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Of Goliaths and Leviathans and Fictional Relationship Happy Buttons™.

Yesterday, right before work, I finished Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth. And then instantaneously wanted to flog myself for not having brought Goliath with me as well for the trip back, toting about two hefty hardcovers at once be damned.

I more than made up for this once I got home, however, and promptly pulled my Bookslut Energizer Bunny trick. By which I mean I picked up Goliath, intending to read just a few snippets before bed (and save the rest for the train today)…but then I just kept reading…and reading…and reading…

And to make a not-very-long story even shorter, I could not put the book down, instead very happily chewing my way through 500+ pages in a handful of hours and refusing sleep until I was finished, ’round four am.

(Waking up for work in the morning also be damned. Who needs sleep when you’ve got books?)

I woke up roughly four hours later, still in a ridiculously happy post-book haze…until I crashed at the junction of ‘dammit why did I do that I was not ready for it to be over‘ and ‘what the hell do I read now and what could possibly follow this‘, anyway.

Regardless, I regret nothing. Oh my god.

I’m not going to do up a proper review — not now, at least; I’m still far too booklove-hazy to really think straight or be coherent.

But, for now, I at least have to say this:

Alek and Deryn hit almost every single one of my Fictional Relationship Happy Buttons™. ♥

Which are as follows!
 
 
1. ‘Oh balls I’m in love with my best friend.’ Now, I understand the fairytale-esque appeal of that magical sparkly (sometimes literally) moment where Beautiful Princess Damsel takes one singular look at Studly Prince Heromuffin and knows, instantenously and irrevocably, that he is her One True Love Forever and Ever (at least until the third part of a love triangle inevitably comes along). I do. Fairytales are supposed to resonate with us, after all, and that is certainly something ripped straight out of one.

However, it also has a tendency to bore me near to tears.

If I am going to become emotionally invested in a pairing, if I am going to root for them, then I need something to invest myself in. Something to root for. I want to watch them grow, both separately and together. I want to see for myself just how they fit, instead of just being summarily informed that, well, they do.

And personally, I think that being in love with your best friend is a million times more romantic and wonderful than some random mystical connection with the nearest brooding stranger (no matter how glittery he may be).
 
 
2. Couples repeatedly rescuing each other. Note the key words here: Each other. I’m all for the whole romantic rescue thing, as much as anyone else — so why just have one character only ever rescue the other, when you can have twice as much fun by making it mutual? And why not make both characters that endearing and strong, instead of just the one?

The more your readers have to root for the better, after all.
 
 
3. Highborn/commoner pairs. This has been a fictional vice of mine since childhood, for which I fully blame my favourite childhood series. (It had quite a bit of highborn/lowborn drama, and it was all very darling and apparently stuck with me for all of these years.) It’s instant relationship conflict, without vampirism! Fancy that.
 
 
4. Secrets. No character trait will endear me to a character more than, well, their traits not actually being known. If you add a relationship into the mix, the elements of unravelling one another and acceptance…nothing sells me faster. (And I’m particularly fond of these two for having said secrets involve genderbending, incidentally.)
 
 
These books execute all of these things rather flawlessly, and could have probably stolen my heart on the merits of that alone, even if the rest of the plotting and worldbuilding wasn’t fantastic as well.

And so, all in all?

Why the hell isn’t more YA like this? (Or any sort of romance plot in fiction, really.)

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Yes, my first blog post of the new year does indeed begin with an exclamation point.

!

Yes, my first blog post of the new year does indeed begin with an exclamation point. I feel like it deserves one.

Because, after more than two years of living here, I have finally discovered the perfect nearby coffeeshop to write in. ♥

It’s adorable. All a sunny sort of yellow that somehow I find comforting (which is impressive in its own right, as I tend to prefer either cooler blues or darkly warm autumn colours), except for an endearingly eclectic mix of monochromed pictures (random artsy sketches on one wall; black and white inks of actors and actresses on the other) and black sofas and chairs to match them. The coffee itself is wonderful, too — I tried their house blend, straight black, as my way of testing out any new coffee place, and was quite pleasantly surprised by it. (They also apparently do a chai plus green tea smoothie, which means that I now have a gigantic problem and will probably never drink anything else again.)

