Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Girl Who Was On Trend

The granddaddy of dystopias.
Dystopias have been around since We in 1921. From Brave New World (1932) to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) (This was the inspiration for Blade Runner fyi) to The Handmaid's Tale (1985) to Parable of the Sower (1993) to Battle Royale (2003) and all the dystopian books between them and after the trend has hung around in adult literature. It's been around for the young adult reader for a long time too. I remember when I was in grade 8, we read The Giver, that was back in 2000, 7 years after it was published. It was the first dystopian book I ever picked up, first I'd personally ever heard of; in my experience it's also the first of its type directed to the younger target audience. It's a trend that has grown steadily every decade since it first appeared. The editors over at Wikipedia list 38 dystopian novels between 2000 and 2010 and even though we're only in 2013, there have already been at least 26 published (those are just the 26 the Wiki-editors have caught!) in the 10s, and we're only going to see that number increase (much to my pleasure and the pleasure of other genre fans!).

My 1st & one of my favourites.
The 00s saw the extreme growth of the genre in the YA field, but in my opinion the explosion in the popularity of the genre can be directly attributed to the popularity of one specific series: Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games which debuted in 2008 and was followed by Catching Fire in 2009 and Mockingjay in 2010. In the months leading up to the release of Mockingjay I was in midst of a stint working in a grade 7 class so I was right in the middle of all the hype about this book release. Until that point I hadn't even heard of the series, but all of the kids I was working with were DEVOURING it, and some of these kids self professed to hate reading, but they were into these books; that alone made me pick up a copy in their school library and read the summary. The minute I read the cover I was nostalgic for The Giver, that was my introduction to the genre, and the book nerd in me was thrilled that Katniss and company were doing the same for this new generation. 

The trendsetter.
TVTropes cites that one of the key tropes of the dystopian novel is that it ratchets the issues up to eleven well Collins's series took the entire genre and troped the trope. Arguably the only series to take the trope even further was Battle Royale which only began to garner mainstream, widespread recognition after the release of The Hunger Games film because everyone was going comparison crazy. There were a few YA dystopian series in the early 00s, but since Katniss and her bow appeared on the scene the amount of them has increased kind of exponentially; that series really has become the trend setter for that genre.

Another of my favourites & super on trend
I'm personally thrilled by that because I really am a fan of the genre and so far I've really only met one dystopia that I didn't like. James Patterson's Witch & Wizard (2009) trilogy. The concept was fine, but the writing was really bad. The characters were extremely poorly developed, especially the main characters. There were so many gaps and holes and just a general lack of information. The only reason I read the 3rd book is because I hate starting a series and not seeing it through. In my opinion he was simply trying to cash in on the trend. It definitely didn't surprise me to find out that he's one of the writers who only writes outlines and then has people ghost write for him. There are two series that stand out for me as following in Katniss's footsteps as leading the pack in this trend. There's Marie Lu's Legend series, whose first book was one of my favourites of 2012 and whose sequels (and prequel!) are among my most anticipated reads. Then there's Veronica Roth's Divergent series the first two books of which, Divergent and Insurgent, were published in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The movie adaptations for this series are already in the works! The fan base for this series is INSANE. This is one of my personal favourite series' I love it, the characters are amazing, especially Four, I adore Four. The society she has created is, in my experience unique among dystopias. 

Games of a different variety.
There are so many other stand alone books and dystopian series out there now though:

The fact that this is only a selection of the offerings currently available, and doesn't even discuss the stuff in the publishing pipeline excites me beyond measure! I am excited to read all of these and to see what is still to come! It's a good time to be a dystopian fan! And now I will go back to patiently waiting for the Catching Fire movie and the next Veronica Roth novel!

-- Ren

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Goddess Test by Aimée Carter


     Title: The Goddess Test (Goddess Test #1)
     Author: Aimée Carter
     Publisher: Harlequin Teen
     Published: April 19, 2011
     Number of Pages: 293 
     Genre(s): Mythological Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
     Date Read: January 23, 2012
     Acquired: Wal-Mart

Kate Winters and her mum have been on their own for as long as Kate can remember; she has no memories of her father and her mother never even goes near the topic and Kate is fine with that because her mum is her best friend. Things are about to change though, Kate's mum is dying and soon Kate will be even more alone. Her mother's dying wish is to move back to her home town in the middle of nowhere in  northern Michigan. Kate agrees even though it means senior year in a new school, surrounded by new people who have known each other their whole lives. 

For a girl who grew up in New York she thought she was used to weird. But the people at her school are weirder than she's used to but she can't pinpoint why at first; they seem more like a dysfunctional family than school mates, but maybe that's just a symptom of being in the same class with the same people from kindergarten on up? It doesn't take long before the weirdness comes to a head when her new friend takes her to a mysterious estate and that's when everything gets crazy. Ava ends up dead and the owner of the house, a handsome, brooding, dark young man (who we actually met in the prologue talking about his drowned girlfriend..and the other 11 girls who have died being with him in the last 84 years...) claiming to be Hades, god of the Underworld. He tells Kate that he can give her what she wants most, her mother's life, and all she has to do is pass seven tests. To prove to the doubting Kate that he means business, he brings Ava  back from the dead.

