews is a workaholic FBI agent made famous by his numerous high-profile rescues of women and children. Son of the town judge, descendant of Hot Water's first sheriff, and destined for law school, he was Hot Water's Golden Boy until he attempted to intervene in a carjacking. While he managed to rescue the children in the car, the driver (his best friend's wife) was killed. Haunted by this failure, he left Hot Water to join the FBI and never looked back.

He is furious that Kitty's legalization of the joke marriage certificate they got as teens has forced him to return to a town whose hero-worship of him wracks him with guilt.

Unfortunately, a quickie divorce is not in the cards. Kitty, in order to pay off her college debt, forces Dylan to become Old Town's reenactment sheriff for the summer (in return for his divorce) in order to boost Old Town's sales and get her enough money to leave town guilt-free.

Yeah. Outside of the whole "secret nonconsensual marriage thing" and the "extorting a man by refusing to end said nonconsensual marriage thing," Kitty is a very empathetic character.

BUT - that "nonconsensual marriage thing" is a pretty huge flaw to swallow, and one I continually struggled with throughout the novel. Did Kitty seriously never consider how her actions might affect Dylan later on? Did she never wonder what would have happened if Dylan had wanted to marry somebody else? And the "secret reason" she did it is meant to be romantic (she was in love with him the whole time!) but in reality is just really creepy. Especially once we learn she's remained chaste this entire time because she was remaining "true to her marriage vows." Honestly, I just heard the Psycho soundtrack in my head whenever she brought it up. That's not a healthy mindset.

It's interesting to read this romance after Nobody's Baby But Mine. Both romances are about heroines who intentionally do something that monumentally affects their heroes' lives without their consent or knowledge - and both of them do it for stupid reasons. However, while I still think Kitty is bonkers, she doesn't possess that same obnoxious entitlement and privilege that Jane does. Kitty's upbringing was lonely and difficult, and she's worked so hard to be the Perfect Upstanding Citizen to people who only see her mother's actions, so her bonkers decision is - WHILE STILL NOT OKAY - easier to interpret as a misguided teenage mistake, rather than a selfish, privileged decision.

Besides, Kitty and Dylan have good chemistry and are generally good people (extortion and obsessive behaviour aside), and the setting is well-realized and ultimately positive without being a corny and idealized small town. There are some definite drawbacks to living in Hot Water and Kitty endures pretty much all of them.

I was a little squicked out by the secondary romance because it's between Dylan's father D.B. and Kitty's neglectful mother Samantha. It's just a kind of pseudo-incest scenario that bothers me. However, I really appreciated how Kitty and her mother eventually obtain an adult reconciliation but never become close. Once we got Samantha's viewpoint, I was afraid there'd be some dialogue or explanation about how Kitty "owes" Samantha forgiveness, love and understanding simply on account of their shared genes. But that's not true - Samantha dumped Kitty as a baby, and Kitty's over it, but Samantha doesn't suddenly regain her "mother" role. I liked that.

All in all, despite a bonkers premise, First Comes Love is an enjoyable (and often very funny) romance with a great setting.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Vessel," by Sarah Beth Durst (McElderry,2013)

The Protagonist: Liyana. As the vessel for her clan's goddess, she has been chosen to die so that her goddess may live in the physical realm.
Her Angst: What's a heavenly sacrifice to do when the sacrificer fails to show?

The Secondary Cast:

Korbyn: The trickster god of the Raven clan, who successfully found his vessel but must rescue his heavenly brethren so that they can find theirs.

Fennick: The vessel of the Horse clan. Proud but stubborn.

Pia: The blind vessel of the Silk clan. She has devoted her entire life to her cause and follows every holy rule to the letter.

Raan: The unwilling vessel of the Scorpion clan. Sees the abduction of her goddess as a ticket to freedom and the life she believes she deserves.

The Emperor: The ruler of the Crescent Empire. His entire land is dying, but he just might have an unconventional way of saving his country - if only those pesky desert people don't get in his way.

