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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 2016-04-17 20:42
Review: The Glittering Court (The Glittering Court #1) by Richelle Mead
The Glittering Court - Richelle Mead

Initial reaction: *shakes head* One of the few times I'm speechless as one of the authors I hold in high regard wrote one of the most ethnocentric and bigoted pieces of fiction I've read in this genre to date. I'm honestly stunned. Native populations deserve a lot better than this. (As does the GLBT community).

I mean, I know that this book is stand-alone and told from the perspective of different girls in each of the three books, but if your first book starts out with something like this, it's incredibly hard to want to read anything else it has to offer. Not even Mira or Tamsin saved this book for me, and I liked their characters quite a bit.

Full review:

All right, I've had a night to sleep on my thoughts on this, and even now, it still fills me with dread having to write this review because I really like Richelle Mead's works. I loved Vampire Academy (though it took me a while to warm up to it). I even liked what little I've read of the Bloodlines series, and some of her adult urban fantasy works as well. The "Age of X" series had its problems, but I still found it worth following to some extent as well. Which makes me wonder "What the hell happened here?"

To put this into context: I haven't read Kiera Cass's "The Selection" series - and I have no desire to do so for my own reasons. However, when I heard Richelle Mead would explore similar themes in this new series, I thought "Okay, if there's anybody I trust who could make that sort of thing interesting, it would be her. Let's do this!"

Before I get into the ethnocentrism and bigotry in this novel (because it's a long discussion and once I get started on that, I'm going to try to streamline the discussion to make it easier to swallow), I'm going to highlight some of the base problems with this book on a collective note. This really didn't feel like a book written by Richelle Mead to me. I've read a good number of her works and many of them seem to have these respective strengths: strong worldbuilding, well-developed and identifiable characters, palpable tension and conflict, and a strong sense of immersion into the story she's crafted. Usually when I pick up a book by her, I'll expect to settle into the journey and want to be drawn into it and the voice of the character perspective Mead takes on.

This book had little to none of these things.

A restricted young woman from a family of power and high privilege decides she wants more freedom in her life - base description of where this story begins. Elizabeth is a very pampered girl, used to flowing gowns and making replications of art among other things in high society life. Feeling like she's too restricted and wanting the freedom (of all things) to choose the man she wants to marry, she decides to take the place of her maid for an opportunity to go to an elite institution called "The Glittering Court" - special opportunity for housekeepers and common people to be taught manners and given the chance to be sold to the highest bidder of a suitor of their choice. (I don't see how this scenario is much better than the situation she was facing with her grandmother, but I followed it, nonetheless.)

Think of it sort of as a "Prince and the Pauper" scenario, only nowhere near as interesting because the Pauper disappears just as quickly as she comes. So Adelaide (Elizabeth's new identity) assumes her new role with a little help from the Glittering Court recruiter (Cedric Thorn) who decides to keep her identity secret. From there, Adelaide makes "friends" (there's a reason why I put this in quotes) with Tamsin and Mira during her time at the Glittering Court, as they participate in training to prepare them to move into the New World for their respective matchings. Then, once in the New World, Adelaide has to figure how to survive as a frontierswoman and overcome a corrupt scheme that threatens to tear apart her and the one she ends up choosing to be with.

So, what's the problem with this, you may ask? Where do I begin?

1. Wrong genre classification. This is not a fantasy. This is not a fantasy. THIS IS NOT A FANTASY. It may have fictionalized names of tribes and places, but it's really a thinly veiled attempt at expressing a world/scenario similar to English settlers colonizing Native American lands. It feels like it could've been an attempt at historical fiction, only if it had been, I think fans would've been railing at the factual inaccuracies and practical erasure of tribal histories and palpable conflicts in order to further the love story here. There are no magic wielders, and it's not even a dystopian universe. There's really little to no struggle for the Osfridians because they're the dominant culture, and the tribes that are barely in the book rarely present any conflicts (and when they are, it's usually the people from Osfrid who are presenting the problematic scenarios and taking jabs to knock them down and make them seem like "savages" or "uncivilized").

So, I don't understand what Mead was going for here. The worldbuilding was scant at best for differentiating between the actual history and this so-called fantasy world. I sat on my hands hoping it would immerse me more and come across as a very different realm with something substantial to it, but it's really blatant and problematic.

2. Very long and tedious story that feels like it has pieces missing from it. Granted, I know this respective series - in each book - is told from the perspective of a single character in a self-contained insert of a larger story, but it feels like characters appear and disappear for no rhyme or reason. In this book, you're only left with Adelaide's candid (oftentimes infuriating) assumptions as to where or what other people are doing at a given time. I think this book might've had better balance if it'd had the POV switches focusing on the heart of the ongoing conflicts, thus making the narrative feel a bit more full and complete for conflict and character development.

