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review 2017-05-23 02:02
Review: Come Home by Lisa Scottoline
Come Home - Lisa Scottoline

Quick review for a somewhat lengthy read. I'm actually asking myself in the hours after finishing the book: What on Earth did I just read?

I haven't read many of Lisa Scottoline's books, but admittedly it's been a while and this is the most recent example I can go on. It's...definitely not the first book I would recommend anyone read from this author. I feel like it was an entertaining read but also a complete waste of time. (That sounds like a contradiction in itself, but I'll explain shortly.) So much of this book annoyed me to heck and back - mostly for how over the top and non-cohesive it was. The dialogue in some stretches is completely unrealistic and cringe-worthy. I guess the entertaining aspect of it lies in that it plays out like a soap opera - with the main character running to and fro searching for answers that absolutely no one asked, and one calamity building upon another to ramp up the action and conflict to march forcefully through its conclusion. There are times when I like this kind of story if it can poke fun at itself or just proves entertaining to watch with the characters who make the story more than the bones it stands upon. But "Come Home" was the true definition of a false advertisement of a book if I ever started one.

The story centers around Jill, a pediatrician who's adjusting to life with a new fiance and her daughter. Yet, Abby, Jill's estranged ex-stepdaughter comes bounding to her doorstep one rainy night to proclaim that her father's dead and that someone killed him. This sets off a chain of events that lead to Abby's disappearance, and Jill's desperate search to find her. Only...the search for Abby takes up a good portion of this story, but it's just one thread among several microconflicts that don't really reach satisfying conclusions. "Come Home" dangles false carrots of conflict in front of you, leading you in one direction, but just when you reach a climatic point that promises some answers, the answers lead in another direction that doesn't really have much to do with the original thread of conflict and seems to get weaker and less intriguing as it goes on. I felt like part of it was Jill's utter recklessness and stupidity in approaching every mystery around her, and what she finds just happens to hit the mark in some way without really having any kind of payoff.

In retrospect, I really didn't like most of the characters in this novel, including Jill. I did like Sam and Jill's friend (mostly because they were the ones who had the most sense), but everyone else was annoying as heck in speaking voice as well as contributing to the microconflicts and unreliable narrators here. I wish I could've believed in them or had a good laugh at them, but in the end, the dramatics were lain on far too thick - and the characters far too grating - for me to enjoy this more. I will say it kept me reading and wanting to see what would happen, but I took far too much time on the audiobook and overarching story than the story paid off in the experience. I probably wouldn't pick up this book again, once was enough.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-16 03:58
Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
The Black Witch - Laurie Forest

Initial reaction: I think my end thoughts after going through this whole novel are much more complex than I can summarize in a quick bit review, but I'll leave you with this food for thought:

No matter what culture you come from: no individual or group wants to be labeled an "a", an "an" or a "the." That is just one of the many problems this book has when approaching the issue of identification and tolerance when it comes to relations with groups of many different backgrounds, and it reveals a much deeper issue when the narrative itself is so out of sync with the matter at hand that it can't even recognize why it's flawed down to its very execution and presentation.

I think this could've easily been a 250-300 page book and have gotten a better story across than 608 pages of beating a point home...which ended up being contradicted constantly by harmful reiterations.

It's not a good fantasy novel either. :(

Full review:

In all honesty, I think "The Black Witch" could've been a much better novel than it was. Don't get me wrong, long before the ending of the novel, I knew what it what its intention was, and I'm not going to say that there weren't bit pieces of this novel that I ended up liking. But the bad parts of this novel far outweighed the good. I'm not even going to touch the diversity issues yet, because while that's the chief issue of controversy in this novel, the other elements of bad in this novel make it that much worse.

First, this book felt like a smorgasbord of overwrought (harmful) YA cliches, especially from the very beginning of the novel. Instalove, rampant girl-girl hate, sexual shaming and jealousy, overwrought drama that kept repeating itself over and over again (to the point it was redundant), poor portrayals of rape attribution and presentation, abusive love interests, and one dimensional characters. I don't even think Diana's humored oblivious, IDGAF attitude could've saved this novel from being a poor portrayal of so many different aspects. The worldbuilding might've been the most mediocre among many YA fantasy novels that I've read because it really doesn't make a lot of effort here, as the portrayal of different otherworldly beings not only relies on the prejudices of the main character to differentiate them (Male Lupines are RAPISTS! Female Lupines walk around naked and are automatically SLUTS! Fae creatures are FORBIDDEN! Mixed Breeds are EVIL!), but also on established folklore that's only scantly thrown in where its convenient to justify the character encounters with the main character, Elloren.