Angst Checklist:

  • I have to die for my goddess and my goddess didn't even bother to show up
  • Worthy sacrifices
  • I'm in love with a god and I'm also the receptacle for his girlfriend's soul. Awkward.
  • Hipster desert tattoos

The Word: Liyana, a young member of the Goat clan of desert nomads, has always known she doesn't have a future - ever since she was small, and her clan's magician discovered she was destined to be the vessel for her clan's goddess, Bayla.

Every one hundred years, the deity of each desert clan emerges from the spirit world of the Dreaming to take over the body of one of their chosen people, and work enough miracles to provide for their respective clans for the next one hundred years. While the soul of each vessel has to die in order for their god or goddess to walk about in their skin, their sacrifice ensures the continued survival of their people. The deities are required especially now that the Great Drought has rendered life in the desert even more difficult.

However, when the special day arises, Liyana dances the ritual dance - but Bayla doesn't come. Her clan, appalled at what they deem as Liyana's failure and Bayla's displeasure, abandons her in the desert to try and appease their goddess. Before Liyana succumbs to the elements, she is rescued by Korbyn - the desert god of trickery who successfully found his vessel. According to Korbyn, Bayla and four other clan gods have been kidnapped by an unknown enemy, and it is up to Korbyn and Liyana to seek out the other clans' vessels and try and rescue their deities.

I've wanted to read this book for a long time thanks to the great reviews and what sounded like an awesome premise, and on that score, the book doesn't disappoint. Vessel's world building is simple and elegant - conveying a fantastic desert culture and magical system without bogging it down with millions of different names or concepts.

The novel also focuses just as much on the human story as it does on the magical one. Liyana is an intriguing character - she's spent her whole life in perfect obedience, keeping her body pure, avoiding attachments, training her body to be the perfect instrument for her goddess. She's been raised to believe she's important, that she's responsible for the survival of her clan, but only as an object for someone else's power. Abandoned by her clan and saddled with this near-impossible quest soon teaches her how to find power in her own agency.

But at what cost? As Liyana meets up with different vessels, she discovers that not all of them welcome the fate of being honourably murdered for the good of the clan. Thanks to the Great Drought, countless lives will be lost to thirst and starvation without divine intervention. However, as one character wonders, what are the vessels really saving? Are they saving the lives of the clans - or the way of life that keeps the clans in the inhospitable desert, when instead they could move to an easier environment where magic isn't required?

The author explores the different angles of this theme - the morality of killing a few in order to save an entire people - using all the different characters and their backgrounds, from the fanatically-obedient Pia to the rebellious Raan, to the Emperor of the Crescent Empire. Interestingly, the most bland character of the bunch is Korbyn, an actual god inhabiting a human body. He never really came across as godlike to me - trickster or no. He just seemed like a particularly jovial teen with phenomenal cosmic powers. He doesn't even endure a lot of conflict or angst. Perhaps I'm comparing him too unfairly with NK Jemisin's portrayal of deities in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but there was nothing about his personality or his decisions that rendered him distinct from the human characters.

While the novel has an original setting, colourful characters and engaging themes, overall the book didn't wow me as much as I thought it would. While the book does a great job setting up the difficult conflict - is there a way to protect people from the Great Drought without killing other people? - it fumbles royally when it comes to solving that conflict. Despite the lead up and the tension and some truly awesome action scenes, the book concludes with a solution the main characters already discussed and declared to be untenable. So how was stuff solved? Are we just supposed to believe in the power of love? What? Ugh, whatever.

Vessel has a lot of things going for it - an original premise, thought-provoking themes, and an awesome heroine. Just don't get too invested in the actual conflict.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Nobody's Baby But Mine," by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (HarperCollins, 1997)

The Chick: Dr. Jane Darlington. A brilliant super-genius who longs to have a baby of her own.
The Rub: In order for her baby to be "normal," she has to bang a stupid guy in order to even out her offspring's IQ - and who better than a football player? They're all dumb, right?
Dream Casting: Claire Coffee.

The Dude: Cal Bonner. A star quarterback for the Chicago Stars who's in denial over the end of his football career.
The Rub: He finds out some random lady made a baby with him without his knowledge - oh noes! Commitment!
Dream Casting: Josh Duhamel.

The Plot: I am just too damn tired. Try reading my LiveTweets about it instead!