I don't mind reading about governesses or beautiful balls or displays of lavish wealth and sophistication - as long as you can make me care about it. That the experience is novel, relevant, immersive to the story one's telling. For me, that's just one of the few problems with Adelaide's POV taking the reins of this particular tale, and I hated the lot of it for that.

3. Adelaide. Yes, Adelaide is a problem. She is, by far, the weakest and most abhorrent heroine that I've read from Mead to date. I found it incredibly hard to care about her. It wasn't just for her fatal flaws. True, she's selfish, pampered, sheltered from her privileged upbringing. That would be one thing, because there's something to seeing a heroine like that grow from her experiences and interactions, learning from them. Yet, she showed very little to no growth of character through this entire narrative, which made it boring to follow her respective story. I mean, what problems did she have for a good portion of this narrative? She left her home of her own willful deceit, she decides to keep her governess upbringing a secret as she tries to further her own means to an end in the Glittering Court and win the opportunity to choose the one she wanted to be with (only to end up not going that route at all). She's a *special snowflake* who ended up getting courted by one of the biggest people of privilege from the get-go (and from one who willingly - and conveniently - bends all the rules of the court just to get it done). Really, the only problems she really had were more towards the end, and that was problematic in and of itself.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD:

 

I think most people would be able to guess after a time that Adelaide ends up hooking up with Cedric. It's not really a secret and it wasn't even from the opening chapters. However, I think I saw the revenge plot coming the moment the deal was set up after Cedric and Adelaide are caught in a romantic interlude and forced into a deal made/offered by Adelaide's potential buyer to make them avoid social shame/outcast. However, it results in a thinly veiled revenge plot taking place on the frontier. The dude tries to kill Cedric (it fails) and then tries to rape Adelaide (that fails when she stabs him with Cedric's "heretic" knife) and then Adelaide decides to evoke her position of priviledge to save them both, only it doesn't since it sends Cedric on trial for being a heretic back in Osford.

(spoiler show)



So how do they get out of that scenario? By the aide of a character who never once made an appearance until the last possible second. Convenient, no?

But Adelaide's character feels like she does so much only for Cedric's sake or just to try to prove she's not as pampered as people think she is. (Which she proves otherwise through certain attitudes and actions). *sighs*

4. Side character plights are far more interesting than the MC's, but they're deferred. This saddens me because Mira and Tamsin's characters actually have really solid foundations for story. I think they were what kept me reading through this narrative even when I wanted to throw the book down in disgust. They were the characters who had the most to lose if they didn't gain the status they were looking for in the Glittering Court. But yet when they disappear from Adelaide's viewpoint, they're gone. They come in and out, and you have no idea what became of them, so the story feels incomplete and their characters feel shortchanged where they could've been much stronger.

Now I get into the discussions of how horribly prejudiced this entire narrative is:

1. Pro-colonization: This book could be seen as a very glamorized portrayal of colonization. In the overarching perspective of this book - these girls aren't just getting primped and prepped to be married off to handsome suitors, they're being married off to people colonizing the "New World" in order to be governesses of men who basically took lands from the Native tribes already living there. Never mind exploring what Osfridians did to get that land, but hey - it's all about the pretty dresses and being married off to the highest bidder! Not to mention rewriting history for what it actually entailed!

*silently fumes*

2. Casual racism and anti-LGBT: I cannot tell you how many times I flinched at hearing the word "savages" in this book by the majority of the cast of characters here, like it's a normal thing and not considered a slur or insult. Reading that made me feel like I was getting my fingernails forcefully torn off). Even Adelaide seems comfortable (and doesn't seem the least bit informed) about referring to the New World's land as unkempt, wild, "uncivilized." This isn't just language referring to being a frontierswoman and surviving the elements, but rather it's directed to the people living there in an attempt to supposedly make it more "civilized" on the part of Osfridians. It's incredibly insulting.

Adelaide also barely bats an eye at the racism that's directed towards Mira considering Mira's a refugee "with a funny accent". It even shows her position of unabashed privilege when she takes it upon herself to help Mira get her accent closer to being proper Osfridian. She only cares because Mira is "her friend" while making rampantly ignorant comments about such ethnicity in just about every conversation Mira comes across. When there's a rumor about Mira's supposed promiscuity - on one hand Adelaide defends Mira's honor by slut shaming another girl (saying she looks "like a whore"), but upon Mira's sudden, frequent disappearances, Adelaide wonders if the rumors were true.

