Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LEGEND by Marie Lu

Genre: Dystopian, action
Rating: ***
Pages: 305
Series: One sequel so far, titled Prodigy
Why I read this book: Because I have a dystopia addiction.
Day and June are from seperate worlds. She's a prodigy. A military genius. The Republic's golden girl. He's the Republic's most wanted street criminal.
While Day's concerned with keeping himself alive, she's tracking down her brother's killer. And all signs point to Day.
The first thing that stands out when you crack open the cover is the ink. Not the words, but the ink they're printed in. Told from both points of view, June's chapters are normal and Day's are written in gold ink. That way you can always tell who's doing the talking. Why don't more authors do this?
June is a butt-kicking, action-packing, cool and ruthless heroine. Yet her character is nearly flat. Same with Day. They have all the skills they need, both physical and mental. They can scale buildings, win street fights, identify and crush all threats. Those should come in handy. The only emotions are when they're concerned for a loved one in mortal peril. Memorable characters they are not.
June's not the only girl in Day's life. There's Tess. For years they've survived on the streets together. Running, fighting, and avoiding the cops. And that makes her...the girl in Day's life. Yes, you read that right. It's possible for a guy to have a girlfriend who doesn't fall in love with him by the end.
Legend is a tense, dystopian adventure with an explosive and bittersweet ending.

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 276
Rating: ***
Cover: I haven't seen anything this awesome for a while. Look, there's Rosie in the corner.

Kyra never wanted to be a Seer. She's a Master Potioner and a highly respected one at that. But when she has a vision of her best friend, Princess Ariana, destroying the kingdom, she knows what she had to do.
A failed assassination leaves Kyra alone and friendless. With the help of her potions kit, a handsome rogue named Fred, and a magical princess tracking pig, it's up to Kyra to save the kingdom. No matter what the cost.
Ariana is my favorite character. I expected her a cookie cutter rebel princess.
I don't want to get married, I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen firing arrows into the sunset!
No. She likes adventures and knows how to use a throwing dagger, but she has an actual personality. She's the type of girl who would cut her own hair to make a false mustache just because she can. It's interesting to see the princess as a threat to the kingdom.
Poison is supposed to be set in your typical medieval European fantasy kingdom. They've got swords, queens, castles, and walking is the primary mode of transportation. Kyra stops in the nearest inn whenever she's not walking. One of the inns has a concierge. Another has a full kitchen with pots and pans in Fred's room. The dialogue is anachronistic too. Kyra uses the words guy, mom, and scram. Then they start throwing water balloons.
But hey, I like poison filled water balloons as much as the next girl. And Rosie the tracking pig made up for it. So did Kyra and Fred. Their relationship is so real. When Kyra thinks the smartest thing she can do is ditch Fred, she's right. Ruggedly handsome young rogues aren't the safest company. When she later realizes she's made a mistake, she's right too. Ruggedly handsome young rogues are often the best company you can hope for. He's not Sir Perfect, at your service whenever you need it. He's a real person with his own goal and secrets. Some of them are a threat to Kyra.      
Poison is an intriguing, twisting fantasy novel.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Females, Characters, and Female Characters

I've noticed a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about strong female characters. Most of the posts seem to have a couple of paragraphs devoted to Bella vs. Katniss, so I'll just get that over right away.
Let's see...Bella Swann...seventeen year old female in the first book. Just like Katniss in the third one! Let's see, what else do they have in common? Dark hair, dark eyes, mammals.
Now that's over. Onto the post!
Classic females tend to do this:

Eventually that got boring, so modern females tend to do this:

No fainting allowed until you've been clubbed over the head with a rifle. Nowadays damsels are largely discredited. If I see a cartoon princess in a frilly dress, I expect her to pick up a sword and cause some distress.
But these work too.
Whenever I read modern classics like A Wrinkle in Time or To Kill a Mockingbird, I come off unimpressed. I don't live in a time when girls are taught to be ladies. My school has girls' football with male cheerleaders. The word tomboy has no meaning for me.
Does that mean times have changed? All females are now strong, well developed characters?
Yeah...but no. Swooning and tower-sitting are taboo. But girls who do nothing but blow stuff up and look sexy can be just as flat as girls who do nothing but await rescue and look pretty.
My biggest complaint is how the power trio almost always consists of two boys and one girl (If you want an inverse, I highly recommend the TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow).

And I'm definitely not posting the movie picture for the next one. Ugh. And now they're making a sequel. At least Clarisse is in this one.

