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review 2015-12-06 18:01
Half World - Hiromi Goto

99. HALF WORLD, BY HIROMI GOTO

Recommended by Juliana. It was a breath of fresh air after Three Princes... A book that promises something different and actually delivers it!

Synopsis: Melanie, an awkward, chubby, and socially inept teenager, arrives home from school to discover her mother has disappeared. She receives a creepy phone call from a man calling himself Mr. Glueskin, and he gives her a set of instructions to follow if she wants to rescue her mother. Not knowing what to do, she seeks the help of her neighbor, Ms. Wei, and embarks on her adventure.

Overall enjoyment: It was very good. Some parts were a bit rushed, this is one of those rare books that would’ve been better if they were longer, but overall it’s very refreshing and imaginative. Not to say this is a light read, though...

Plot: It is quite well constructed, but it could have been better developed. There are two prologues, and I can’t help but feel that they could have been worked into the story proper, so the reader could piece the information together, rather than given at the beginning. As it is, the story takes a while to start, and some things that could have been plot twists (because Melanie has to discover them) are already known to the reader and you just have to roll your eyes and wait patiently until she figures it out. Also, the quest in itself, the tasks that Melanie has to perform to achieve her goal, are over too soon. She could have fleshed this part out a little bit, have Melanie work for it more. It’s traditional in a quest story, isn’t it? There is one kind of plot hole, though (and not really a plot hole, just something that REALLY should have been explained and isn’t).

Characters: They are well developed enough. Melanie can appear bratty and inconsiderate at times, but that’s just how her character is. Others, like Mr. Glueskin, are supposed to be stereotypes. Once again, there could have been a better development if the book had been longer. I sure would have loved to read more about the Half-World people.

World/setting: There is some amazing world building in here. The three planes of existence are clearly based on Buddhism, but she doesn’t concern herself much with the higher level (or the mortal level, for that matter). The story is set in Half-World, a dreary place full of monstrosities but no color at all. This is an amazing world, even if violent and grotesque.

Writing style: Very concise and straightforward. 

Representation: It’s a book about a Japanese character, based on Japanese mythology, written by a Japanese author.

Political correctness: No big gaffes in here. Like all good coming-of-age stories, it tries to give some idea on big concepts, like death, suffering, loss, and justice. 

Up next: The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour

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text 2015-12-06 14:36
The Anatomy Lesson - Nina Siegal

97. THE ANATOMY LESSON, BY NINA SIEGAL

Recommended by Nina. She’s an art student who has a lot of interest in the history of famous paintings. After she recommended it to me, she was infuriated to discover this was the fictional, and not just fictionalized, story. I decided to read it anyway, since I’m not as hung up on true historical facts as she is…

Synopsis: The fictional backstory to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, starring Aris Kindt, an unfortunate boy with a tragic story who could never get a break, and who also had been Rembrandt’s neighbor in their childhood, as the body.

Overall enjoyment: It was nice. Not one of the best books I’ve ever read, but not one of the worst, either. 

Plot: The plot really isn’t the most important thing here. She’s mostly trying to paint a picture herself, of the particular moment when this painting was made. I’ll admit that there wasn’t a lot of engagement for me. There is an attempt at suspense with Flora’s story, and her wanting to save him/get his body, but that’s mostly ruined because you know from the start that she will fail.

Characters: They are mostly well constructed. Flora’s character, though, which I was hoping would be a good one, was too much of a stereotypical angelic woman. I do like that there are no evil characters, just a few people who can’t be bothered to care about people they don’t know.

World/setting: This was probably the best part of the book. The portrayal of the time and place was vivid and colorful, even in its repression and puritanism.

Writing style: The whole book is told in first person, but the narrating character changes from chapter to chapter (sometimes within chapter too). The problem I had here is that they all sound like the same person talking, not like different people at all. She uses some very few markers on each different character (like having Flora say “were” every time she means “was”) but those were so few and incongruent (Flora would use it in very complex and refined phrases; that would be the only grammatical error she would make) they seemed gimmicky and fake. It honestly would have been better to just have them all talk the exact same way.

Representation: Quite poor, as you would expect.

Political correctness: I did not like Flora’s character. I had very high hopes for her, and she turned out to be a stereotype. It’s even worse because Flora is the only female character (if you don’t count Tulp’s wife, but she’s even more stereotypical than Flora).

Up next: Three Princes, by Ramona Wheeler

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text 2015-12-06 14:35
Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan

96. TENDER MORSELS, BY MARGO LANAGAN

Recommended by Maria. I have never read/heard the Snow White and Rose Red story; had never even heard about it before, to be honest. The only Snow White story I know is that one with the evil queen and the hunter. I’m a bit reluctant to try and read it now, because I’m afraid I might be too disappointed. This book set a really high bar…

Synopsis: After having a very difficult life, Liga is offered the opportunity to live in the world of her dreams. She raises her two daughters in there, protected from the world that has treated her so badly. But bears and dwarfs invade her safe haven, disturbing her peace.

