Monthly Archives: February 2013

Reading Challenge: Nebula Nominees

I don’t often pay attention to awards. It’s not that I dislike them or anything, but there are so many awards out there that it can be hard to keep up, and anyway there are always plenty of things to read. But this year I’ve decided to set myself a totally arbitrary and completely no-stakes challenge to read all of the Nebula nominees in the novel category (I may try to track down the short stories as well, but that’s down the road). Why am I doing this? Well, no reason in particular, but they all look pretty interesting.

The nominees are:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Ironskin by Tina Connolly
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Want to join me? There are no prizes (except your own personal pride!), but maybe I can come up with a banner in Photoshop or something. Very exciting, I’m sure.

I’ll be starting with The Killing Moon for the sole reason that it is available at the local branch of my library and I have to ILL everything else. I’m not going to set a reading schedule or anything, but if you want to start talking about these books and authors here, feel free! The Nebula Awards will be held the weekend of May 16th, so that’s the deadline. Happy reading!

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Short Story Sunday: Dan Chaon’s “That’s Him! That’s The Guy!”

First Line: “Our father died when we were ten years old and for months afterward my twin sister Helen and I thought we saw him.”

A little flash fiction for today. The best flash pieces create fully realized worlds with just a few short paragraphs, and Chaon does that beautifully here. There’s so much in the relationship between the narrator and his sister that goes unsaid, because it doesn’t have to be said. Dan Chaon is quite simply one of the best writers around, and if you haven’t read him before, do yourself a favor. Check out “That’s Him! That’s The Guy!” at wigleaf, and then go pick up his collections, Stay Awake and Among The Missing right away.

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Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

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Scarlet

Title: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: 4 stars

Cinder, the first entry in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, was my favorite YA book of 2012 (I don’t read a ton of YA necessarily, but it was fun and smart retelling of Cinderella, and a good series starter.) Scarlet, the much-anticipated sequel, lives up to expectations and promises good things to come.

Red Riding Hood revamps are nothing new under the sun, but Scarlet features a dash of Beauty and the Beast, a pinch of Star Wars, and moon werewolves. Thrown all together, along with the drama of the parallel story of Cinder’s jailbreak and Emperor Kai’s conflicts between his heart and his duty, it should all be a mildly ridiculous mess, but somehow it works really well.

The world of Scarlet is more fully developed then that of Cinder, with more depth and texture. Moving geographically and adding new characters really made sense in that regard, giving the material scope that earns the need for more books, instead of feeling like a well-padded, should-be standalone.

There was some imbalance between the two main plot-lines. Scarlet’s story was compelling and action-packed, but it seemed to take a long time to connect the dots to the Cinder’s story, at first the connections were flimsy and shallow. There’s also a little bit of POV-shifting awkwardness when the characters finally meet up, but that’s pretty natural when two main POVs suddenly have to negotiate the same space.

Some of the characters definitely rest on archetypes it’s hard not to compare to other established YA characters (*cough*Finnick O’Dair*cough*), and I continue to dislike the cardboard villain. Not every antagonist has to be empathetic or morally conflicted, but I need a little more to sustain me than “Evil, vain, magical, and did I mention? Evil.” I don’t need Queen Levana to have a full redemptive arc, but I do want her to be more of a character than a type, and I hope future books will achieve that.

None of the plot twists really surprised me, but that was okay. It’s YA, after all. The concept is original enough, and the writing strong enough, that I didn’t mind some cliche moments.

The dialogue is crackling and vibrant. Humor is a real high point of Meyer’s style. And the characters Cinder and Scarlet are fantastic. Cinder struggles to come to terms with the truth of her identity and the powers and responsibilities it entails. Scarlet is a little older than Cinder and more sure of herself, even when the plot catches up with her and tries to take that confidence away. I love that one book can contain two strong teen girl protagonists who are very different but both equally awesome. Apparently, the rest of this series will feature takes on Rapunzel and Snow White. Bring on the girl power. I can’t wait.

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Short Story Sunday: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s “The Fountain House”

First Line: “There once lived a girl who was killed, then brought back to life.”

After being introduced to Petrushevskaya earlier this month, I knew I had to profile one of her stories here. The only problem is they turned out to be near impossible to find in full text online. But The New Yorker came through for me!

“The Fountain House” is the story of a father’s devotion to his daughter. It can be read literally as a story of a girl doomed to premature death by a broken medical system until her father stubbornly intervenes, or in a more magic-realist way. The slant of the last two lines make me favor the latter, but either way it’s a beautiful story of paternal love. You can read it here.

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Love is merely a madness

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t it suck?

I’m one of those cynics who believes Valentine’s Day is just an excuse to sell chocolates and diamonds. I learned about sex and love like any other preteen American girl in the 90s (I’m assuming): by sneaking glimpses through my Mom’s romance novels when I was home alone. But in general, romance in literature and real life leaves me cold. True love doesn’t really exist, surely. It’s all hormones and marketing campaigns.

But sometimes, there are those couples that just grab you and won’t let go. And then you look back and realize you were a sappy romantic at heart all along.

Daine and Numair from Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series were my first ever OTP. They were the first couple I ever actively rooted for. It’s mildly creepy now looking back and realizing she was a teenager and he was in his thirties and her teacher, but when I was eleven it made all the sense in the world that they were made for each other.