Kate, overcome with optimism dives headlong into the tests, and the mysteries of Eden Manor and the surrounding town of Eden. The deeper she goes the more questions she has and the more her life begins to unravel. Has everything she's ever known been a lie? What is the truth? Who is she? And just what is her destiny? Most important of all though, can she survive long enough to learn the answers?

I love Greek Mythology; I know I've mentioned that more than once, but I'm reviewing another book in the mythological fiction sub-genre so I feel it needs to be reiterated. The story of Hades and Persephone (no Google Chrome spell checker I do NOT want to change that to "Phonephone"!?!) has always been one of my absolute favourites in the Greek canon. I've long since been fascinated by the intricacies in the relationship between Hades and Persephone, and each of their relationships with Demeter (huh spell checker has no suggestions for that one go figure!). I'm intrigued by complex relationships in fiction (and in life) and I think that's all thanks to this story. It never fails to pull me in. As a big fan of the story, I feel comfortable saying that Aimée's re-visioning definitely does it justice; in fact it's got more of the complicated interwoven relationships that I love from the original story!

Putting the Greek Pantheon and the Classic stories into modern day settings is obviously a huge trend right now, especially in the YA field. It seems to be one of several supernatural trends, including zombies, faeries, and werewolves, vying to take over the top spot of vampire romances. I for one hope that this trend wins because I think the stories are rich and vibrant and by bringing them to today's teens in recognisable settings they become a gateway to the original tales; tales which today's teens might not actually be inclined to read, which to me is sad because I started getting Greek Mythology from about the age of 6, so that's my bias.

Obviously it's not perfect, nothing ever is, and if it was it would be boring and uninteresting  because perfect is no fun. One of the major problems I have with this story, but also the whole series, is the characterisation of James/Hermes. Being a fan of the Classic tales I find the behaviour of James/Hermes perplexing. In the myths, Hermes was a cheeky little bugger, he tricked Hera into suckling him by disguising himself as Ares, he stole Apollo's cattle as a newborn and then invented the lyre to apologise; he was a chronic giver and enjoyed his supporting duties as herald and soul conductor. In Goddess Test he's a mopey, emo, mean guy. He comes off as very unsympathetic to me, but I think Aimée meant for us to feel for him, I just don't. I'm also not a big fan of the characterisation of Calliope/Hera, but I can't get too much into what bothers me about that characterisation without spoiling the plot and I hate doing that, so I'll issue a warning instead. If you're a mythology fan and you actually know a bit of information about Hera, try and pretend you don't okay?

Oh and I'm still not sure I'm entirely sold on teenaged versions of the Greek Gods, I just feel like they should at least be portrayed as in their 30s, but given that this story is for the YA market, that's an understandable and forgiveable style choice. 

What are your thoughts on the current trend of taking the Greek myths out of ancient Greece and plunking them down in the modern day? What about the de-aging of the gods in this series?


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler


     Title: Pacific Vortex! (Dirk Pitt #1)
     Author: Clive Cussler
     Publisher: Bantam Books
     Published: January 1, 1983 
     Number of Pages: 93 
     Genre(s): Action, Suspense, Thriller
     Date Read: July, 2012
     Acquired: Waterloo Public Library

PacificVortex! opens with a reflection on famous ships that have sunk in the Pacific Ocean leading into a narrative of the story of Commander Felix Dupree the commanding officer on the newest submarine in the United States navy, the Starbuck, which is on its maiden voyage to Hawai’i. In the tradition of suspense novels, by the end of this prologue the Starbuck is inexplicably lost at sea in extremely mysterious circumstances. Fade to black, fade back in 6 months later on beautiful stretch of Hawaiian beach and up from the water pops, Dirk Pitt, the intrepid star of Pacific Vortex! He’s a former Army Major now working as the number one operative for NUMA (the National Underwater and Marine Agency, which is also totally a real life organisation founded by Clive Cussler.), who happens to be on vacation on the exact beach where a message capsule from the doomed submarine washes ashore; cue the ominous theme music. The message capsule, of course, contains a cryptic account of the Starbuck’s fate makes him immediately suspicious and allows Dirk to connect with the U.S. Navy’s elite salvage operation running out of Pearl Harbour. This is Dirk Pitt’s element; the Salvage team brings him on board and puts him in charge of the operation to find the Starbuck. Pitt risks his life, almost dying several times while he doggedly unravels the mystery of not only the Starbuck’s disappearance but the mysterious fate of thirty more ships who were all also downed in the strange Pacific vortex which has been likened to the Bermuda Triangle, and what he discovers is a shocking surprise that is almost unbelievable!