I'm sitting in my chair listening to the audiobook of this with my hand covering my mouth in horror as it plays out.

The one instance of LGBT mention came from a minority businesswoman Adelaide comes across (whom Adelaide points out doesn't look Native for her features. Which I raged enough about as I read it. What does being a minority "look" like anyway, and how is it not prejudicial to judge someone based on their looks? Like why was that even a thing here?). The woman talks about her relationship with another woman and how it didn't work out. Adelaide had the audacity to question whether the woman was even attracted to women in the first place and if it was the reason why she "dressed in men's clothes" because she didn't feel like a woman.

I...just have no words to that. I really don't. Didn't help that Adelaide felt embarrassed after the fact for the questioning because there was no takeaway from Adelaide's part in that conversation. I wish I could do more direct quoting but since I had the audiobook version of it, I can't paste more direct citations of all the problematic things that were said here.

It was enough to cause me to put the book down more than once, questioning if I really would DNF this book. I don't think many people would have blamed me for DNFing this one - not just in my identification as a POC, but also just feeling incensed at how prejudice is shown in this book and the context in which it was put. It was at least somewhat palpable with the religious persecution, but yet when it came to racial and poverty distinctions? Nope, didn't treat it with the same respect at all, and you would think if the book took the time to show these horrible forms of discrimination that the heroine would have a single clue or care aside from the person her affections turned toward. *sighs*

Honestly, I would recommend people avoid the heck out of this book. It's really insulting to many minority groups and historically (and genre-notably) inaccurate. I don't know if I'll be looking into the rest of the series yet. I did like Mira and Tamsin (Tamsin had only a few moments in the book to shine - particularly where she called out Adelaide on her B.S., but it was sadly shortlived). But even their characters weren't enough to save this from being an offensive, lacking mess.

Overall score: 0.5/5 stars.

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review 2015-11-17 04:28
Review: Those Girls by Lauren Saft
Those Girls - Lauren Saft

Can a book have negative stars? It's enough that I'm giving it 0 stars, but honestly I'd give it the lowest number of stars one could actually go because...ye gods. I don't know what to say. I seriously don't know what to say.

This is one of those books where I feel I find it hard to put my thoughts into words for reaction. Because there aren't any words. What was the author thinking? How did this get published? I don't understand really. This was an absolutely horrible book. I don't even want to waste my time expounding upon what was wrong with the book because I could say...well, everything.

So I'll leave you guys with this status update I made on Goodreads that sums up my thoughts precisely:

My brain...it hurts. Seriously, I'm not kidding, I just waded through pages of text on multiple infidelities, racism, sexism and misogyny, rape/date-rape, jokes about abortion, endless profanity, slut-shaming, gay slurs, and girls who were just horrible to each other, and it somehow ends up with a happy ending?

Screw this book.


Overall rating: 0 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.

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review 2015-10-15 06:11
Review: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
The Devil You Know - Trish Doller

Initial reaction: Are you freaking kidding me? What part of this was a good book, I'd honestly like to know. It was incredibly awkward, lacking suspense, and I hated the main character's complete senselessness and stupidity. I can understand characters making stupid decisions, I can also understand that the character is a teenager who may be completely oblivious to the scenario around her, but ye Gods, this was just...a complete waste of time.

Full review:

I was going to wait a night to write this, but I think I can expound on my thoughts properly since it upset me enough. Suffice to say, I (quite strongly) didn't like this book and I found it difficult to find any redeeming factors. Which is unfortunate because not only was I looking forward to a decent mystery/thriller/suspense, but I also found something to like in my last read from the author. I could almost forgive the fact that both heroines (both this and "Where the Stars Still Shine") in Doller's books are self-absorbed and act in ways that aren't so wise, but this ultimately culminated in a suspense thriller that proved to be a waste of time because everything was so unflinchingly awkward and obvious.

I'll admit that I followed the book along for a time because it's an easy read - very fluid prose for the most part. But Arcadia (Cadie) is a heroine that grates not necessarily because she's spontaneous and awkward (with a fair share of awkwardly humored moments in the text), but that she makes very obvious ill choices which are paint by numbers tedious and predictable. The story starts out with Cadie deciding to take some "me" time out for herself considering she's been taking care of her father and younger sibling since her mother died from cancer. Cadie decides to hop on a spontaneous road trip with two guys she just met and a friend whom she'd lost touch with some time before. The characterization development seems to progressively build, and at the very least (at the start) it would shape up to be a good way to know the characters and their quirks. Cadie herself is spontaneous in her voice and quite awkward. There were moments I was close to getting behind her in the beginning, but as the narrative wore on (to the point where it was tedious even with trying to establish chemistry with Noah and Matt), her purposeful cluelessness grated on me.