Seregil and Alec from Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series will forever hold the number one spot in my heart for waking me to the fact that I love bi- and gay- protagonists. Over the course of the series they’ve moved from attraction and will-they-won’t-they angst into a real, adult relationship with all of it’s challenges, but you can be sure they’ll always be there for each other, a great thing to see in a sometimes shallow genre.

I didn’t read Pride & Prejudice until I was twenty, but when I did I finally realized what the rest of the world already seemed to know, that Lizzie and Darcy were the perfect case of opposites attract. I’ve loved revisiting them ever since, in  any form, adaptions and parodies included. Lizzie was bound to fall, just like the rest of us. I mean, who can resist Colin Firth in that bathtub?

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire basically leaves me with the feeling that all in life is death, destruction, and despair, yet despite myself I’ve come to be in love with the idea of love between Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. They may never make it together (given Martin’s track record, they’ll probably die horrible, traumatic deaths anyway), but I can’t stop myself from hoping those two crazy opposite-deconstructions-of-hero-tropes will make it work.

Who are your favorite romantic couples in literary history? Any romance trends you’d like to see disappear? I personally could live the rest of my life without reading about another female protagonist haplessly stuck between two competing alpha males in a manufactured love triangle ever again and be perfectly happy. To me, what makes a romance work is authenticity, tension, and just the tiniest bit of wish fulfillment. What do you look for?

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Review: There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

15808782Title: The Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories

Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Once in awhile you see a title that jumps at you and practically forces you to read the book it graces. I went in search of the amazingly titled Petrushevskaya collection There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby and came away instead with There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. Try to read that title and not fill with curiosity. I dare you.

Petrushevskaya is a Russian writer who was suppressed by the Soviets, and while she seems to finally be getting a lot of attention in her native language, her work is just beginning to be translated into English. I read this slim volume of seventeen stories in one sitting, and I definitely want more.

“Like Penelope” charmingly describes how a loveless woman finds love at first sight with a man she’s always hated by reputation. “The Goddess Parka” features lovers coming together despite themselves over the death of a determined matchmaker. “Hallelujah, Family!,” the centerpiece of the collection and the story the title is adapted from, is so good that I read it, finished the rest of the book, then turned around to read it again. It’s so simple in it’s conceit and execution, yet so dense and full of meaning, that it completely blew me out of the water. While not every story was a winner, there were plenty of little gems scattered throughout the collection.

Like I’m sure many people in post-Soviet Russia must be, the characters in these stories are obsessed with living space. From cramped apartments to summer cottages and sanitariums, every story features characters stumbling over one another in a search for room. The way Petrushevskaya packs such tension and beauty into such small stories mirrors this never-ending quest for space.

Translation is an art in itself, and I’m never sure what praise to give to the original author and what praise to the translator, but there are lines in these stories that took my breath away. Petrushevskaya’s name may be hard to spell, her story collections titled with hard-to-remember mouthfuls, but I’m glad to have found her and can’t wait to read more.

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Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino

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Out by Natsuo Kirino

Title: Out

Author: Natsuo Kirino

Rating: 4/5 stars

My experience with Japanese literature lies almost entirely with Haruki Murakami (more on him  Sunday), so I was excited to broaden my horizons when I picked this up at the local used bookstore. Masako Katori is a woman going through one hell of a midlife crisis that just happens to coincide with her coworker strangling her husband. She takes charge of disposing the body, and soon gets in deeper danger than she ever expected.

The book started a little slow, as I took awhile to learn  the characters and keep them straight. This may have been due to the fact that I’m not very familiar with Japanese names, but the beginning of the book did wander. It wasn’t a fast read, but it hooked me with stark prose and a twisted plot that took surprising turns.

My main issue aside from pacing was Kuniko, the shrewish, lazy, “fat chick.” She is in fact one of the most vividly drawn characters, but I don’t like fat shaming, which was essentially her function. The other characters in the gang, Yoshie and Yayoi, also held varying levels of interest for me throughout the narrative. But Masako herself made up for that. It was refreshing to read about a forty-something woman who isn’t just a chick-lit stereotype of the sad, loveless woman with nothing left to offer. When the book begins, she is adrift, and she is lonely and lost, but as she finds her power she becomes a character that gets under your skin.

Out is everything the blurb promises-a tense, shocking, violent feminist revenge fantasy. There are graphic scenes that may be triggering or upsetting to some readers. For anyone interested in crime fiction or the dark edges of modern Japan, it’s a definite recommend.

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The Necessary Introductions

Welcome to The Bastard Title, my new home for book reviews, short story recommendations, and talking about books and literature in general. I’ve been reviewing on Goodreads for awhile now, but it was finally time to take the plunge and start my own space.

Things are a bit unfinished at the moment, and there’s bound to be some growing pains as I get started, but for now here are some things you can expect:

Book Reviews– I currently go through about a book and a half a week, and I will be posting my reviews here as I work through my “to-read” shelf. I will read absolutely anything and everything that piques my interest, so there will be a variety of genres and styles featured.

Short Story Sundays– I also read a ton of short stories, a habit I picked up reading slush piles, and love to share my favorites. Who can’t find time once a week to read a short story, especially on a day as boring as Sunday? Everything featured will include links to read right away.

Book Talk– Simply put, I love to talk about literature. I miss writing 20 page papers about symbolism, or character names, or historical relevance. There won’t be anything quite so dry and academic here, but it’s a space to talk about books, publishing, writing, design, or any of a variety of topics.

There’s plenty more to come, so watch this space!

-Heather

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