The Associated Press, in their review of the novel, which is quoted on the back cover, called Dirk Pitt the Indiana Jones of oceanography; and Clive Cussler himself states in the Forward that when he set out to write this series he was looking to create a character who wasn’t a spy or a detective or a police man which are the stereotypes of the suspense genre. He has definitely succeeded in doing that . The marine and island settings were unusual for this genre back when it was first published. The norm was (and still largely is) cities, with car chases and political intrigue. Cussler broke that mould with Pacific Vortex! A year later Tom Clancy's most well known suspense hero, Jack Ryan, showed up in a submarine thriller, The Hunt for Red October, the 4th book in Clancy's series. I haven't read the Clancy series yet, but from what I can surmise from the summaries, that was the first time Jack Ryan had taken to the sea.

As with most suspense novels that I've read, this one is told in third person perspective and the focus is on following the lead character as he dives head first into the thrilling action that shows us the dangers and perils associated with oceanography and salvaging. What makes this particular plot interesting to me is that it’s not just solely about the action, there is a mystery to solve; clues to follow and conclusions to reach, which makes you invested in the story and gets you right in there with the main character. For me, someone who has a completely irrational fear of sharks and drowning and mild claustrophobia the settings succeeded in making me feel very uneasy at times which definitely added to the suspense of the story for me.

Overall I feel that Pacific Vortex! is a solid example of a suspense thriller thanks to its pacing, it is action packed while also being thought provoking. I really enjoyed this novel and I would recommend it to others. I don’t know if I’ll continue with the whole series but I’ll probably end up reading at least a few more because Dirk Pitt is a very engaging character and the oceanographic adventures are absolutely intriguing to me. That being said I know that Cussler's later books are not written by him, I've been told that he just writes the outlines and hires other people to write the stories based on those. I've read books by other authors who have done that and I have found them problematic and disappointed so I might just steer clear.

This book was written by Cussler though and Dirk’s humour and curiosity kept me into it the entire time and I think they’ll do the same for you.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Narration Part II - Third Person Narrators

Here is the continuation of my exposition on the relative merits of different narrative points of view. Tonight I will share with you all my thoughts on the third person narrator, starting by going back to my go to for conceptual terminology, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. The dictionary points out something that anyone who reads a lot already knows: third person narration is the most common type of narration. Although I wonder how accurate that statement is now? Because I have come across a fair amount of recently published books (say the last 5-8 years) that are first person, although that could just speak to the type of books that I have come across because first person does seem to be more prevalent in certain genres than others.

In addition to being popular it is also unique among narrative perspectives, first person and second person (the rarest perspective) are both singular in their incarnations, with third person however you can have:

Third Person Omniscient Narrators: I personally have always had a big soft spot for omniscient third person narrators, that perspective is definitely my favourite. Omniscient narrators are all-knowing, they can see and explain the thoughts and actions of every character and every situation in the text. 

Third Person Limited Narrators:Also known as restricted narrators. This type of third person narrator often ends up facing the same issues first person narrators face when it comes to to knowledge of the characters and situations. There are things they don't know and therefore the reader cannot come to know them.

My top 3 Pros & Cons of omniscient third person narration

1. Infinite knowledge of the characters
& situations
1. Depending on the writing style,
can come off as looking down on the
2. Usually more objective than other
2. Potential for information overload
3. Enables more well rounded development
of all characters
3. No direct connection to the main
character (it's a con when you love the 
main character!)

My top 3 Pros & Cons of limited third person narration

1. Intimate knowledge of some/
most of the characters & situations
1. Missing information, limited
insights into characters & plot
2. Usually more objective than other
2. Potential for inconsistencies if
the writer can't remember what limits
he/she has given the narrator
3. Easier to withhold information
that could give away important elements
3. No direct connection to the main
character (it's a con when you love the 
main character!)

Don't Panic when the Guide
goes off on a narrative tangent
A fair few of my favourite novels are third person narratives. It's not often that I come across a third person narrator that I dislike. Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite novels are J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels; I love everything about them, especially the way she does third person narration. Her limited third person narration is brilliant in my humble opinion; the further into the series you get the more secrets are revealed that the narrator has expertly kept from the reader until that point. My all time, ultimate favourite when it comes to narrators though HAS to be the uber-omniscient third person narrator in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I know I said up there that information overload could be a con, but I get far too much enjoyment out of it the way Adams does it, the narrator is just so irreverent and funny. Since reading this series I have found that Adams' narrative style here has heavily influenced my own.

Some other third person narrators that I particularly enjoyed? Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry, Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles and last but certainly not least because they are another of my all time favourites Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

The epitome of omniscient third
person narration...but a little too
much information overload 
Now obviously I don't like every third person narrator that I read; a person cannot like EVERY book they read it just doesn't happen that way. Some of the narrators that I am not a huge fan of will probably have people shouting things like "BLASPHEMER!" or "YOU CLAIM TO BE A FANTASY FAN!??!" at their screens but like I said a person cannot enjoy every book they read and I have my reasons for disliking these. Firstly Gregory Maguire's Wicked I love the concept, and the story, but the actual narration just did me in. I found it slow and plodding in spots and actually ended up having to force myself to finish it; it took me a month and a half which is almost unheard of with the way that I read. Another that I didn't enjoy? R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy. I REALLY wanted to love this series, especially because the author is Canadian, but it was just too heavy and slow for my tastes and a far different kind of information overload than Douglas Adams. And speaking of problems with information overload, here's where I'm going to get the most grief: I do not enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien's writing style; I LOVE the stories and the characters and the world and I am in absolute AWE of the painstaking level of detail he put into things, but there's just too much information overload in the story for me. I've had the books read to me and that I enjoyed, but trying to read them myself I just couldn't wade through everything. I have the same problem with Charles Dickens and any other writer who was paid by the word.