This book is like if the plotline of "Redeeming Eden: Save the Pearls" or "Out" were (scantly) mixed with Harry Potter (but with very little battles or magic - bummer) and Gossip Girl (nearly every character in this book hates each other on account of their racial backgrounds and histories, and they do some pretty horrible things to each other in the measure of power struggles and jealousy over relationships - namely boy lust). It's just horribly out of touch with the issue it portrays and wants the reader to take it seriously when it's really difficult to do so.

The second major issue in this book is that the pacing and editing in this novel is terrible. It took forever to get to some of the major plot turns and coming to terms that Elloren does in this novel. That's unacceptable, especially since some of the drama and expansions felt like they were repeated in several scenes - it didn't need all of that padding when really it didn't add much to the story. When I wasn't being overtly offended by some of the toxic insults that Elloren spewed in her internal and external thoughts towards the other characters in this novel (even in consideration of what some of the other characters do to bully and harass her, it was overkill), I spent the novel continuing to wait to the point where I'd get to the significance of The Black Witch, feeling like some descriptions were beautiful while others were overkill on the purple prose. Even then, the world is still really only scant in establishment, and it's hard to be immersed or repelled in this world when everything is just so...one-note.

"The Black Witch" feels like it's one big ad-hoc fallacy because every conflict is either all or nothing, "my way" and nothing else, or so over the top that it doesn't feel real or genuine. And that's the biggest disservice and means to educate anyone on systemic prejudices that I've ever encountered in a work, in fiction or otherwise. The narrative seems to be looking for reasons for Elloren's prejudices rather than rationales on why she shouldn't be predisposed to hate or label the other characters she's around, and that's absurd! The fact that the other characters are just as single-minded and predisposed to isolate themselves and think themselves superior and actively condescend others around them is also absurd. Keep in mind that the bulk of this story takes place at a university, and that even some of the professors are predisposed to ignore, hate, and be prejudiced against some of their mixed breed and otherworldly students. And that runs counter to the inclusive environments that colleges universities actually have and strive to create for their students (I should know - I live/work around a few.)

This book is in a line of books I've read within the past year that have really problematic roots and execution (see "Carve the Mark" by Veronica Roth and "The Glittering Court" by Richelle Mead), but I think this might be the worst one among those that I've read. The story centers around a young woman named Elloren who is a part of the Gardenian tribe. Fair-skinned, very focused on their women becoming wandfasted (marrying at a young age for life via a magic bond). Elloren is told by her sternly prejudiced aunt that she needs to hurry up and wandfast, while her uncle says that she should wait and go to university, get an education and enhance her trade. Elloren decides to follow through and do her education first, because of promising him.

It's not enough that we have to hear Elloren's aunt go on for paragraphs about how superior the Gardenian race is: *cough*

“This is unheard of!” my aunt exclaims. Her voice turns tight and angry. “You’ve raised these children like they’re Keltic peasants,” she snipes, “and frankly, Edwin, it’s disgraceful. You’ve forgotten who we are. I have never heard of a Gardnerian girl, especially one of Elloren’s standing, from such a distinguished family, laboring in a kitchen. That’s work for Urisk, for Kelts, not for a girl such as Elloren. Her peers at University will be shocked.” (Chapter 1)

“Do not let Sage’s unfortunate situation color your view of wandfasting,” my aunt cautions. “Wandfasting is a beautiful sacrament, meant to keep us pure and chaste. The lure of the Evil Ones is strong, Elloren. Wandfasting helps young people such as yourself to stay on the path of virtue. It’s one of the many things that sets us apart from the heretic races all around us.” (Chapter 5)

And the fact that even one of the former Gardenian runaways, Sage, gave birth to the AntiChrist (or this book's version of it), and was "Banished" from the tribe, but we have to hear Elloren and the other Gardenians talk about how vile or inferior all the other races are. *cough* Sexism included:

I gape at her. “A female? With that much power?” That high level of power is almost exclusively held by males, with the notable exception of my grandmother. (Chapter 5)

Fallon leans in toward me with obvious relish, her voice a scratchy whisper. “Lupines don’t ever marry, did you know that? They simply grab whomever they like and mate with them in the woods.”
“Like animals,” Echo chimes in, with great indignation.
“Really?” It’s all so scandalous. And troubling.
“I’ve heard,” continues Fallon, “that sometimes they grab young women, pull them into the woods and mate with them...as wolves!”
(Chapter 7 - and this isn't the only rape/non consensual reference in this book.)