But really, if I’m going to be honest, what completely sold me on the place was their repeatedly playing Craig David, and I am not even bothering to be ashamed by this. In my own defense, I am a sucker for British music and I’d not heard him in years, which helps to explain my excitement when I realised just what was on. Plus, now that I have heard him again, it occurs to me that I’d probably quite enjoy writing to his music, as well, as it alternates between just the right kind of cheerfully bouncy and just the right kind of relaxing that I need to both stay energetic and to help envelope myself in my work.

All in all, I think I’m going to make it a habit to spend a good bit of time in there writing on my days off, and maybe even put in some early-morning writing jaunts too before I have to go to the day job. Hopefully, I can get a lot accomplished this way. ♥

Between that, and my finally discovering my love for Virginia Woolf recently as well, what with choosing Mrs. Dalloway as my first book of the year, 2012 is off to a damned good start. :)

4

“prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art…” (the gods are in flight.)

I had decided that I wasn’t going to come back to this blog until the new year. One of my most important resolutions, you see, is to get it all prettied up and properly rearranged just how I’d like it (even with its own domain), and I didn’t particularly want to be lingering in the proverbial house until all of the remodeling was done.

Except then there was a book — A Book, even — and now it’s all I can do to not buy every single copy of it I can find and pass them out to random people on the street, let alone stop myself from talking about it.

I’d been quite decided, up until this point. It had been effortless to choose my favourite book of 2011 (Will Lavender’s Dominance, just as his Obedience resoundingly won the same honour several years back); I knew which other books had come in very close behind (The Night Circus and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Liesl & Po); and I wasn’t hoping for anything more than a few simply entertaining reads before the year’s end.

It was with that attitude that I wandered into a library a week or two ago.

Now. I admit freely that I am not a reading-from-the-library sort of girl. I’m very much of the library in general sort; I love being in them and everything about them and most especially their smell. But when it comes to actual reading, I prefer to just buy my books, because what I really want is a sprawling personal library of my own.

So when I went in, I was not really expecting to loan anything out, but decided to wander over to a particular bookcase of A’s anyway and see if any Atwood struck my fancy at the mo’.

Instead of Atwood, though, I somehow ended up toting out two books of random Arabic fiction (an anthology and The Yacoubian Building), to round out my finishing an ARC of American Dervish just before.

And then there was my even more random find of Laura Argiri’s The God in Flight.

The God was a complete whim; I don’t generally favour Victorian romances, though I do adore the general writing style itself. (Take Wuthering Heights, for instance. I thought it was beautiful stylistically and so wanted badly to enjoy it, but in the end the story and characters themselves just made me want to chuck the damn thing at the wall.) And while I thought the fact it was a gay Victorian romance novel was at least an interesting twist, it was one that very easily could have gone wretchedly wrong with bad writing, especially when you add in the dubious student/teacher element as well.

But, for the hell of it, I scooped them all up and took them home.

I read The Yacoubian Building first, and while I was decently impressed with its social commentary, I was not so impressed with the writing itself. Either the original text or the translation had a peculiar lack of decisiveness: It refused to skirt around potentially inflamatory issues such as homosexuality and religious views, but yet unnecessary and unconsequential details were crammed into parenthetical asides on nearly every other page. It was as if the author or translator couldn’t bring himself to believe that they deserved to be worked into the text proper, but also could not bring himself to actually omit them entirely. And these paranthetical asides stood out all the more painfully, considering the brazenness of the text they were shoved inside, and I was too distracted by them to really enjoy the book’s better points.

Once I was finished with it, I decided to let it sit for a while and give myself a little break from the Arabic fiction streak, and picked up The God in Flight.

Within a few pages, I knew that I would enjoy it, that her style of writing is exactly the kind I do enjoy. Within a few chapters, it was already beginning to leave me breathless.