In the end I think I probably enjoy third person just slightly more than I enjoy first person. Really I'm happy either way so long as I have a reliable narrator who isn't trying to fry my synapses with unnecessary information and who doesn't give away all the important details too early. What about you what are you narrative preferences?

-- Ren

Monday, January 21, 2013

First Read Friday - Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows


     Title: Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows
     (The Zombie Bible Book #1)
     Author: Stant Litore 
     Publisher: 47North 
     Published: August 14, 2012 
     Number of Pages: 93 
     Genre(s): Horror, Historical Fiction, Mythology
     Date Read: January 13, 2013
     Acquired: Chapters

Yerusalem is being ravaged by a plague, so what else is new? It's biblical times, something bad is always happening in Yerusalem! This isn't just your normal plague though, this isn't wine and water turning to blood, it's not frogs or fireballs falling from the sky, and it's definitely not something as mundane as a plague of locusts. No, this is an old plague, true evil, a sign that the people of Yerusalem have truly failed God and are doomed, it must be; for why else would the dead be walking the earth?

Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah for those of you unfamiliar with the biblical spelling) tried to warn the people, he truly did. He tried to stop them, did everything in his power to try and make them see the error of their ways. He has failed; the city is besieged by Babylon and there are more and more dead wandering the streets, soon they will surely out number the living. He is of course terrified and appalled, with his fellow men and especially with himself. He blames himself for their downfall, for not doing even more than he did to stop it from coming to this. Yirmiyahu has given everything to try and save Yerusalem, even breaking his covenant with his wife to send her away so that he could stay and try to save the city he loves. But now he is alone, for even God has left Yirmiyahu.

WIthout God how can Yirmiyahu hope to save Yerusalem and its people from the tide of walking dead that they unleashed upon themselves?

At 93 pages this is a lovely little one sitting read, or at least it would have been something I could have read in one sitting were it not for the fact that I've been having a hard time concentrating on anything for more than thirty minutes at a time thanks to my wisdom tooth headaches (I'm headed to the dentist on Wednesday to get that looked at). I like books that can be read in one sitting, I'd much rather spend two and a half hours reading a book from start to finish than watching a movie. The book is a much richer world and I have a very vivid imagination; I usually much prefer my own visualisations to those in film adaptations for example. Because of my headaches, I wanted something that would allow me to get through it quickly because I knew it would be an effort to focus so I scoured the pile and came away with this and it fit my reading needs at the time perfectly.

This is not the type of book I would normally gravitate towards, when it comes to supernatural creatures I'm usually a vampire or werewolf fan. I always used find zombies to be incredibly lame but then I took a class back in 2008 and we studied zombie movies and even though I still thought they were lame I enjoyed the symbolism of them. Milla Jovovich and the Resident Evil series can be attributed with eradicating my dislike of zombies; the zombies in that series are not lame at all. So thanks to that class, and Resident Evil when I won the third book in the Zombie Bible series from Book Riot's Name that Author contest one week back in November I was super excited to read it because a) Hey I won a free book! Yeah! and b) Oooh Christian mythology meets modern horror! so I decided then and there that I would acquire the first two books and read them in order. I asked my local library to order them, and they did; but then I ended up getting a lot of book money for Christmas and just bought them myself. 

I'm extremely glad that I did decide to dive in and give the zombie lit. a chance because this book didn't disappoint me. That being said, if you're a zombie fan a word of warning, do not be fooled by the gory cover image above, the title or the summary; the zombies are in there, assuredly, but they are not the stars of the action so if you're expecting gory action scenes all over the place and life or death chases this is not the zombie book you are looking for. I for one am okay with that because I really enjoyed the direction that the author took the story but maybe that's just the religious culture scholar in me? There's a lot of philosophical and religious waxing on the part of the main character; a good 90% of the book is him working through his own actions and those of his fellow Israelites, trying to figure out if they are capable or even worthy of redemption by God. For that reason the narrative is not linear it jumps around a lot between the present and several different points in the past through flashbacks.

On the plus side you really don't need to know anything at all about Christian mythology because Litore has taken little almost meaningless biblical incidents and imbued them with a new fantastical life. It is a bold undertaking indeed, and I know that there are people out there who are perfectly willing and ready to label this as sacrilege or blasphemy, but I am not one of those people. I applaud him for having the courage to take on this idea and it is a brilliant one. He has executed his vision amazingly, and he is so completely into this project that even his historian's note at the beginning and about the author section at the back do not break from the character he has created for himself of a zombie historian who has survived a 1992 outbreak of zombies in the Pacific Northwest. That right there is dedication to one's art.

I am excited to read the rest of the series and Stant Litore is now most definitely on my list of authors to watch for.