I struggle to keep my expression neutral, greatly put off by her intrusive behavior. “Of course not. I’m unfasted.” And not in the habit of throwing myself at young men, unlike you. (Chapter 7)

Elloren starts off on rocky terms with Fallon, a powerful Gardenian and university mean girl. - That's part of the girl-girl hate that this book promotes. It's really petty stuff, over a potential wandfast (Lukas, whom Elloren's aunt blackmails her by holding her university money and lodging because she won't wandfast with him after knowing him for only a day or two) but other things like *gasp* CLOTHING!

I glance up at her. “Do you think you could use this?”
“Of course, Mage Gardner,” she replies, obviously thrilled by my choice.
Fallon’s hand comes down on the fabric. “You can’t use this,” she says, her tone hard.
I blink up at her in resentful surprise. “Why?”
“Because,” she replies, her voice syrupy with condescension, “this is what my dress is being made of.”
(Chapter 8)

TL, DR Translation: Bee-otch don't steal my man, don't steal my clothes! (I'm wondering at this point what I have gotten myself into.)

Elloren's university experience becomes a power struggle that involves her being relentlessly bullied by those of other races, playing into stereotypes that Elloren has overheard and/or internalizes. The unrealistic part of it is that every other race/being is distinctly hostile or does something to warrant/justify her attitude, which lends her to use her power as a Gardenian to make their lives miserable in turn. Some measures include her running to her instalove Lukas (who is also Gardenian) to threaten several different races (AND A CHILD!) and even includes the brutal killing of her roommate's pet chicken. It's the equivalent of using her power and prominence to punch down.

I think the first turning point of the novel has Elloren questioning the killing of the chicken, but it doesn't make any of her ruminations and derogatory blanket statements about those of the race her comrades belong to any better. Nor does it justify her inviting violence so that she (at least at first, she doesn't follow through with the plan, thankfully) can get her roommate kicked out of university and banished.

Elloren does eventually "befriend" people at the university, but honestly looking at the supporting characters of other races in this book, they're either used as props to support Elloren's ordeals or as teaching pieces to assimilate with the norms of HER culture. Case in point, someone who might be close to my favorite character of the novel: Diana.

Diana is a Lupine and quite oblivious to social norms of the university. She sleeps and walks around the university naked without a care in the world, and won't hesitate to say that none of the guys she's around are worthy enough to mate with her. Her introduction actually had me laughing because her brother had to call her out in the middle of class to say she was interrupting (and the professor was none too pleased). But even looking back at Diana's role in this book - she's a prop. There's a section of the book (too long if you ask me) where not only does Elloren and her brother convince her to put on clothes but also where Elloren shames her as not being good enough to be in a romantic relationship with a guy of another race because her nakedness makes her a "slut."

Like, what?

And I don't think I'd ever forgive Elloren for what she does to Trystan, who struggles because he finds his roommate Yvan attractive.

Elloren observes this:

Yvan cuts a nice figure, I reluctantly admit. He’s long and lean, and when his piercing green eyes aren’t tense, they’re stunning. My eyes are increasingly drawn to him in the kitchens, his strength and lithe grace tangling my thoughts and setting my heart thudding harder. I can’t help but remember how he looked when he smiled at Fern on my first day in the kitchens—how dazzling that smile was, how devastatingly handsome I found him to be.
I bite the inside of my cheek in annoyance.
Why does he have to be so distractingly good-looking? And why do I have to find him so attractive when he clearly doesn’t like me at all? And besides—he’s a Kelt!
(Chapter 25)

He eventually admits to finding Yvan "beautiful" and confessing to Elloren that he's gay.

Elloren's answer was this:

“Oh, Trystan,” I breathe, panic clamoring at the edges of my thoughts, “this is really bad.”
“I know,” he admits tightly.
“The Mage Council...they throw people in prison who...”
“I know, Ren.”
“You can’t be this way. You just can’t. You have to change.”
Trystan continues to stare rigidly at the book. “I don’t think I can,” he says softly.
“Then you can’t tell anyone,” I insist, shaking my head for emphasis. “No one can know.”