Romance Convention Checklist:

  • 1 Commitment-Phobe Hero
  • 1 Book-Smart, Literally-Everything-Else-Dumb Heroine
  • 3 Misogynist Good Ol' Boy Friends
  • Several Boxes of Tampered Lucky Charms
  • 1 Kooky Grandma
  • 1 Secondary Romance
  • 1 Greedy, Soulless Lawyer
The Word:
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She's consistently entertained me with her books - and even surprised me with the depth of her characterization as well as her excellent use of drama.

However, every time I raved about one of her books, there'd be a ghostly echo on the edge of my Twitter feed - a haunted whisper, thick with regret and despair, "Wait until Nobody's Baby But Miiiiiiine!"

At first I thought, "Challenge accepted!" But in reality, I was so not ready for this jelly. This Completely-Divorced-From-Reality Jelly. Served on a Traditional Gender Roll. With a side order of Offensive Stereotypes. Drenched in a hefty serving of Crazysauce.

So really, the only way to help this bad medicine go down is a good ol' Drinking Game! Our first rule - chug whenever an offensively stale stereotype rears its ugly head.

Dr. Jane Darlington is our "heroine." She is a "brilliant" award-winning physicist who Doogie Howser'd her way to a Ph.D. We know this, because she talks about quarks. A lot - take a chug every time she mentions a quark. Thankfully, she's also a knockout - once you convince her to let her hair down and take off her glasses (drink!).

Of course, none of her accomplishments matter because she's 34 and babyless. Unfortunately, she can't go to a sperm bank, because medical and science students are the primary donors. In this detailed fantasy world that SEP has created, all male scientists are misogynist nerds with bad haircuts who wear black socks to bed (drink!).

More importantly, Jane wants a dumb baby. No, really. Her ~*terrible childhood*~ as a Super Genius scarred her so completely, she refuses to "subject" her unborn child to that type of First World White Privileged Suffering. So let's drink to her pain whenever she mentions her "terrible childhood" of being better than everyone else.

Jane thinks she needs to score some love gravy from a Forrest Gump-type that will even out her child's intelligence to a more "reasonable" level. Because that is exactly how science works. And our heroine is a "brilliant" "scientist." If I could add more quotation marks without violating the laws of grammar, I would. Instead, I'll just drink whenever the heroine gleefully imagines her child's IQ dropping a couple of points. No, really.

Cal Bonnor is our "hero," a 36-year-old quarterback for the Chicago Stars who's in denial of the impending end of his football career. He refuses to date women older than 22, because dating older women implies he's old, which means commitment (drink)! And nagging wives (drink)! And the stale laughter of a live studio audience, since Cal appears to derive his understanding of gender politics from old reruns of According to Jim.

Cal prefers younger women because they still have that "smell of newness" about them, a "dewy sparkle" - and shudders at women thirty and older because he thinks they're "already turning brown at the edges." Dude, this wouldn't happen if you just dipped them in lemon juice first! Take a drink whenever Cal expresses his desire for sparkly teenagers and his revulsion for "elderly" women over the age of twenty four

His birthday's coming up, and his Totally Not Offensive Football Bros decide to buy him a hooker as a birthday present. But a super-classy hooker. And they make her wear a big pink bow just to hammer home the point that she's his gift. Of course, this blatant objectification of women is completely okay because They're Dumb Football Players Who Don't Know Any Better (drink!).

Thanks to shenanigans I'm frankly too tired to explain at length, the "Classy Birthday Hooker" is really Jane in disguise, armed with a sabotaged condom. You see, after seeing one interview with Cal on the television, our "brilliant" heroine has already deduced that he must be an idiot because a) he's a football player (drink!) and b) he's Southern (drink!).

But one look at him convinces her that he's a hardened warrior, and genetically perfect for her baby. Because an "ancient, wise" female voice in her head tells her so. So drink whenever Jane refers to Cal as a warrior (or maybe just sip, she says it a LOT), and also whenever Psychic Judi Dench gives Jane romantic advice.

