Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book Review

Warning: This review contains mild spoilers.

Even though she gets along with the Lumiere and Chip and the rest of the housewares, and even though she’s warming up to the Beast, Belle wants to escape the castle—and then the goddess of Death gives her an opportunity to do just that. Between her moments of escapism, we get interactions between her and the Beast and bonus scenes that could have been in the movie. Score!

I love Beauty and the Beast. I saw it on Broadway when I was 10, and I’ve listened to the musical soundtrack hundreds of times. When I first saw the trailer before Fantastic Beasts, I literally started crying. And I loved the new movie.

But I also recognize the flawed messages in the BATB story. For example, it explores bestiality, and it implies that kidnapping is okay as long as you’re rich enough to give a girl a library. Lost in a Book softens both of those flaws. Otto, a love-crazed automaton, emphasizes the power of platonic love, suggesting that Belle’s final “I love you” might have not necessarily be romantic—or that it’s at least asexual. There’s also a moment where Belle realizes that the Beast cares about her specifically, and her affection for him deepens in a moment of character revelation rather than materialism or horror.

I have two complaints, one of which the author probably couldn’t have avoided. Belle is supposed to be supremely innocent, with “a heart of gold.” Although Jennifer Donnelly gives her flawed moments—she fibs, especially about Nevermore—but she also uses “Crumbs!” as a curse word and has other lines that make her seem younger than she’s supposed to be. I’m sure this is meant to open the book up to middle grade and even younger audiences, but it was a little off-putting for me.

My other, more serious complaint is that the book contains an assisted suicide of sorts, and Belle is the one to assist. I appreciate the author trying to throw in some dark twists, but as a mental health advocate, I cringed. It’s not a message I can support.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

What I Learned from The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron: Worldbuilding and Memories

The Forgetting is a story about a world where everyone forgets everything every twelve years. Only Nadia remembers everything. She’s an adventurer likes to go over the wall that confines the city and explore the world beyond. With one sister who loves her, one sister who hates her, a father who abandoned her, and a mentally ill mother, she has plenty to want to escape from.

I honestly probably wouldn’t have read this book if I had realized it was science fiction and not fantasy, but I’m glad I did.

The planetary worldbuilding is beautiful. The planet has distinct terrain, and it’s more severely tilted on its axis than ours, or maybe the settlement is just farther north, but they experience different seasons: a light season and a dark season. Nighttime is referred to as resting time. Even the names have worldbuilding built into them: Lydia the Weaver, Nadia the Dyer’s Daughter, etc. I’ve been going through Patricia C. Wrede’s Worldbuilding Questionnaire. It’s very intense—26 pages single-spaced when copied into a Word document—but I’m willing to bet Sharon Cameron went through similar effort.

Because I lost some memories in a recent brain operation, I read this book hoping for a message about the importance of memories. In the book, there’s a famous inscription that says “I am made of my memories. Without memories, they are nothing.” Accordingly, anyone who goes through the forgetting and doesn’t have a book to tell them who they are gets put in separate labor camps with poor conditions, where breeding is prohibited. Reacting to this, it’s easy for the reader to see that, of course, the inscription isn’t true. Even without memories, people are worthwhile. Furthermore, one character chooses to live without memories and becomes happier and more valuable to society without them. I appreciate this message that memories do not completely define us, and I’m sure it means a lot to people in similar situations, and people who are impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s. Thank you for this message, Sharon Cameron.

All in all: 5 stars

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review

This review contains fun and funky spoilers.

This book is fun. I gobbled it up in about 24 hours. But it was not JK Rowling’s idea. She did not write it. It’s a very good fanfiction, and that’s what it reads like. It’s rushed. This, of course, is in part the nature of the screenplay, but a LOT gets crammed in to 300 pages. The first half is kind of like Back to the Future in reverse, where everything gets screwed up by the changes in time. And I mean, EVERYTHING.

You don’t want to read it without having read the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Another thing that makes it fanfiction-y is the homosexual undertones between Albus and Scorpius. They are “meant to be together” and they say things like, “As pleasurable as it will be to hide in a hole with you for the next forty years . . . .” Not “pleasant.” “Pleasurable.”

It’s punctuated like it was written by a drunk twelve-year-old who’s in love with the em dash and hates commas, except where there should be a period. You can chalk part of this up to special screenplay punctuation exceptions that notate inflection, but the description is just as bad as the dialogue. “James appears at the door, he has pink hair.”

The cover has nothing to do with the story. No bird’s nest comes into play.

The title is false. There is no cursed child. There’s a child who deals with bad rumors. There’s a child who’s a brat. There’s a child who there’s a prophecy about. There is no cursed child. 

Overall, four out of five stars for being a lot of fun but disappointing at the same time. 

At least her ghostwriters got credit. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson

This review contains spoilers.

I enjoyed this book. Some of the descriptions are absolutely brilliant: “He smiled. Suddenly, his whole face was transformed. The slightly-too-big chin, the crooked nose, and eyes maybe spaced a centimeter too far apart—all of it became perfect, symmetrical. Beautiful.”