.."Trystan, I’m really worried about you now. I can’t...” Tears prick at my eyes as an unbidden image forms of Trystan being taken away, thrown into prison somewhere. A fierce urgency wells up inside me, accompanied by a very justified fear for my brother’s safety. “You’ve got to keep this secret.”
(Chapter 25)

Trystan is her brother, guys. I just...doesn't even matter that she says she doesn't think he's "evil" but she definitely doesn't support him. I would never recommend this book to a GLBT teen, in addition to mixed race teens or POCs because it directly condemns their existence on several occasions, even considering this is a fantasy world with supernatural beings. You can't separate the reality parallels to cultural diversity in this book, especially in places where it directly evokes the groups that exist in real life.

A good portion of this book really doesn't start picking up momentum as a fantasy title until around 85% of the book when the actual battles, magic and personal stakes begin, with Elloren making alliances with some of the races and individuals she once railed against, but they have prejudices that still linger throughout the book and Elloren even shuns some of the relationships actively because their races are just "too different", which infuriated me. It's also a hard bargain because Elloren only deals with some aspects of discovering the root of the prejudices she's held, such as asking the history professor for the Kelt version of historical events and not wearing the clothing she owned that was made by child slaves of another race. This also feels like a paint by numbers TCO fantasy, with Elloren attempting to follow in her mother's legacy as the purported Black Witch. This is established early on, but more strongly leaned upon in the latter part of the book.

I feel like this book tested my patience and painted some horribly inaccurate portraits in turn to lend into a fantasy stake filled battle that I don't care enough to follow, and so my journey with the series ends here.

Not recommended.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

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review 2017-02-18 08:00
Review: King's Cage (Red Queen #3) by Victoria Aveyard
King's Cage (Red Queen) - Victoria Aveyard

Quick review for a not so quick read. Short version: This book was a hot mess. I'm basically ending my journey with the series here because of how things were (mis)handled through the narrative. Read on for details.

 

Yeah, I'm a fair shade of vexed, might as well get the hot air out of me before I dive into the bulk of my review. I feel like I just wasted a day and a half's-worth of reading time just to do, what - power through close to 500 pages of filler? Anti-climatic self-indulgent character tokenism with incomplete scenes that seemed to jump willy nilly? Vital scenes that could've been interesting to watch/see/experience are skipped while others about bland place details or character self-loathing go on for page after page? Side characters, who have interesting motivations on their own, keep marching to the chain of centering on the heroine while their own stories and revelations get shafted?

 

I just...can't, man. Argggggh.

 

Okay...hot air gut reaction released. Now into the reasons why I'm so thoroughly vexed at the journey of this book. I'll put this in list form just to make it easier to digest.

 

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!![

 

 

1. Poor pacing which is both anti-climatic and over focused on details that don't matter in the scheme of the story. This book could've easily been shaved about 200-250 pages. I'm not kidding. The story summary of "King's Cage" summed up in a nutshell has Mare being held captive by Maven, wallowing around in her own misery for a good 200 some pages while waiting either to be rescued or for some political conflict she witnesses to give her an opportunity to act like a badass and escape. (Though many times she's like "What's the point? I'm just gonna get captured anyway. Can't use my power. They're all too powerful, blah blah.") And then after said revolt comes into play, she has a momentarily happy reunion with Cal, some time with the family, jumps back into the fray of conflict, leaving less than 15% of the book to put in some key scenes of conflict. Much of the narrative felt like wasted space and time.

 

Granted, I'll give credit for a few scenes that furthered the political rift between the Reds and Silvers. I can name them on three fingers really:

 

Mare being marched like a puppet and causing doubt among the Scarlet Guard in their respective role for things - but we've seen this before.

 

Mare witnessing the union of Maven and his new bride to be a show of power and prominence. (including an awkward bath scene for sexual tension when Maven and Mare have a conversation about said pending union).

 

And lastly: Mare and Cal having to deal with the aftermath of a key battle that didn't go according to plan.

 

But even then, considering how much time it takes to get to these key points, was it really worth wading through about 500 pages just to get to those points? (Answer: nope, nope, noppity, nope, nope.)