Check him and his zombies out at


Friday, January 18, 2013

Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken

It was my birthday this past Wednesday so a relative has come to visit for the weekend. So I am pre-empting tonight's First Read Friday (pushing it to Monday) and sharing a book review I wrote this past summer for my Genre Fiction & Readers' Advisory class.

obligatory romance novel pecs!

     Title: Dragon Actually (Dragon Kin book #1)
     Author: G.A Aiken
     Publisher: Zebra Books (Kensington Publishing Corp.)
     Published: September 1, 2008 
     Number of Pages: 342
     Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance
     Date Read: June 2012

Dragon Actually actually contains two distinct stories, the novel length titular tale, Dragon Actually and a novella length companion tale titled Chains & Flames that have been combined into a single volume, the first in what is currently a series of six (with more on the way) called TheDragon Kin series.

Dragon Actually is the story of the relationship between an antisocial dragon called Fearghus the Destroyer, in a case of "Our Dragons are Different", he has a human self and his human self saves known a human female as Annwyl the Bloody (contextually iffy nickname wouldn't you say?), a Warrior-Princess on the run from the half-brother, the King of the land, who wants her dead. Fearghus takes on the role of protector (in his dragon form) and teacher (in his human form) to help prepare Annwyl for the fight against her brother King Lorcan so she will be capable of taking his head and his throne; that was supposed to be their arrangement, but neither one was counting on falling in love. 

Throughout Dragon Actually we're introduced to a small number of the multitude of members of Fearghus’s family, who will populate the rest of the series of course, including both of his parents, Queen Rhiannon and Bercelak the Great, her Consort and just a few of his siblings. Chains & Flames is the story of how Rhiannon and Bercelak came to be the strong, untied, mated pair with the large brood introduced in Dragon Actually. It chronicles the lowest point of then Princess Rhiannon’s lifelong battle with her mother Queen Addiena and how together with Bercelak and the love and support of his family, experiences she had previously never had, she was able to triumph over her mother to become Queen (the fact that she finally has someone to dominate her helps; she doesn't want to be in charge in every respect after all).

You know right off that since this is a romance novel (albeit a paranormal fantasy romance novel), the main focus of these stories is going to be on the main characters falling in love with one another and getting it on, and Aiken makes good on that expectation. The reader gets very invested in the outcomes of these romances because Aiken’s characters are fantastically developed. They are people (or dragons in people form if you want to get nuanced) that you want to know. They are very real and every single one of them is flawed and vulnerable; there are no perfect characters here. Aiken’s characters all for one reason or another have either chosen to or been unable to find, as Rhiannon says in Chains & Flames their ‘one true mate’ up until the time of the action in the stories. Sometimes to me the relationships in romances can feel very contrived and forced because the whole purpose is that the main characters are perfect for each other and will therefore end up together. Aiken’s relationships don’t feel forced, the circumstances don't feel contrived for one very important reason, the context of the world she has created.

The world in which Dragon Actually and Chains & Flames  takes place to me seems very reminiscent of medieval Europe, if you continue reading the series you'll encounter a region and people none to dissimilar from the vikings. There are multiple different regions and political systems in play and in conjunction with her romance plots Aiken focuses a great deal on the various political intrigues and interplays. The inciting action in both tales involves a fight between family members over the throne of a particular kingdom; the whole thing would not be out of place in an HBO series. It is this setting, when the characters are placed in it in their specific roles; the scenarios do not appear contrived and forced. Overall these books are honest about what they are; they don’t try and pretend to be something else to draw you in. It is very clear from the cover that you are getting a romance novel, but once you read the jacket descriptions and get into the books, you realise you’re getting not just romance but also complex fantasy for a very multi-layered story.

If you can’t tell yet, I absolutely adored the book, to the point that I went out and bought all six and I’m going to read every single one (still working on it, I've read the first 3, the rest are in the pile). My favourite part of the story shouldn't surprise you; it is the interaction between the characters, they are sarcastic and there is so much biting humour that it’s impossible not to laugh; it's like a full cast of dead pan snarkers. In the past when I’ve tried reading romance novels I was always turned off by the cheese factor of them, but that didn’t happen here, the fantasy setting and storylines caught my interest and held me, but the characters and their dysfunctionality and humour are what made me fall in love with the story.

Do you usually go for romance novels? If not have you ever been drawn into one? What drew you in?


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Narration Part I - First Person Narrators

Tonight I decided to ask my friend Rachel to suggest a topic for me to write about. She suggested that I expand upon my feelings about first person vs. third person narratives and my thoughts on what the positives and negatives of each are. It's perfect really because I routinely have this argument with myself whenever I think about actually writing one of the many books that lives in my brain; I'm never sure if I'd rather write from a first person POV or a third person. Maybe this post will finally help me decide.  

Let's start with some formal definitions, paraphrased (of course!) from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, which I like to assume every former English major and professional writer/author have somewhere in their homes, just to refresh our memories.