I hope that anyone reading this knows the feeling that I’m talking about. The way that certain books can make you feel as though you’re breathing underwater, where you just want to give up on air entirely because this is so much cleaner and pure, and you’re beyond caring about the practicalities of doing such a thing.

This book was that for me, the first in I can’t even remember how long.

And I knew less than halfway through that I already wanted to announce it as one of my favourite books of all time, first placing it in the top five and then into the top three. This does not normally happen easily, but for this book, it did. I was afraid it had been too easy, that I’d thought this too soon and that the ending would somehow undo everything and leave me regretting it.

It did not.

For the first time I think ever, the ending to the book made me cry. Not because it was sad, or because it was happy, or even because it ached that it was over. Not anything like that.

No. I looked at the last paragraph, which in itself swelled with all of the beauty the book had held, and for the first time ever I cried because I was looking at something so damn beautiful that I couldn’t not.

I can’t speak any more strongly for this book than that. I am not a person given to such things easily, or without bloody good reason.

And even Dominance can’t pretend to hold a candle to this. Not much of anything can, to be honest.

And there’s one more reason for that, as well: This woman has just as terrifyingly amazing a grasp on people as she does on language.

There’s a special flavour of nutcase that is the abusive backwoods West Virginian zealot and absolutely nothing else, and she nails it. I can personally vouch for this, having been raised by one of said nutcases myself. And there’s a special flavour of person that comes from being forcibly and unwillingly raised in such an environment, and she nails that, too. I can vouch for that one as well, being that my childhood was in essence Simion’s own, only plus a century or so and minus the physical abuse.

She gets it. She gets it in a way that I didn’t think any other kind of person ever could. She gets it and she moulds it and she offered up the most achingly perfect picture of what can come after, of the way that even endless pools of filth can be made to reflect something beautiful in the end.

It’s that that I believe in most of all, and to see it carved out in such exquisite prose was one of the single best things I could ever have asked for, here going into this new year. I’ve already bought a used copy of it for myself, despite still having the library’s here in the house; this is one of those grab-in-a-housefire books, the ones that I can’t bear to be without even moreso than books in general.

So do yourself a favour. Give yourself a final year-end gift.

And get your own copy of this book. It’s out of print, now (and what publishing twit let that happen, jesusgod), and you can find the used copies of it online for nearly nothing. You’ve really nothing to lose.

I won’t even say I told you so.

(But I am totally telling you so. ♥)

2

In which I finally find my niche, and love on Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po.

A long chat with a rather lovely customer the other day finally confirmed something I’ve been slowly coming to realise over the course of this year.

See, when people ask me, “Oh, what do you read?” my answer is always, invariably, “Everything!” And I am not exaggerating in the least, because I do.

Every kind of fantasy, science fiction both hard and soft, science non-fiction (experimental physics! ♥), oh my god I love all sorts of mysteries (classical and cosy alike), psychology (Jung, anyone?), general fiction, general nonfiction, classics, YA, certain middle-grade (Holly Lisle’s Moon & Sun trilogy springs immediately to mind), reference books, picture books… The only things I can think of that I don’t regularly read are probably political books and fluffball romances.

But out of all of that, out of the more-or-less-everything that I read, I think my most favourite thing in the entire world is magical realism.

I’d wondered, once, if it was just urban fantasy that I loved the best, but no. At the end of the day, it’s magical realism that has the particular flavour that I truly crave. It’s the sort of world that I myself want to create with my own words.

It’s even perfectly illustrated, too, by so many of my absolute all-time favourite books: Good Omens, The Little Prince, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Neverwhere (and almost everything else Neil Gaiman has ever written, really), the Harry Potter series, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

And so many of my favourite books from this year are in fact gorgeous examples of magical realism as well: Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Lauren Oliver’s Liesl & Po.

Which brings me to my next point.

I love Liesl & Po.

I love it, I love it, I love it.

I’ve talked before about what a wonderful feeling it is to finally see a book you adore in print (probably it’s the next best thing to seeing your own book in print, I would venture to say). Finally seeing Liesl & Po in print took that one step further.