 

2. Misuse of multiple POVs: This could be contentious because, for what it's worth, I liked reading Evangeline and Cameron's perspectives and I wanted more of a deeper experience with their roles in the story. Definitely not when they were essentially tooting Mare's horn, leaving less room to dig into their own motivations and contentions within the overarching conflict (and it's pretty bad when you feel like one of the characters highlighted basically has her sexual identity shoehorned into the story just to add conflict and not for the time and connection that it truly deserved. Same with another character whose sexual identity really didn't have a lot of time to expand or develop, these are things that happened off scene and left me wondering "Wait, where the heck was I when this happened?" )

 

That served to piss me off on several occasions. Dude, when you have multiple POVs, it's to get into the heads and motivations of the characters you're writing about specifically, not toot the horn of the main character. Mare has her own space for that. It doesn't need to be spelled out. I get that Cameron has a like/hate relationship with Mare, she doesn't have to tell me this. I get that Evangeline reluctantly has to call a truce with Mare because she has her own reasons for acting the way she does, that can be shown as well. I get there's a purpose to their POVs in the novel, but the way they were done just felt...very fillerish and empty. Definitely not what they deserved through the whole of this narrative.

 

3. Mare. Yes, Mare still continues to be the Achilles' heel of this series. This is unfortunate because for a while, I was willing to follow her journey even with how insufferable she was through the last two books. It was hard to care, but at least I still cared enough to continue.

 

At least until this book. It showed me just how this series badly wants to paint her as a badass, TCO character only to actually portray her as being very passive and a product of the plot points this series pushes her through. This is said even knowing that the experiences she's going through are supposed to be traumatizing and noting the PTSD that she suffers towards the end of the novel. I didn't feel convinced by how this was framed because other dystopian/fantasy novels have done it with much better conviction and connection and didn't drag their heels while doing so. When her powers return, basically she has moments of returning to her self worth, but in the end it's dampened by her self-centeredness yet again. Which leads me to:

 

4. The climax/the ending. Oh heck no to all of it. I honestly think if the pacing and characterizations were more solid, this could've not led into another book. That may be up for debate in itself, but there were two things about the last 15% of the book that upset me. From the scheme of events, Cal and Mare are training for a battle against Maven and his respective forces. Okay. (Even if some scenes feel like they're lifted too closely from The Hunger Games or Divergent.)

 

They get into that respective battle and fight with a few harrowing scenes to match (never mind that none of the extra characters here are relevant other than passing mention. There's even a point where Mare says she doesn't remember a character, and I'm like "What goes with the main character mind, goes with the reader" so whenever Mare says she's bored or doesn't remember someone, how would one expect the reader to feel?)

 

I was thrown from the story towards the very end because a key scene felt like it was missing between the battleground and the direct aftermath (which switches to Evangeline's perspective). I couldn't get past how it just took that leap and the climax/promise of that scene just felt relatively unfulfilled. Maven escapes their grasp, but...you barely get to feel that sense of defeat or frustration from the main characters involved because of the change in POV and how it just sums up events.

 

The second point of frustration: Mare's selfishness creeps up again in the epilogue, leading to the next book for obvious *drama*. "Choose me or your kingdom, Cal!" essentially is what it boils down to without rehashing the whole of the exchange. Never mind all of the political tensions the book has established up to this point. Never mind that Mare knows very well what's at stake and is like "I don't care."

(spoiler show)

 

 

At that final point, to the effect of seeing this series through to the end? My reaction was much the same:

 

description

 

So I think I'll wait to see what other series Aveyard writes because this one's lost me. And that's unfortunate really, because there's so much potential in the ideas this series has, but the execution isn't there. Not at all.

 

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-01-23 06:41
Review: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Carve the Mark - Veronica Roth

Long review for a rather long read. I'm still struggling to figure what words are appropriate to describe the mediocrity and utter pointlessness of this book. My thoughts about it aren't as concise as this review will turn out being, because I only have so many words to fit in my review space and I want to illustrate why this book ended up being such a horrible experience. It's my worst read of 2017 thus far, though I considered giving it credit for at least the last quarter of the book holding my attention (Honestly though, slogging through 80% of this only to get to intriguing scenes of action/character stake investment? Not worth it, definitely not worth it) . I'm a fast reader, it wasn't the length of this book that deterred me - my library copy clocked in just around 460 some pages - but this book was such a tedious, offensive mess.