Despite the fact that Jane is terrible at sex, doesn't finish, and doesn't remove any of her clothes (this is the same heroine who complained about her ex wearing socks to bed, by the way), Cal is so inexplicably besotted with her that he bones her again when she comes back for seconds a month later. Both sex scenes are awkward and unpleasant - but, to be fair, incredibly fascinating. Both the hero and the heroine treat the other as a sex object. Cal initially refuses Jane and wants to "pass her along" to one of his friends, while Jane refers to Cal as a mere "device" to give her a baby. There actually is some real potential for nuance and discussion in this scenario - if only the protagonists were less punchable.

(For a less punchable version of this scenario, I recommend A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant.)

Long story longer, Cal finds out about the baby, throws his money around threatening to ruin Jane's career, and forces her into marriage, because doggone it if his baby won't be legitimate because he's an Old School Man with Old School Values (drink!). Of course, he plans to divorce Jane as soon as the cord is cut, but those nine months of matrimony will magically make all the difference. I can't say I understand Cal's logic in this scenario. Neither can Jane.

Of course, the gossip gets out so Cal has to pack up Jane and drive them both down to his small, southern hometown of Salvation, North Carolina, in order to evade reporters until the baby's birth and the return of football season. However, Cal gives Jane some specific instructions:
  1. She can't talk to his family or friends without his knowledge.
  2. If a scenario arises in which she's forced to meet his family or friends, she has to act as Terrible As Possible so his family won't grow attached to her.
  3. She can't leave the house or own her own car to leave said house without his consent
  4. If anyone asks, she's twenty-five years old - because Cal can't bear the shame of people knowing he married a woman as old as twenty-eight. People will think he's poor! (drink!)
To her credit, Jane ignores and defies most of these super-stalkery rules, and that's when we get a better picture of what Jane and Cal's romantic dynamic is supposed to be like, once they've stopped trying to be The Worst People Ever. Cal describes himself as a "yeller" - he was never truly satisfied with his dewy, sparkly, overly-moisturized college girls because he could never be his Awful Shouting Self around them without them bursting into tears. Um, okay. So Jane is his perfect match because she can put up with his Dominating Caveman Bullshit.

Maybe you could just stop being a Dominating Caveman? No? Okay then.

Once we get to Salvation, we get a host of dull, silly secondary subplots - the worst of which is a romantic one with Cal's estranged parents. His dad's flaw is that he's a privileged, emotionally abusive asshole going through a midlife crisis. His mum's flaw is … um, she's apparently unable to psychically detect that her husband's abuse comes from a place of love. Right.

Honestly, the narrative slows down and gets kind of boring around this point. There's less crazy, but there's no emotional substance to fill the void. The rest of the book is just squabbling that seems aimless and petty after the Seed-Stealing-Super-Genius plot of the first half.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the poorly-realized characters. Gonzo stories aren't a romantic deal breaker - just read some of the plots of Laura Kinsale's awesome books - but they still need grounded, realistic characters, and neither of these goons fit the bill.

Jane Darlington is a monstrously privileged character who jumps to hugely prejudiced conclusions about just about everyone. She believes Cal is a moron for a huge chunk of the book based solely on his southern accent (drink!), colloquial dialect (drink!), and his love of comic books (drink!). She is so horrified to discover Cal graduated summa cum laude that she threatens to take her child to Africa, where it's "primitive" (finish the whole damn bottle). Seriously. I guess the only way to escape the problems of White Privilege is to take the child away from white people.

And despite all this, her desperate desire to have a "normal" baby thanks to her "freakish" childhood, a desire that fuels the majority of her actions, is solved with one line in the epilogue.

Cal, meanwhile, is a cartoon. His actions and thought processes are just too exaggerated to believe or empathize with. His "old school values" that make no sense, his disgustingly hypocritical dismissal of women over twenty-five, his narrow-minded idea of what makes a man a "real man." He's built out of cliches - and not even positive ones. It's impossible to view his actions and decisions on a human spectrum because he's essentially a plot device/fantasy object. Although definitely not my fantasy.

It's interesting to compare this book to the other SEP novels I've read and loved - how could this one book hit so many wrong notes and fail to grasp realistic human behaviour on such a basic level? No idea. Even amid the awfulness, a few sparks of SEP's skillful humour slip through (like a hilarious scene where the heroine tries to sexy-dance to classical music - which winds up being "Flight of the Bumblebee"), but it's like reading a human story written by aliens who decided to watch old family sitcoms instead of doing research.

