Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two Funny Literature-Related Links

First of all, I bring you guys the Lyttle Lytton Contest. This contest, which focuses on writing intentionally unintentionally bad first sentences to novels, never fails to leave me in tears before I'm halfway through a page. "Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating." That is the sort of wonderfully cringe-worthy fiction that this contest attempts to chronicle. Go over there, read and laugh at all the entries, then come back here and share your favorites in the comments, and I'll join in too.

Second, Disney is apparently releasing a new, updated Harriet the Spy movie that makes Harriet a blogger who gets in a blogging contest with a popular girl in her high school and stalks a celebrity. Yeah. I know. However, the post that alerted me to this promised that all was not lost. Even from seemingly dark news can come incredible hilarity, like this Jezebel article that playfully suggests other possible updates to children's books, such as "From The Mixed-Up Tweets Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" and "Little Blog on the Prairie." Both the Jezebel article and the Fandom Lounge post have plenty of comments with further title suggestions. Can you guys come up with any more? My ideas: "The Monster at the End of This Youtube Video" and "Where the /b/tards Are." XP

Friday, February 26, 2010


Five Reasons You Should Read Shiver By Maggie Stiefvater

1. Creativity - The concept of werewolves isn't an original one, but Stiefvater's treatment of the condition is. These werewolves transform when the temperature drops too low, not during a full moon (though that bit of werewolf lore is addressed). Also, the ending is creatively done, foreshadowed during the book, and executed in a gripping fashion.

2. Humor - The characters in Shiver seemed fun and real, and a big part of this was that Sam and Grace both had senses of humor. Amazing how that goes a long way towards making characters more likable and the story in general seem more inviting and realistic. Three words: washer and dryer. All I'm gonna say.

3. Prose - Stiefvater has talent. The prose is Shiver was straightforward when it needed to be and poetic when that served the mood. And, by gum, the mere fact that Sam could think in song lyrics at times and not annoy the everlovin' crap out of me? That's an achievement all on its own.

4. Characters - I liked both Sam and Grace, and I cared about their romance and problems. Grace is a normal girl, and compared to some paranormal romance protagonists (Bella Swan, I am looking at you), she remains sensible when dealing with her boyfriend. Sam, whom I initially thought I'd dislike because he seemed like he would be a tragic, emo, misunderstood soul, turned out to be a well-rounded, fairly cheerful (as much so as a werewolf guy in his situation would reasonably be), and reasonably clear-headed individual.

5. Plot - Perhaps I should say "plots," as there is plenty going on in this book. Besides just the Sam and Grace romance, there's the mysterious death of Jack Culpeper, and Grace's relationships with her parents and Olivia and Rachel. These different plot threads are juggled skillfully, and they all pull together in the end to satisfying conclusions.

To sum it up, this is an overall great book. It takes a normal romance story, raises the stakes, adds excitement and supernatural elements, and wraps it up in a beautifully written package.

Also, right before posting this, I realized I needed to check the spelling of the author's last name, so I got up, walked over to my bookshelf, and looked. Walking back to my computer, I realized I could have just googled it. I'm... really not sure how to feel about this.

Friday, February 12, 2010


So Incarceron seems to be following the trend of dark sci-fi/fantasy in sorta post-apocalyptic settings that I've been seeing a lot of in the books I read lately. This book reminds me particularly of The Maze Runner (which, um, I forgot to review when I read it a couple weeks back, oops), but also of stuff like The Hunger Games, the Chaos Walking books, and sort of like Leviathan, too (another book that missed a review). So, yeah, there's a talking point. Have any of you guys out there noticed this YA fiction trend, or is it all in my head?

But anyway, let's talk about Incarceron on its own merits. So I started reading the book at about four o'clock in the afternoon the day I got it, and I finished it at 10:30. Six and a half hours, during which I also attended class for an hour and forty-five minutes, got dinner, took an online test, and played Civilization II. So, uh, yeah, I freaking blazed through this book, all things considered. Shades of The Knife of Never Letting Go. So, yeah, this was a pretty gripping read (unlike the books in the previous review).

Basically, Incarceron is a prison. One that sounds like some sort of Transformer or other type of giant robot, but anyway. It's this mega prison that was designed as sort of a grand experiment in prisoner reform. However, if things had really worked out like that, we wouldn't have a story. Instead, we meet Finn, a young man who's a member of a gang inside Incarceron. He and his band are just one of the many groups who struggle to survive inside the intelligent, malevolent prison. Then one day he finds a key, a link to the outside world. Enter Claudia, daughter of no less important a person than the very Warden of Incarceron. (Heh, the name still amuses me. "Incarceron destroy puny humans!") Claudia, once she's clued into the fact that Incarceron isn't the paradise it's supposed to be, is totally cool with helping Finn and his friends escape. However, she's not a total altruist. She's got problems of her own in the outside world, and she thinks Finn is the key to solving them.