Before I address the most pervasively discussed problems in this narrative (i.e. how racist and and ablelist this book is on several levels. There isn't an argument to be made about that - it exists in this book even if the author herself doesn't realize that it does in this narrative, and I picked up on it in several instances in this narrative, probably more than I can direct quote in this review. I'll do my best to illustrate these points using quotes from the text where I can, though), I'll discuss the aspects of this book that are a little easier for me to address in quick notation.

As a bit of background, I had actually planned to read this book quite a while back. My experiences with Roth's books have been rocky to say the least. I thought "Divergent" was okay (though with issues), "Insurgent" was less okay (with more issues, but it held my attention still) and "Allegiant" was just...not good is putting it mildly. But I figured I'd give "Carve the Mark" a chance because it had all the bullet points of a series I might like. It's sci-fi, it's set in space, involves political intrigue and manipulation of powers/unique abilities of its cast, has some romantic inclinations, and involves a purportedly epic clash between different groups of people. (I'm deliberately ignoring the comparisons to Star Wars/X-Men because that sets up unrealistic expectations, and I don't buy into that kind of hype.)

I started hearing about issues with this narrative on the day of release, and several of my Goodreads friends and trusted bloggers had mixed reactions to it as well. I'm thinking "Oh crud, glad I didn't preorder it. I still want to read it; maybe I should just get it from the library if it doesn't have ten billion holds." On one of my routine trips to my library, I saw the book on the shelf and was wondering like "Can I actually check this out?" Turns out I could, and I did, and my initial thoughts were whether I was lucky to get one or if I'd set myself up for disappointment.

The long and short of "Carve the Mark's" story centers on the conflict between two space societies: the Thuvue and the Shotet. People in this world have unique abilities called currentgifts, which by definition in the glossary of the story "develop during puberty. They are not always benevolent." The story attempts to showcase the perspectives of Akos and Cyra from those nations respectively. Akos and his brother Eijeh, after a series of violent events, are kidnapped by the Shotet and made to use their currentgifts for the benefit of Cyra's family. Eijeh is subjected under the influence of Cyra's tyrannical brother Rhyzek, while Akos uses his abilities to aid Cyra. Cyra is a young woman whose existence is tormented by her currentgift, but yet she enacts her brother's will by serving as a weapon under his direct command. Cyra doesn't want to hurt anyone or serve as her brother's weapon in their kingdom, but her ability impedes her and can't escape the guilt of a secret (read: not so secret) that hangs over her head - both by her brother's influence and her own guilt.

Cyra and Akos have a rocky relationship with competing interests at first, but as they learn about each other's experiences, they grow closer romantically and end up making plans to take Rhyzek down. Of course this journey isn't without a few curveballs (supposedly, I honestly didn't find them that shocking) the narrative throws at the reader in the end, and apparently leaves to continue in this purported duology.

While this summary of the story wouldn't seem so terrible when taken by that barebones approach, there were so many things wrong with "Carve The Mark" in execution that it's difficult to know where to begin. The pacing in the novel is atrociously sluggish, starting with very little conflict or explanation and meandering more often than not (I found this to be a similar problem in Roth's "Alliegiant"). The worldbuilding is weakly drawn from the beginning, and the presentation of the world is awkward and confusing. For a book that blends sci-fi and fantasy in a space centered universe - there's never a chance to become immersed or invested in the environment. Granted, this is a universe where Oracles determine the fates of people with currentgifts and note how their gifts influence the balance of power between the societies. Akos and Cyra come from two powerful families and have powerful gifts that they develop over time, though there isn't much attention to the system by which this works (what little there is comes across as confusing). "Carve the Mark" trades between their perspectives, starting with Akos in third person, while Cyra's perspective is written in first person POV.

It was hard to care for any of the cast of characters in this book other than Cyra. Cyra had the more prominent storyline and scenetime, while Akos's perspective suffered from being too emotionally distant despite some purportedly harrowing experiences. Add to the fact that Roth chose to telegraph certain experiences and emotions of the characters - withholding certain revelations key to the storyline for no particular reason at all (and you could guess what those revelations were without getting too far into the storyline - I predicted them fairly quickly.) The narrative would've benefited from them being shown and fleshed out much more than the attention they received. So, the writing and establishment of the plot was much weaker than it would've otherwise been with greater care and time taken to develop the world. Don't even get me started on the one-note side characters and villains. For a reportedly violent sci-fi world with prominent clashes, when certain characters bit the bullet, I found it hard to care because I really didn't feel like I knew the characters in this novel that well. Even Ryzek's motivations felt paperthin despite the attempt to showcase his flaws and eventually the rationale he uses to manipulate his sister into being his weapon of choice to enact his assertion of power.