I'm far from giving SEP up completely, but this book is definitely the odd one out.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Good Omens," by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (HarperTorch, 2006)

The Primary Cast:

Crowley: A Fallen Angel who wears dark glasses and drives a Bentley.

Aziraphale: An Angel (unfallen), who collects antique books and wears a bow tie. Friends with Crowley.

The Secondary Cast:

Anathema Device: A young witch, and descendent of a woman whose book of prophesies has accurately predicted every major event in her life.

Newt Pulsifer: An apprentice witchfinder, for no particular reason than he has nothing better to do with his life.

Adam Young: The 11-year-old Antichrist, who's more concerned with climbing trees and playing games in the hedge than de

Fantasy Convention Checklist:

  • 1 Inexplicably-Empowered Child With World-Destroying Powers
  • 1 Bigoted Witchfinder
  • 1 Rather Open-Minded Witchfinder
  • 1 Book of Entirely Accurate Prophesies
  • 4 Bad Little Kids
  • 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • 4 More (Albeit Less Effective) Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • 1 Talkative Nun
The Word: I'm not the hugest fan of Terry Pratchett - I read one of his Rincewind books and thought the humour was just too over-the-top for my taste. Neil Gaiman has also been hit or miss for me. Loved 1602, Stardust and Coraline - disliked American Gods

So what would it be like to read a book written by both of them together? Amazingly, rather pleasant. Gaiman tones down Pratchett's goofball humour and Pratchett lightens up Gaiman's moody navel-gazing, and the result is a pleasant, often funny, if a bit overlong novel.

So the end of the world is apparently nigh - the Antichrist has just been born, which means in a few years' time the world will come to an end as the armies of Heaven and Hell duke it out for Best Afterlife Ever. However, two small, insignificant peons in these supernatural armies are not as excited for this splendid event. Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a Fallen angel) have become friends during their petty squabbling over the souls of humanity, and they've rather come to like the human world. 

On top of that, thanks to the incompetent machinations of a group of Satanic nuns, the infant World-Destroyer is accidentally switched with another baby and sent home with the wrong family, where he grows up without any supernatural influence, Good or Evil. However, the Apocalypse waits for no one, and as events ratchet up towards the end of the world, Crowley and Aziraphale - with the help of some kooky characters and a book of disturbingly accurate prophesies - have to keep the world in one piece as much as possible. 

Good Omens is extremely cleverly written, with almost non-stop humour from start to finish. For the most part, the novel trots along at a nice clip as the narrative lightly tip toes along, across, and around weighty issues such as Free Will versus Fate, Good versus Evil, Human Nature, and the catchiness of Queen songs. The plot is rather slow-moving (the whole story takes about a week, all told) and is more of an excuse to cleverly skewer pop culture, religion, politics, and other subjects inappropriate for the dinner table.

That being said, the novel does begin to overstay its welcome about three quarters in. I actually found it difficult to keep track of some of the characters, since many of them (Anathema and Newt, to name a few) are almost entirely superfluous to the plot. The pacing could have been tightened in many places, and around the end a lot of the humour feels more like padding than plot. 

All in all, though, Good Omens is a quirky, funny read with a great deal of imagination and wit - even if it's a little short on story.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

October Round-Up!

Please excuse this brief introduction to my October round-up - I've started National Novel Writing Month! But I still took a break from typing madly away at my new novel to let you know what sorts of books I read in the last thirty-one days:

*October Winners*
To Have and To Hold, by Patricia Gaffney. Romance, Historical. A+
Pros: Gorgeous language, nuanced characters, beautiful relationship. Cons: Rape scene. Hero's an ass for the first half.

Burn for Burn, by Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han. A+
Pros: Excellent developed heroines, great continuation of story, well-established but subtle paranormal element. Cons: Doesn't really stand on its own.

*October Dud*
This is W.A.R., by Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker. YA, Contemporary. C
Pros: Revenge. Cons: Cliched, unlikable characters. Badly constructed plot.