So first of all, the characters. I like Finn. He's a pretty decent guy, for all that he's spent his life in a giant freaking prison. Compared to his companions, he's not at all a ruthless thug. Good, solid hero character with a nice bit of mystery in his past. (Isn't that always the case?) As for Claudia, what I liked about her character is that she's somewhat selfishly motivated. She doesn't want to help the prisoners just because she's a good person (and she is, we do see that), but she's got her own reasons for wanting Finn to be freed. And it makes sense, given her upbringing. Her father raised her to be the perfect queen and to have a chance in the court lifestyle. But, yeah, I just liked that because I have a fondness for characters with human weaknesses (see also Galinda in Wicked the musical). But anyway, besides the main characters, the supporting cast is also well drawn. Kiero is pretty complex in his own right, leaving you perpetually unsure of his true loyalty, and the Warden is similarly inscrutable. Well, next there's the setting, and I have to admit, the first chapter from Claudia's viewpoint threw me 'cause I didn't know why we were suddenly back in Regency times (or whichever period the Era is actually mimicking). But it the important thing is that this works. Incarceron is freaky and nightmarish, but you get, like, a Stepford Suburbia feel from the outside world that's just as bad. The worlds play off and reveal things about each other that just intensifies the mystery and subtle horror. And as for the plot, well, it's good. Good foreshadowing for the most part, unfolds at a nice clip for all the revelations, high stakes for the conflict, and, strewth, does it ever leave off at a cliffhanger point.

Well, I wanted to say more about this book at some point, but this review has been languishing on my desktop for long enough, so I'll just post it. Currently rereading the Chronicles of Prydain and Airman, so there won't be reviews for those.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Fionavar Tapestry

So Guy Gavriel Kay is supposed to be this amazing fantasy author. Perhaps he is. But what matters to me is whether an author can captivate my imagination, and he could not. Others may enjoy his books, and, like with the ASoIaF guy, I can acknowledge that this guy can write well, but it just doesn't work for me. Anyway, enough with the apologizing, here's what I thought. So I read all of The Summer Tree and most of The Wandering Fire. I got so far because at parts Kay really did succeed in making me interested and care about the fate of these characters and this land. Although I have to wonder, if Fionavar is the first of all the worlds, why's it stuck in the middle ages when Earth is all whoosh jet planes? But I digress. Anyway, you've got these five university students from Toronto who are whisked away to a magical world on a suspiciously frivolous cause, just to be special guests at a festival. But of course they all have magical destinies, because no one in a fantasy novel ever doesn't have one of those. Hm, this reminds me of why I read so little high fantasy. Anyway, the five characters are Dave, Jen, Kevin, Kim, and Paul, and I only gave a crap about two of them for more than a couple pages at a time. Paul's a whiny emo kid because his girlfriend died. And you know what? If you can't make me care about tragic sundered love, you're doing it wrong. Kevin's a two-dimensional horndog who only cares about doing the ladies. Jen... I didn't really have a problem with her, but she didn't get, like, any fleshing out before she disappeared from the main plot for a while. I liked Kim well enough. She seemed to deal with her Destiny without totally going all mystical. And when Dave finally showed up, I really enjoyed the portion of the book with him and the Dalrei. That was fun. I dunno, there were snatches of the book where the characters seemed realistic and like interesting people, but too often the narrative was third person omniscient, not in anybody's head. And furthermore, the viewpoints jumped around so much, and more often than not the characters would have revelations about their Destinies, and though the reader was watching the character, the reader would not be clued into what any of this was about. And look, all of them are special? All of them have magical destinies? It's like a forum roleplay, where players keep trying to one-up each other in terms of power levels and specialness. "My character has a magic sword!" "My character can turn into a dragon!" "My character is the reincarnation of a dead hero!" "My character can completely manipulate the time flow and is immortal and can nullify any bad magic!" I mean, seriously.

Well, this was a vitriolic little review. Bad weekend. Got my wisdom teeth taken out and then couldn't even recover peacefully 'cause of the ruddy blizzard knocking our power out for a little under two full days. So I'm not in the mindset to be charitable to this series. The Fionavar Tapestry isn't bad, but it's certainly something that you need to have the right taste for.

With luck I'll finish some of the half-written reviews I have on my computer and post them soon.