Overall enjoyment: Like I said, I didn’t know the original fairy tale, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with. I did enjoy it immensely, though. It is very lyrical and full of sensitivity, even though it deals with heavy and disturbing ideas. The beginning was very hard to get through.

Plot: Even though the book is not really plot-driven, it is well supported. The true plot is actually the development of the characters and that is done beautifully. 

Characters: Amazingly complex and well rounded. Each one is a world within themselves. 

World/setting: She creates a magical land for Liga’s heaven that has a lot of fairy tale atmosphere to it. I love how she points out the flaws in it, too. It works beautifully with the counterpoint of the real world, which is ugly, and stinky, and violent, but real and complete.

Writing style: It’s almost poetry in prose form. Delightful to read.

Representation: Urdda is dark-skinned, although she suffers no prejudice for it. 

Political correctness: It is, basically, the story of Liga healing from her trauma and of how her daughters have been affected by her fears. It has wonderful elements to it.

Up next: The Anatomy Lesson, by Nina Siegal

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text 2015-12-06 14:34
How To Be A Heroine - Samantha Ellis

95. HOW TO BE A HEROINE, BY SAMANTHA ELLIS

Recommended by Milton, and yes, yet again, I’m apologizing. I do appreciate the recommendation, but I’m a fiction gal through-and-through. I almost never read nonfiction, and when I do, it’s usually about science.

I’ll keep this book in mind, though, and will probably give it another shot in the future, when the planets align in the correct position.

Up next: Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

 
 
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text 2015-12-06 14:32
The Poison Master - Liz Williams

94. THE POISON MASTER, BY LIZ WILLIAMS

Recommended by Miriam for its great world building. She warned me that there were stuff I wouldn’t like about the characters, though. She was right.

 

Synopsis: Alivet lives on Latent Emanation, a planet where humans are slaves to the Lords of Night. She’s an apprentice alchemist, and is planning to save up enough so she can buy her twin sister from “embonding”, but when one of her rich clients die, she’s forced to seek the help of stranger.

 

Overall enjoyment: Welp. There were some really nice things. There were some very bad things. Mostly, and I’m going to have to caps it, THERE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ROMANCE IN THIS BOOK. The romance with Ghairen was bizarre and grotesque, and it should never have been written. Other than that, it was fine.

 

Plot: I liked how she tells the story of Alivet in parallel with John Dee, showing how Latent Emanation came to be in the first place. It integrates the world building with the main plot without making it over-descriptive and boring. The intrigue and mystery part was also nicely done. The only thing that sucked was the romance. It comes out of nowhere, it’s badly developed, and has a nonsensical conclusion.

 

Characters: Up to a point, they were nicely done. Alivet is capable without being super-human, resourceful without being unrealistic, courageous without being stupid. Once again, the only bad part was the romance. It seemed like Alivet had a double personality: one who went through the story, and another whose sole purpose was to get horny whenever Ghairen was around. Her reactions to him were so out of character and artificial, one way this book could be fixed is if someone went through the text simply deleting all those passages. They are completely unconnected to the rest, have no part whatsoever on their character development, and would probably not be missed by anyone (much less the characters themselves).

 

World/setting: The main part, the one everyone who reads this book compliments. It is, indeed, quite a nice piece of world building. She mixes science-fiction with alchemy and fantasy, and a bit of religion for good measure. Some aspects could have been more explained, or better exploited (I would have liked to know more about the native races of those other worlds, for instance), but that would have been a plus, not a necessity. 

 

Writing style: WHY DID THERE HAVE TO BE ROMANCE IN THIS?? My honest theory is that Liz had already finished writing her book, but when she tried to submit it for publication, someone (maybe the editor) told her she absolutely HAD to have romance in it, since it’s YA. So she went back and tried to see where she could shove some kind of romance. Maybe she thought about Alivet and Ghairen’s daughter, but decided against it. Finally, she decided it had to be Alivet and Ghairen, and then tried to make it happen, but she was already in love with the original story, so she didn’t want to change anything. That is the most likely explanation for how bizarre those romance passages are… On the other passages, though, the writing is pleasant and straightforward. 

 

Representation: There isn’t much… There are aliens, though.

 

Political correctness: Again, WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON WITH THAT ROMANCE?? It was all kinds of crappy. He’s domineering, over-controlling, he locks her up on her room at night, and actually shackles her to him once. He doesn’t trust her, or tells her anything. Oh, yeah, also, SHE’S 16 AND HE’S OVER 40!! And don’t tell me that his species experiences time differently, HE HAS A DAUGHTER WHO’S ONLY ONE OR TWO YEARS YOUNGER THAN ALIVET HERSELF. That’s just disgusting. Speaking of disgusting, the very first time that they kind of get it on ALIVET BELIEVES HE IS RAPING HIS DAUGHTER. Really. For serious. Because, of course, there is nothing like a child molester to get a girl’s juices flowing, am I right, ladies?

 

Up next: How to Be a Heroine, by Samantha Ellis

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