First person narratives: the narrator is the "I" voice in the story, relating the events, and specifically their role in the events, from their point of view. Usually for this reason first person narrators are the main characters in a work (usually but not always).
Third person narratives: the narrator is not a character  with a role in the events of the story. The vast majority of third person narrators are considered omniscient, which is helpful because they know everything about everyone and everything going on in the story, non-omniscient third person narrators can happen, and they can be annoying. Third person is the most common form of narrative.

My top 5 Pros & Cons of first person narration

1. Personally invested in events 1. Potential for unreliability
2. Potential for multiple First person POVs 2. Limited insight into thoughts/feelings
 of other characters
3. Enables unique narrative formats
such as correspondence between two
First person narrators
3. Direct connection to the main character
 (it's a con when you hate the main character!)
4. Easier to envision yourself in place of the narrator 4. Can make it hard to see character
development in secondary and minor characters
5. Usually a faster read 5. Hard to balance giving enough info
and not giving away anything important

There's good first person narration...
I have a love hate relationship with the first person narrator. There are first person books that I have loved and some that I have abhorred.  For example, I can't stand The Great Gatsby because of the wholly unreliable narrator; which is also one of the many many reasons I am not a Twilight fan. Bella is one of the worst first person narrators ever, inconsistent, unreliable (hello giant chunk of New Moon that is missing because the narrator was catatonic!?!), and not exactly the brightest bulb in the box. And then there are first person narratives that I adored; like Legend, A Discovery of Witches, Sorcery & Cecelia, and Jumper to name a few...
and some that's not so good...

I like my first person narrators to be whimsical, intelligent and insightful. They need to be observant and relate those observations to me. If they hide things from me, or are continually inconsistent in the information they share with me I become annoyed quickly and my enjoyment of the novel decreases. When there are multiple povs I find first person works well, especially in cases where I don't like one of the narrators, there's an extra who I can get a different prospective of the same situation from. 

In my opinion the quality of the writing and the success of the first person narrator don't necessarily go hand in hand but they usually do. I often find that I get more enjoyment from the very strongly written first person narrators than I do the weakly written ones.

So now you know how I feel about first person narratives. Next week I'll share my thoughts on third person!

-- Ren

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Witches of East End: the Beauchamp Family Book #1 by Melissa de la Cruz


     Title: Witches of East End: the Beauchamp Family Book #1
     Author: Melissa de la Cruz 
     Publisher: Hyperion 
     Published: June 21, 2011 
     Number of Pages: 272 
     Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance
     Date Read: July 2011
     Acquired: Real Canadian Superstore book aisle

North Hampton, New York is a sleepy, prosperous little tourist town, a place of old money and old traditions; all in all it's a quiet, normal place where nothing extraordinary ever happens. Or you know, not. The titular Beauchamp family of Freya, Ingrid and Joanna are witches, but sssh no one is supposed to know! They're just going to try  to subtly work their magic and hope that the consequences of the ban against magic that was laid upon them (centuries ago no less!).

Each of the Beauchamp women has a specific skill; and apparently all of the people that live in or pass through North Hamtpon  have a life issue that these forbidden magically abilities can solve. Freya the Wild Child bartender is stuck in a love triangle (of course), with two gorgeous brothers (a given) the good boy and the bad boy (duh?); her magical abilities lie in the realm of fixing people love lives (through cocktails!) but she can't even fix her own (what a handy power!). Then there's her older more studious and sedate (see: spinster-y) (stereotypical)librarian sister Ingrid, who is being pursued by a handsome police officer (and very annoyed by it!) while working to unravel a long-lost secret about the town's most famous property (which just happens to be owned by the family of Freya's boyfriends by the way); oh and on her lunch breaks she uses her magical powers to help people with fix their domestic and health situations. Finally there is their mother Joanna, all she wants is the piter pater of little feet in her house again because she's realising that her daughters don't need mothering any more and she misses her son (Freya's twin brother); the young son of the their housekeepers makes a wonderful surrogate. She performs small acts of magic to make this little boy happy; and then her abilities to resurrect the dead and heal most serious injuries becomes important.

Amid the use of their magic a mystery befalls the town, people start to go missing and get ill and dark forces seem to be gathering. The Beauchamp women are convinced that their use of forbidden magic is the cause. But the cause is actually much more sinster and...Norse? Not going to give it away but it is of supreme importance that you know that this series is a re-envisioning of the classic Norse mythological tales.

When I first saw this book at the grocery store (yes I buy books from the grocery store; put me in any store with a book aisle and I will find a book to buy!) I was instantly drawn to it because of the title. At the time I was on a Witches of Eastwick kick thanks to the short lived remake Eastwick and my brain was convinced that this book must be in some way connected to that. I was a little disappointed for a moment when I read the teaser on the back and realised it wasn't. That disappointment quickly faded when I read the name Freya and realised that this book was going to have ties Norse mythology. I LOVE mythological fiction. I had just finished the latest instalments of both of Rick Riordan's series at the time and I was on the look out for more mythological fiction. So I immediately picked this book up and brought it home with me.