She doesn't think much about the odd man who suddenly went missing that ended up on the news (and later dead).

She doesn't think much about the fact that her friend - who was excited about taking a trip to Disney World - deciding to bail all of a sudden (and the poor friend is subsequently forgotten about through the rest of the narrative until a certain revelation).

She doesn't think that much about not contacting her father (though I understood this was rebellious on her part, it still felt odd since purposely thought in points "I should call him even with everything going on...").

In truth, Cadie just didn't think at all. Not until the last possible moment despite the warning signs being right in her face. I saw where this was going and it held no suspense for me. Plus, the characters themselves didn't feel that dimensional when it was all said and done. I couldn't even really think of it as steamy or sexy (granted, I couldn't find Cadie's losing her virginity in a graveyard sexy - but I was trying so hard to forgive things in this that I felt were just plain awkward in transition and translation, despite some notably intentional references to awkward dialogue and humor).

By the ending, I was just done. I got the fact that some of it was meant to be an homage and parody (to an extent), but it just failed miserably to me. I honestly wouldn't recommend it and I thought "Where the Stars Still Shine" was a much better effort than this. Very disappointed.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

 

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.

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review 2015-08-06 02:56
Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

Pre-read: I know this book came out today, but I'm going to re-read "To Kill A Mockingbird" before I touch this, and I have it on hold at my library. I'm like #45 of more than a couple hundred people, so it'll be a little while. But at least I got in line, man. I could get it sooner than I think, but we'll see.

Post-read: I need a little time to meditate on this book because I'm reacting to several things that upset me in the course of reading this book, in completely the wrong focus and wrong way. And maybe that's the problem with "Go Set A Watchman" - it doesn't necessarily shine a light on anything. Shallow portrayals of its characters, shallow portrayals of its issues, and pretty much an incomplete novel that seems like it's aiming towards something greater, but never fulfills that promise.

Full review:

I somewhat dreaded having to write this review, because this book really got to me for the wrong, wrong reasons. I shudder to think that I have to recall the reasons why I did not like this book. "Go Set A Watchman" has many issues. Forget for a moment what you've heard about certain characters in this book and how they've changed from their previous incarnations in the latter penned "To Kill A Mockingbird." Coming into the read, I was a little more forgiving to see this as another "image" of TKAM. It was penned three years before "To Kill A Mockingbird", and could be seen as a precursory draft rather than a prequel/sequel or companion novel as it was marketed (curse HarperCollins for their misleading marketing). It was rejected by the publisher, then rewritten and revamped to eventually become TKAM.

The only good thing I can say about my reading this book is that Reese Witherspoon is a fine narrator. She really is; she gave more life to the audio performance of the novel than I think I would've had reading this on its own. I'd give her 5 stars for the performance, but the book itself - nowhere near close.

Not only was this an extremely weak narrative from a technical standpoint, but its aim to shine a light on the respective characters and issues it touched upon failed miserably. On one hand, I know this is a dated novel - it was penned over 50 years ago, it doesn't show its age all that well and was probably reflective of some of the events and attitudes that were going on during its respective time. But that doesn't mean I can't call it out on its respective B.S. in terms of the way it chose to expand upon such ideas. Plus, I don't think "Go Set A Watchman" really felt like a novel that could stand on its own - it was more like an elaborate draft or outline of a conversation to be had in much larger context than it provided.

So where do I begin? It's hard for me to completely avoid comparisons of this novel to "Mockingbird" because this narrative hinges so much the former that I don't think you can completely separate the two. While Jean Louise (Scout), Atticus, Calpurnia, Jem, among other familiar characters are mentioned by name in this novel, you don't get a sense of who these characters actually are at any point in "Watchman". There are some snippets of fleshing, but very little delving into the background or development. I almost want to say that someone who's had no knowledge or experience with "Mockingbird" would have a hard time getting into this novel (especially in the first part - that part had very little hook or establishment) because there's very little to go on. We have some flashbacks of the young Jean Louise coming of age with her brother Jem and how Calpurnia mothers her (I chuckled a little with Calpurnia trying to explain to Jean Louise she couldn't possibly be pregnant from a kiss) were probably some of my favorite parts of what this offered. It seemed to me that Lee found her narrative flow most with writing these scenes of childhood/coming of age/slice of life. That's probably what led to Lee ultimately writing "Mockingbird" from the perspective of the much younger Scout, thereby incorporating that voice and experience for the work's whole.