*The Best of the Rest*
In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden. Fiction, Contemporary (circa 1960). A
Pros: Diverse cast of female characters, eye-opening examination into monastic life. Cons: No real plot.

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson. Mystery, Fantasy, Historical. B
Pros: Interesting setting, colourful characters. Cons: Repetitive plot, so-so mystery.

Trial by Desire, by Courtney Milan. Romance, Historical. C+
Pros: Awesome heroine, interesting dramatic plot. Cons: Condescending jerkface hero.

The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake. Fiction, Historical. DNF
Pros: Historical detail, decent writing. Cons: Utterly boring and a complete lack of plot.

"How to Say Goodbye in Robot," by Natalie Standiford (Scholastic, 2010)

The Protagonist: Beatrice. Called a "robot" by her own mother because of her inability (or unwillingness) to make firm attachments, she's about to start her senior year of school in Boston.
Her Angst: Her parents are fighting, her mother keeps acting weirder and weirder - and this strange boy at school interests her more than she'd like to admit.

Secondary Characters:

Jonah: Nicknamed "Ghost Boy" by his peers for his pale appearance and solitary status, he hides a creative and kooky heart - and a dark family past.

Anne: One of the popular kids at Bea's new school who tries to befriend Bea.

Tom: A popular guy at Bea's high school who has a reputation for dating and dumping new girls.

The Night Lights: A group of (mostly elderly and weird) people who all listen and call in to a late night radio show about aliens and time travellers.

Matthew: Jonah's severely disabled brother, who is currently in a private hospital because he requires constant care.

Angst Checklist:

  • Family Secrets
  • Bullying
  • Infidelity
  • People with Disabilities
  • Time Travel
  • Radio Dee Jays
  • Depression
The Word: I picked up this book because it was the Forever Young Adult Bookclub's November pick, and I just so happen to be the co-founder of my hometown's branch of the FYA Bookclub.

Thanks to her family moving around a lot at the behest of her college-professor father, Bea has never had an easy time forming relationships - a trait that causes her emotionally-unstable mother to call her a "heartless robot." Well, all Robot Girl wants to do is get through her last year of high school without being noticed.

Until, on her first day at her new school, she meets Jonah, a pale, antisocial teen the other students call "Ghost Boy." He hasn't had a friend in ten years - not since his mother and disabled twin brother were killed in a car accident when he was eight. However, Bea discovers she has far more in common with the unusual and creative Jonah than the rest of her privileged private school peers, and against all odds, the two form a friendship.

Then Jonah makes an amazing discovery - his brother Matthew isn't dead. Instead, he's been in an institution this whole time. His father, determined that Jonah should live a "normal life" without being "burdened" by his severely disabled brother, refuses to tell Jonah where Matthew is being cared for, so Jonah and Bea have to come up with a plan to find Matthew - and maybe even rescue him.

How To Say Goodbye In Robot is a detailed study of an unusual, flawed, but ultimately positive relationship. Jonah is a very imperfect character - while creative and interesting, he can also be callous, judgemental, selfish, and extremely jealous of whomever Bea befriends other than him. Bea often finds herself questioning the definitions of their relationship - are they boyfriend/girlfriend? Not really, but calling themselves "just friends" doesn't seem enough, somehow. Either way, Bea grows to learn that she's not nearly the heartless Robot Girl she believes herself to be.

Despite these points, How to Say Goodbye didn't leave a huge impression on me. It's a very quick read, and it doesn't really delve into any theme other than "Feelings Are A Bitch" with any particular depth. The resolution to Bea's parents' drama seemed rather anticlimactic to me after all the sinister build-up, and Matthew's storyline remains a dramatic yet strangely irrelevant plot device that doesn't really contribute to any particular message or idea. Even after finishing the book, I remain at a loss as to what Matthew's storyline was supposed to contribute to the story - and since it's the central plot, that's a pretty large mark against How To Say Goodbye in Robot.

All in all, How To Say Goodbye In Robot has some cute and creative points, but is ultimately a "m'eh" book. I didn't really take anything away from this book. It wasn't an unpleasant read, but it didn't give anything back for the time I spent reading it.