Definitely one of my better literary impulse purchases (I've made a few disappointing ones); this was one of my favourite books of 2011. It's enjoyable and fun from start to finish. There are no boring or draggy parts. There's fantasy (obviously) and romance for both Freya and Ingrid and there's even an element of mystery as you try along with the ladies to figure out just what on earth is happening, and who exactly the bad guy is. You spend most of the novel not entirely sure which of the Gardiner brothers you should be trusting. And then of course there's the obligatory epilogue that throws another twist into the mix. Melissa is REALLY good at keeping the reader on the hook. She just reeled me right in, I put Serpent's Kiss on my Amazon wishlist the minute I saw it announced, although I didn't actually buy it until a few weeks ago if you remember back to The Gift of Reading post...

Norse mythology has never been my area of expertise I've always been more partial to Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Christian mythologies, probably because they're more common in fiction; but I do know a little, enough that I can really enjoy the way that Melissa has interpreted and adapted the tales and characters. I must admit though I did suffer a few instances of envisioning certain characters as their Stargate Asgardian counterparts...don't judge me...which made certain scene at least a little bit awkward. Obviously it's not historically accurate or completely in-line with the mythology, but it makes no apologies for that and I like it for that reason. As an unapologetic re-envisioning it is well aware of it's identity and it embraces it and runs with it creating it's own rich world that parallels the original myths. I think that mythology is a perfect vessel for that reason, it encourages embellishment and adaptation. I have a reference book on my shelf, The Dictionary of Mythology and you start to see right off the bat just how many versions of certain myths there are so when a modern author decides to work with those ancient stories in our modern world I am happy as can be.

Also enjoyed the way that she threw in a reference to her more well known work, the Blue Bloods series, which I have never read, but the little taste of it in this novel did sort of make me want to, although I still haven't. 

What do you think of the current trend of re-envisioning ancient mythologies from other cultures? Should it stick around or should it just go away? Personally I hope it sticks around and bring on the more obscure mythologies!


Friday, January 11, 2013

First Read Friday - Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

     Title: Casino Royale
     Author: Ian Fleming 
     Publisher: Penguin 
     Published: 1953 
     Number of Pages: 181 
     Genre(s): Thriller, Action, Suspense
     Date Read: January 11, 2013
     Acquired: Waterloo Public Library

His name is Bond, James Bond. He's slick, suave, and dashing; also ruthless, cold and calculating, all of the ingredients that make a spy like 007 good at his job. If you happen to be the head of British MI6 and you have a job that needs doing, you call on James Bond because he's the best. That's exactly why M chooses him for a very important mission at the Casino at Royale in France. MI6 has the chance to bring down a big fish in the Soviet intelligence network, Le Chiffre, but only if they can beat him at one of the things he does best; gambling, in this case baccarat. Bond is the nine up M's sleeve, the best card player in the service, so he sends him in to clean Le Chiffre out. 

You'd think from all the boozing and gambling that Bond was on a holiday, but he wants you to know he's very serious about his work. Royale isn't all fun and games, there are dangerous Soviet spies running around with bombs and guns hidden in ordinary every day objects! His room is being bugged! He's not in the game alone though, Mathis the French agent is at his side, along with another British agent, Miss Vesper Lynd, who is so beautiful, composed, and focussed on the mission that Bond names a drink after her and then falls for her, but only after the job is done! He also meets his American counterpart, and future best friend, in Felix Leiter, who gallops in on a white steed to save Bond at his hour of need right when he's about to fail his mission. With the help of these three he manages to fulfil his mission parameters but then he is betrayed, and captured, as one would expect from a spy novel. 

There's a twist at the end, and it's as bitter for Bond as the lemon twist in his signature Vesper martini.

The character of 007 is one of the most well known literary and film characters in existence. Almost everyone knows at least one thing about James Bond; even if it's just the catchy tune they created for the theme of the movies. I'm young enough that the first James Bond I ever knew was Pierce Brosnan. It wasn't until late 2012 though, thanks to the 50th anniversary hype, that I decided instead of just knowing trivia tidbits about James Bond I should probably watch the movies, so that's where I started. I grabbed 3 of the movies that I could get my hands on through the local public library and I watched them. I was immediately hooked. The films are fun and entertaining to watch; so I went out and bought all of them and spent December working my way through them. Halfway through I figured that since I was enjoying the films so much I should probably give the books a try.

That was how I came to acquire Casino Royale from the library. I like to start at the beginning of things and this is Fleming's first Bond adventure. It's well written and it's what one expects from a spy thriller, especially when one remembers that Fleming and Bond helped set the tone for all of the espionage and political thrillers that abound in the reading market today. Is it perfect? Of course not, if you analyse it through the lens of 21st century values, morals and culture, like the vast majority of the reviews on GoodReads seem to do unfortunately, it falls apart. But good literature analysis practice dictates that you have to analyse the book according to its context which means that you must think about the book in terms of the values, morals and culture of the target audience at the time when it was written. I find it supremely disappointing that this guiding principle has gone out the window with this particular book.