Cyra and Akos's characters had a few scenes where I could believe in their chemistry and slow burning relationship, but I felt my connection to them was shortchanged because of the way the narrative chose to not only push them together for convenient circumstance, but ultimately the narrative becoming another example in problematic YA tropes for I can heal your problems with the power of love!

These are just the mentions of structural and narrative issues with "Carve the Mark" without mentioning the problematic presentation of themes and depictions in the work. And it's perhaps the racist and ableist depictions that showcase not only how lazy the construction of this work really was, but how it attempted to incorporate such themes in a flawed and insensitive way.

It may be ironic of me to point out this video of Roth talking about the importance of portrayal of race in this narrative but I honestly think that despite the intention of *trying* to be inclusive of different races with her intentional incorporation of skin tones and hair textures - she completely misses the point of what it means to be inclusive.

When you are writing minority characters accurately, you are dealing with more than just an incorporation of skin tones. I think that point bears repeating: When you are writing minority characters accurately, you are dealing with more than just an incorporation of skin tones. Part of the problem with certain portrayals of minority groups in fiction, including in sci-fi and fantasy, is that there's a history of harmful stereotypes of minority groups in comparison to White/Caucasian or majority groups. This stereotyping is very evident in numerous areas of "Carve the Mark". I felt that Justina Ireland did a fine job of pointing out just a few of these problems alongside quoting some examples where this is noted in the text. But these are only just a few examples.

This book was ethnocentric from the very beginning against the Shotet group, and that never changed through the entire story.

Chapter 1: "The Shotet were a people, not a nation-planet, and they were known to be fierce, brutal. They stained lines into their arms for every life they had taken, and trained even their children in the art of war. And they lived on Thuvhe, the same planet as Akos and his family—though the Shotet didn’t call this planet “Thuvhe,” or themselves “Thuvhesits”—across a huge stretch of feathergrass. The same feathergrass that scratched at the windows of Akos’s family’s house."

“Sometimes it is easy to see why people become what they are,” his mom said softly. “Ryzek and Cyra, children of a tyrant. Their father, Lazmet, child of a woman who murdered her own brothers and sisters. The violence infects each generation.”
Chapter 2: Akos knew it without really knowing it: These men were Shotet. Enemies of Thuvhe, enemies of theirs. People like this were responsible for every candle lit in the memorial of the Shotet invasion; they had scarred Hessa’s buildings, busted its glass so it showed fractured images; they had culled the bravest, the strongest, the fiercest, and left their families to weeping. Akos’s grandmother and her bread knife among them, so said their dad.
“No woman,” one of the men said to one of the others. “Wonder where she is?”
“Oracle,” one of the others replied. “Not an easy one to catch.”
“I know you speak our language,” Aoseh said, sterner this time. “Stop jabbering away like you don’t understand me."
Because you would have your darker skinned enemies speak a broken form of your prevalent language.

Chapter 3: “Today,” she told me, “is the first day that most Shotet will lay eyes on you, not to mention the rest of the galaxy. The last thing we want is for them to fixate on your hair. By fixing it up, we make it invisible. Understand?”
I didn’t, but I didn’t press the issue. I was looking at my mother’s hair. It was dark, like mine, but a different texture—hers was so curly it trapped fingers, and mine was just straight enough to escape them.
My mouth dropped open at this inclusion because it's bad enough that people of color are often degraded by their natural hair types or forced to conform to some standard of beauty, and this serves to reinforce cultural self-hate of appearances in favor of the "majority" group's hair type. WTF man?

Chapter 15: “I’m not a fool, no matter what you people think of the Thuvhesit,” Akos snapped, his cheeks going ruddy as he picked up the practice blade. “You think I’m going to just let you set me up for a fall?” <- "You people" again. Dehumanizing language.

“So you, what? Leap straight to killing him? What is it with you Shotet?” Akos said in a low voice. Akos says this to a Shotet person who makes a bargain with him, involving killing someone. Casual prejudicial assumptions even from the LI. Ugh. This is an offshoot of the same conversation in the mention above.