Three's a good number. You can have a hero, his best friend, and his girlfriend, or a girl in the middle of a love triangle. All three of these are good stories. You can't disown a book because it doesn't have enough women in it, but girls will be sure to take note.
In The Lightning Thief, Percy goes on a quest to rescue his mom with Annabeth and Grover. He and Annabeth rescue Grover in Sea of Monsters. When Annabeth's taken in Titan's Curse, Percy saves her not because she's his girlfriend but because she's a valuable member of the team. She's saved his life plenty of other times. Ginny-who's not even part of Harry's trio-gets rescued in the second book. She's just Ron's sister at this point. But by the fifth book, she joins Dumbledore's Army and becomes a love interest. It's okay to let girls tower-sit for a while so long as they carry their own weight for the rest of the story.
There's a difference between strong female characters and female strong characters. The first means she can take out bad guys. The second means she's well developed.  Smart. Grumpy. Manipulative. Witty. Seductive. Funny. Creepy. Anything.
What bothers me most is readers who treat each strong female like a new discovery. If a guy punches a monster, it's an action scene. If a girl does it, she's an action girl. I even saw one book review where the reader praised a certain novel for containing a 'strong female heroine'. Does it also have a woman widow? Or a girl princess? Or a male man? Do they all work for the Department of Redundancy Department?
If you want an action girl, pick a civilization and go through their mythology. They've been around for a good long while. If you want a girl who carries her own story without a male character's help, congratulations. You live in the twenty-first century.
Some books put a strong heroine in, but can't go four pages without reminding you. I don't want to read a chapter long ramble about why Princess Punchalot doesn't tower-sit. Just show her doing something else and I'll believe you.
This excerpt is from Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George. Princess Petunia is knitting during a long carriage ride when they're attacked by bandits.

     She...tucked all four needles and the yarn into the basket on the seat beside her, pulling out her pistol as she did. She checked the bullets, then cocked the weapon.
     "Oh, Your Highness!" Maria was scandalized, but she had the good sense to whisper, at least. "Put it away!"
   "They aren't taking my jewelry," Petunia said.

Adults seem to be concerned about role models in YA literature for girls. I don't hear this for boys. Apparently they don't need role models.
Have I ever been jealous of girls with awesome monster slaying powers? Yup. Boys too. Do I channel these girls as I slay my inner demons? Yup. Boys too. Do I look up to them as role models? Nope. Boys either.
My favorite characters are the girls who find strength without a gun. Like Risa in Unwind or Anna in The Declaration. Sometimes you don't need to kick butts and take names. Sometimes the boys need somebody to keep them from killing each other every few minutes.
I'm sick of being told we need role models. If I think I need one, I'll find one in the real world. What I want from books is heroes. Reading about killers won't make me a killer. Girls in books usually have good reasons to kill people. I don't. Reading about petty, boy crazy girls won't make me petty and boy crazy. It will make me laugh at them. Reading about weak girls who don't stick up for themselves will make me toss the paperback down and look for something better to do.
Teenagers aren't stupid and sheeplike as most adults believe. We are not 'influenced' by every fictional character. We have our own personalities, motives, and goals. We're pretty strong characters on our own.

“I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”
-Natalie Portman

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Genre: Fantasy
Rating: *** (liked it)
Pages: 290
Series: First of a trilogy
Laurel always knew she was different. She was left on her parents' doorstep at age four, homeschooled for eleven years, and she's a ridiculously light eater. And then a flower started growing out of her back.
With the help of her (only) friend, the geeky David, and a mysterious boy named Tamani, Laurel discovers she's a faerie. She was sent from the Avalon to the human world to save it from a troll invasion. And if that wasn't bad enough, the trolls know where she lives.
David's nothing like typical love interests. He's nice but nerdy, the kind of guy you can actually imagine running into at high school. And what's more, he actually likes Laurel. He doesn't ignore her while she lusts after him. He's not infatuated with her. It's a bonafide, genuine crush.
"Whatever you need, I'll be. If you need the science geek to give you answers from a textbook, I'm your guy; if you just want a friend to sit by you in bio and help you feel better when you're sad, I'm still your guy...and if you need someone to hold you and protect you from anyone in the world who might want to hurt you, then I am definitely your guy. But it's all up to you."
-page 101
David's sweet. I laughed every time he invited Laurel over to study or stare at stuff under a microscope. Education. Sure. Would you two just kiss already? When they finally do, he bills it as an 'experiment' to see if Laurel exhales oxygen.
Pike takes a new twist with faeries by making them sentient plants. It sounds bizarre at first, but she explores this possibility and grounds it into reality. Saltwater is bad for plants, so Laurel won't go swimming in the ocean. She's a light eater because she gets most of her nutrients through photosynthesis. When she does eat, it's bunny food like spinach and peaches.
Faerie cuisine. 
Laurel herself teeters on the brink of Mary Sue territory.
"Adolescence had been kind to her. Her almost translucent white skin hadn't suffered the effects of acne and her blond hair had never been greasy.  She was a small, lithe fifteen-year-old with a perfectly oval face and light green eyes.  She'd always been thin, but not too thin, and had even developed some curves in the last few years. Her limbs were long and willowy and she walked with a dancer's grade, despite having never taken lessons."
-page 7
But again, plant. They don't get acne. It makes sense that faeries are graceful. Wings is a refreshing and intriguing start to a fantasy trilogy.