 It is a good book in my opinion, but my opinion takes context into consideration. If I take context out of the equation, then I am left with pure hatred for the literary Bond; the character is a brash, boorish, racist, sexist, arrogant pig of a man that defies all aspects of being a decent human being in our society. That's the key, in our society, Fleming's Bond doesn't live in our society, he lives in 1950s, Cold War era, Britain; in a time and place where his behaviours and attitudes were still considered normal by most and ideal by some. The target audience for Bond's escapades saw the type of man Bond is as the model of masculinity and there's nothing wrong with that because those were the values and beliefs of their time. Values and beliefs change over time because we as humans assimilate knowledge and information to grow and change. The producers knew that and that's why they toned down the silver screen Bond, somewhat, when compared to the literary Bond. 

So the lesson here is take it for what it is, judge it based on its context and you'll find it an enjoyable read, try and force it into the lines of the 21st century value set and you're going to have a bad time.

And talking of bad times? I am firmly of the mind set that both Fleming and the producers all missed out on a chance to make Bond truly timeless and immortal. The Bond character should have been like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, it should have been a job title (007) and code name (James Bond) that went along with the job instead of having James Bond be a real man. Think how epic that would be?! Especially in terms of the movies! Instead of trying to suspend our disbelief whenever a new actor takes on the roll and completely changes the character, or wrestle with believing the fact that supposedly Bond's apparently been in his 30s for the last 50 years, we could have been happily enjoying the premise of each new actor being a successor to the previous James Bond, taking over the title and code name upon the death or retirement of his predecessor. 

Seriously, think about it!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Gift of Reading

I wanted to write about this topic last Wednesday, but then reconsidered because I thought an introductory post should actually be introductory; so I chose to postpone the gift of reading entry until tonight as you can see! I've always been a big reader so my family, without fail, always gets me a lot of gift cards for Chapters so that I can feed my addiction at Christmas. I got about $140.00 worth of them this year, and then spent them online the minute I got home. Anyone that knows me, knows that if you let me loose with money in any store that sells books 99.9% of the time I cannot leave without buying at least one, so you give me $140.00 in gift cards and it's gone in under half an hour (now you understand why I have a to be read pile that's over 9 feet tall). I decided to use this gift card to finish up some of the series that I started reading within the last 2 years, except for The Zombie Bible books, those I bought because I won the 3rd part of the series from Book Riot. I got 10 books:

Me and my Christmas haul!

1. The Book of Night Book 3 in Pearl North's Libyrinth trilogy
2. The Calling Book 2 in Kelley Armstrong's Darkness Rising
3. What Our Eyes Have Witnessed The Zombie Bible book 2 by Stant Litore
4. Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows The Zombie Bible book 1 by Stant Litore
5. Goliath the 3rd book in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy
6. The Gray Wolf Throne Cinda William's Chima's 3rd Seven Realms novel
7. The Crimson Crown 4th of the Seven Realms novels
8. Serpent's Kiss sequel to the 1st Beauchamp Family novel, Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz
9. Tiger's Voyage Book 3 in Colleen Houck's Tiger Saga
10. Tiger's Destiny Follow-up to Tiger's Voyage

Jedi Shadow: Young Jedi Knights Books 1-3
I knew that I would be getting gift cards, and that always makes me happy, this year I decided since I love reading so much, and I actively encourage all of my friends to read I wanted to share the gift of reading with some of the smallest members of my family. My littlest cousin is 18-months old and he's just learning how to talk, so he got a toddler laptop that I selected for him because of it's alphabet activity, it says the letter, sounds it out, says a word that uses the letter, and then repeats the letter; it's a little electronic spelling bee champ without the spelling; he also got two storybook CDs, the ones where you hear the story and follow along in print. 

Jedi Sunrise: Young Jedi Knights Books 4-6
My other two little cousins are 9 and 7, the 9 year old is a little boy who is mad about Star Wars, child after my own heart I am a Star Wars fiend! So when I decided on books for the kids this year I knew exactly what books to get him, and it took searching a few of my go to book sites to find exactly what I was after: the expanded universe adventures of Han and Leia's twins and their friends.

Jedi Shadow contains:                      Jedi Sunrise contains:
1. Heirs of the Force                          4. Lightsabres
2. Shadow Academy                         5. Darkest Knight
3. The Lost Ones                               6. Jedi Under Siege

It turned out to be a good choice on my part because the moment he saw them he was so excited he ran back off to his room with them. His dad was pretty pleased to when I informed him what they were because his Dad is a big Star Wars fan too so these books are ones they'll definitely enjoy together.

The 7 year old is the 9 year old's sister, and as mad as he is about Star Wars she's just as mad about princesses. Now I'm a tomboy, always have been, so I never really understood the fascination with girly princesses and frills. That being said, there's one literary princess who I have always adored, most because she's a total action girl. Princess Cimorene of Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. This series is one of my favourite series ever, and the author is one of my favourites, I love everything that she's written. So I got the box set of the four novels for her, and when she saw them she was as thrilled as her brother; and once again so was her dad; "Oh man! Check it out honey, that princess has a SWORD!" (or something to that effect haha).

It was definitely a good feeling to know that my cousins share my love of reading; and it definitely made me feel warm and fuzzy to make the discovery that they even share my reading tastes! They don't know it yet, but they'll be getting books from me every year now!

What books did you all give and receive this holiday season?