Yet in "Watchman" - we have this constant back and forth between past and present. Part of this may be an attempt making the characters more familiar, but it's so darned choppy. Adult Jean Louise has very little to make her stand out on her own, and her naivete can be grating to read in spells.

So, despite the trade between Jean Louise's childhood and present adult experiences, the plot for this novel seems relatively simple. Jean Louise is returning home from New York (and we've no idea what her life was like in NY before coming home) to see her ailing father and catch up with the town she left behind, only to realize that the people she thought she knew and loved as idols and heroes were...well, racist.

Yep, that's pretty much the plotline, people. (Thank you and goodnight! *walks away, and then turns back around*)

Hold on, if it were that straightforward, I'd probably have a much shorter review to write than the one I'm penning right now (though still not without a fair share of rage). Because for all this novel's touting around that the adults in this are not plum perfect white people, and for the few moments where Jean Louise actually speaks against the blatant bigotry, this novel felt extremely empty for actually dealing with the issues it brings up. Even further, it actually never completely knocks down some of the harmful ideologies that the characters here contain (and Jean Louise even supports some of those harmful statements, which only served to piss me off and contradict whatever "message" the novel seemed to want to send).

Apparently, the only consistent lesson this book seemed to send was that people aren't the gods and goddesses you think they are in your youth - that they have flaws and that to grow up, you have to be able to open your eyes to see who/what/where/why they really are. It seemed really underhanded to me that Jean Louise not only had to learn this at the age she is (she's 26 in this novel) and coming out of the environment she did (She lived in the northern U.S. during this time, which had quite different ideologies than her home), but that her bigoted relatives had to be the ones to teach her this lesson and say "Hey, we're not perfect, little Jean Louise! Good girl for finally figuring us out and growing up, even though we're still racist jerks." And even then, Jean Louise ended up being apologetic for basically chewing them out for their prejudices.

*throws up hands* What in fresh heck, man?!!!!

Let's get something straight here: racism and bigotry embody more than just the use of nominative slurs against a collective people or group, it also entails ideals and actions that undermine that group's very existence. There was quite a bit of the use of the "n" word in this book, and blatant underminings of black Americans as far as trying to paint the NAACP as some group that threatened "states rights" (there's a really skewed portrayal of the history of the Civil War in this book and I'm not even going to give it legs from description because it sickens me). I hated that it pretty much reduced black Americans and their very existence to being a "political" entity. And while I could believe in the fact that these important people to Jean Louise could embody such horrific ideologies, it never feels like the narrative gives true weight to this without feeling like it's just telling these factors.

Further, some of the dialogues often made it like giving rights to black Americans would somehow undermine the rights of those who were of the majority (which is a prejudiced ideology that is applied to many minority groups even today, whether along racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or any distinction you can think of.)

There's a lot of wide brush painting in terms of statements made in this book with respect to the clashes of race and societal identity here. It's not just the fact that the characters these clashes pertain to are even further reduced to background noise (poor Calpurnia, especially with what happens to her family), but the fact that the narrative seems to limit the conversation and injustices to make them impersonal.

I was shocked at one point when Jean Louise actually supported the idea that black Americans were "backward" as a people (I think this was a conversation she was having with Atticus when calling him out to be a contradictory piece of crap), but somehow she seems to think she's speaking right by saying "They're still people!"

FML. That's a backhanded statement and it made me want to throw more than just the book at her.

Jean Louise is not a heroine in this book, she might be talking a lot of so-called progressive talk, but for actually making aims towards true measures and ideals of equality, she's not even remotely coming close. If anything, when the conversation comes up that makes her feel guilty for calling out Atticus and relatives (even her potential husband) on their bigotry, she actually recedes and submits to their calls, her feeling guilty for making them guilty. I couldn't even begin to even with this.

But I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw that Jean Louise's potential husband to be supports his claim to being racist by simply being one to "follow the crowd", to not taint his making a name for himself from being labeled as "trash." Nope, he'd rather go on persecuting an entire race if it means he'd get ahead. Jean Louise calls him out on this, but her calls only go so far.

Granted, "Mockingbird" has its respective issues that are debatable, but it wasn't anywhere near as weak as this narrative was. The writing, the discussions, the dialogue, the overarching "messages" here - all of them were subpar and it offended the heck out of me, and not even for some measure of injustice as it was just sloppy handling of important themes. I was left saying "screw this book" ten times over when I was done and I know I'll never pick up this narrative again.

Overall score: 1/5 stars.

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