There are a number of times when Cyra participates in her own self-hatred for identity, not just for what she's done and the secret she holds, but also her own ease of disposition for violence. This is contrasted against Akos, for when he subjects himself to a contract kill versus killing for survival, he's disgusted and nearly breaks down over the death. One could almost argue that in some ways Cyra corrupts him and he "fixes" her as his love interest, which I thought was pretty messed up in the context of the story.

As far as the ableism goes, this book portrays such in two dimensions: chronic pain and self-harm/attributions to self-cutting. This narrative portrays the Shotet in demonizing way with respect to the novel's namesake "Carve the Mark".

Chapter 15: Akos rubbed at the marks by his elbow, and thought of the savagery of them. Keep in mind this is a custom of the Shotet, and figures that he'd refer to it in some way as being "savage."

The most damning quote I found was one I partially quoted in my status updates.

Chapter 14: "Says the person who’s been scarring herself for things she was coerced into doing,” he said wryly.
It wasn’t funny, what either of us was saying. And then it was. I grinned, and after a moment, so did he. A new grin—not the one that told me he was proud of himself, or the one that he forced when he felt like he needed to be polite, but a thirsty, crazed kind of smile.
Basically the context of this is that Cyra was talking about how she marked herself not for the number of kills she made with her ability but for every time she had pain. I think this is triggering for people who may have recovered from some degree of self-harm/cutting. And the fact that Akos and Cyra laugh about it made me want to throw the book down in disgust, even if it is bitter/dark humor. It's not funny.

And definitely not cool to romanticize chronic pain in the form of an attempted sacrifice:

Chapter 25: Akos’s eyes—full of tears, full of pain—found mine. Pushing the shadow toward him would have been easy. I had done it many times before, each time a mark on my left arm. All I had to do was let the connection form, let the pain pass between us like a breath, like a kiss. Let all of it flow out of me, bringing relief for us both, in death.
But he did not deserve it.
This time, I broke the connection, like slamming a door between us. I pulled the pain back, into myself, willing my body to grow darker and darker, like a bottle of pink. I shuddered with the force of that power, that agony.
I didn’t scream. I wasn’t afraid. I knew I was strong enough to survive it all.


I feel like there were more problems in this book than I could care to cite as far as the portrayals were concerned. I understood that this was supposed to be a narrative showcasing two very flawed characters put in extraordinary circumstances and brought together under those terms, but taking and appropriating from established cultures and loosely building a narrative with many haphazard stereotypes, some even affirming awful and harmful attributions, is really messed up. Romanticizing pain, including measures out of the control of the person suffering from it, isn't acceptable either.

I definitely won't be reading the next book in this series. And I'm unlikely even to pick up another narrative by Roth in the future.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

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review 2016-09-15 02:59
Review: The Other Widow by Susan Crawford
The Other Widow: A Novel - Susan Crawford

Quick review for a quick read. To be honest, this is the first time in a while that I've read a book that let me down so much to expectation that I don't know what to really say. "The Other Widow" has an intriguing premise, and there are points when it seems to build towards something greater and more substantial. But each and every time it builds to that point, it pulls back like it wants to undo the tension established and really doesn't provide anything but false punches. I was fine trading between the POV points of Dorrie (the other woman), Karen (the wife), and Maggie (the insurance investigator who's former cop but suffers from PTSD). The emotions are real, the way that the presentation rolls from that is not for the most part. In the aftermath of the death of Joe, whose accident raises questions as to whodunit and why, these three ladies scramble to pick up pieces of their lives in different ways. Dorrie struggles to cope with the death of the man she loved while at the same time salvaging her own home life, keeping her secrets her own, and struggling against an unknown stalker.

Similarly, Karen struggles to come to terms with her husband's infidelity, his failing company and secrets, and wonders about the presence of a man who re-enters her life for the first time in a while. Maggie struggles between the life she left behind and the one she's living with now, as this case unveils more questions about what happened to Joe.

To be honest, the journey getting to the end started out interesting enough, but then became very clunky as it moved forward. I kept wondering "When are these threads tying together and why are the characters feeling more hollow in presentation as the story moves forward? It doesn't make sense considering this is supposed to be a psychological suspense and really draw upon the fears, insecurities and terror of not only a murderer being on the loose, but also coping with Joe's death."

Crawford seemed to rush the ending to heck and back trying to tie those ends together, but in the conclusion of things, it felt very empty and poorly presented.

In the end, I wish it could've been more than what it was.

Overall score: 2/5 stars.

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