My main complaint is about the pacing. The first half of the book drags on a bit, with passages that are irrelevant to the story, while the last quarter is rushed. I can appreciate the attempt to make the story more contemporary and speculative and magical realism-y rather than high fantasy, but I also feel like the author was denying what the story really is, by doing that. The reader is left with relatively little of the dreamland that the title promises. What little world-building there is still manages to be good and convincing, though.

The foray into the world of mental health world was annoying to me, as a mental health advocate, because it had nothing to actually say about mental health. It would have been far more interesting and meaningful if Dea had actually had even a minor flaw in her sanity, and it got addressed during her hospitalization. It would have been more interesting and meaningful if she had developed a deeper level of friendship with any of the other mental health patients. The only existing message about mental health patients is this: They’re normally petty, but sometimes they’re not.  

And then this isn’t exactly a plot hole, but it’s something that never gets addressed: When Odea and her mother performed the body-swap and escaped into the modern world, did they leave bodies behind in the dreamland? Were those bodies buried? How does Dea’s father feel about the fact that his wife is no longer in the same body she would have been in before?

There are tension points left over that I would like to see resolved in a sequel. The king of the dreamland needs to let Harriet move freely between worlds, and needs to abolish slavery. But judging from the way this book shied away from the high fantasy label, I doubt we’ll get to see those things happen.  

All in all: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire


What I liked:
  • It kept my interest. I finished it in two days.
  • The split point of view between Dune and Hallie. The back-and-forth works great, and sparks flew in the romance. The two POVs didn’t differ a whole lot in voice, but I found the male voice adequately masculine and believable as a boy.
  • The New Orleans setting is vivid. I got the feeling like I was vacationing there.
  • The ending is adorable.
What I didn’t like:
  • Dune’s powers rarely show themselves, but his powerful backstory makes up for this.
  • The romance might have overshadowed the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the plot at points, but I didn’t mind.

All in all: 5 stars.

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

I got to hear Myra McEntire speak at UtopiaCon and it was awesome!! I wasn't sure how to go up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm pretty sure we're kindred spirits, but I don't have any weapons on me, so I'm not a total creep."

Anyway, now I have signed copies of all three books!!

What I liked: 

  • It kept my interest. I finished it in two days.
  • Timepiece is told from the head of a boy who can read emotions, and this is done brilliantly. It was adequately masculine.
  • The time travel element sticks around despite the main characters being non-time-travelers.
  • One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Lily’s background. Lately, I’ve been advised not to write about other ethnic backgrounds, and I think many authors suffer from similar advice. Not Myra. Lily is an immigrant who fled Cuba with her grandmother when she was little. Her parents were left behind, and she had to change her name when she came to the states. RTFO more.
What I didn’t like: 

  • I wish the cover had a boy on it, because a blond girl with gravity issues has nothing to do with this story.
  • I think someone told Myra “Your villain has to be actively present throughout your story” and so she threw Jack into scenes where he had no logical reason for being.
  • I’m not sure I actively disliked this, but the romance was a little slow and not nearly as sparky as the romance in Hourglass. I think it has to do with the male POV. This might be the POV is split between two characters in Infinityglass.
All in all: 3 stars.

Read my review of Hourglass here. An Infinityglass review is coming soon!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hourglass by Myra McEntire


I decided to read Hourglass because Myra McEntire will be one of the keynote speakers at UtopiaCon this summer.  Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Things I liked:

  • Protagonist Emerson Cole ventures into a world where supernatural powers seem to revolve around the manipulation of time. It’s fascinating, especially toward the end. The romance is sparky and tumultuous, with Freudian rosebuds and supernatural complications. The guy manages to be flawed without being a total asshole, and the writer doesn’t glorify his jerk moments—Emerson responds with appropriate ass-kicking.
  • As a mental health activist, I have to comment on the book’s treatment of depression and psychosis. During the first few chapters of the book, Emerson confuses her gift—seeing people from the past—with psychosis related to her depression. It’s convincing; it’s not overdone for dramatic effect. The description of disabling depression is realistic, from what I can tell. In one insightful moment, Emerson’s best friend Lily says, “The thing is, Em, you don’t know if you struggled with the depression because of your circumstances or if it’s a chemical thing. You might have to deal with it again.”

Things I didn’t like:

  • This book embraces some tropes I’m rather tired of. Why does every character in a book have to be gorgeous? Somebody throw me a realistic Jane Eyre once in a while. I get enough of gorgeous people from TV shows, I don’t need them in my books. This is a matter of personal taste, but compound it with dubiously necessary love triangulation, and I’m in “I’ve read this before” territory. Then you’ve got all the tropes that go along with that—MC’s best friend pervs over love interest, MC pervs over love interest’s best friend
  • There are no consequences to any action that the MC takes. Well, okay, she gets grounded. But her crimes include multiple counts of breaking and entering, messing with two guys who are best friends, and jeopardizing the space-time continuum. She gets off really easy.
  • Emerson doesn’t struggle enough with fear. I like it when characters do courageous things in the face of their fear. Emerson is conveniently fearless.
  • There’s also a very unnecessary gun.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, though, so I award it: 4/5 stars.