Namely, seeing it for the first time on a cart stacked high with other books, buried roughly in the middle of said stack — and promptly getting so excited that I immediately dropped to my knees and proceeded to play Epic Book Jenga to dig it out, just so I could finally hold and fawn over a finished copy.

Yeah. That is how much I love this book.

And if that does not tempt you to go pick up a copy of your very own (and then every single other book I mention in this post, if you’ve not already!), then you are hopeless I do not know what would. ♥

2

On finding the meaning of life in science-fiction writers and cats. (Translation: Yeah, I’m still a hippie nerd, and proud. ♥)

Dear Ray Bradbury:

Where the hell have you been all my life?

With sudden but-not-really-surprised love,
Me.

I finally had my first taste of Bradbury today — The October Country. (No, not Fahrenheit 451.) And even my boycat was almost instantly delighted:

I was sold from the very beginning, myself, from the forward about writing that spoke of May I Die Before My Voices. I sympathised and agreed and just continued to fall steadily more in love…at least, when my cat wasn’t using it as a pillow, anyway.

Reading Bradbury almost reminds me of some of the things I love best about reading Stephen King, only more polished. Poetic. With less man-eating cars.

Needless to say, I am a happy happy girl, and will undoubtedly produce more squee on this subject forthwith.

But the happiest discovery of the day was this:

Meet Halo and Nell, Boycat and Girlcat #2. (And please do ignore the incongruous smatterings of pink smeared about the bed; such things tend to inexplicably happen when I am involved. Please don’t ignore my puppy pillow-pet and beloved stuffed kitty Smokey, however, because they are cute and I would be sad.)

Now, Halo and Nell do not normally get on. At all.

It’s not through any fault of their own, really. Nell was a stray, declawed in all four feet and then dumped by some even-I-don’t-have-enough-profanity-to-fill-this-void into a goddamn New England winter. Needless to say, it’s a wonder she managed to survive at all, and did so with injuries to the face and head that I think damaged both her sense of smell and hearing, making her even more skittish and afraid than she was doomed to be regardless.

And she only did survive because some family happened upon her and took her in, giving her to their older mother to look after and take care of. The woman did so, getting her medical attention and giving her as much general attention as she could — but as it turned out, the woman was unknowingly allergic. No one else wanted Nell, but neither would the woman just dumb her off again, so Nell ended up mostly confined to a back hallway, where she couldn’t set off the allergies as badly, but she couldn’t be properly socialised, either.

But she also ended up on Craigslist, and I saw her, and I couldn’t say no.

I emailed the woman, who was bizarrely surprised — she hadn’t even thought of putting Nell on the site herself, and it was done by a vet assistant without her knowledge. But while she was surprised and intimidated, she liked me, and so we arranged a meeting.

Long story short (we’ll ignore the bit where she pulled up outside my flat and indicated I should meet Nell in her car, and I then willingly got into a car with some stranger from Craigslist because holy shit there’s a cat, shall we–), I liked Nell, too, and she stayed home with me that day. ♥

I can’t say that Nell liked me too, not then. Understandably, Nell didn’t like too much of anything, and had moodswings to match any hormone-addled teenage girl. (Ever hear a cat purr and hiss at the exact same time? Ever been viciously bitten and then immediately sweetly groomed? No? Then you haven’t met Nell.)

So I employed the patented Jacey Kitty-Taming Method, and gave her lots and lots of hugs anyway. (You think I’m kidding. I am not. Much like I will wander into cars with strangers from Craigslist for the sake of a cat, my reaction to a cat attempting to maul my face off is in fact to just give it a giant hug.)

You will also think I am kidding when I say that the patented Jacey Kitty-Taming Method works. But Nell is an entirely different kitty, now. ♥ She is still nervous and mood-swing-tastic, yes, but she both accepts affection and the fact that she wants it. She sleeps in bed with us — alternating sides to be nearest the one of us who is most awake, and more likely to give her pets. She sits and sleeps in my lap. She happily smashes her face into mine to purr. She grooms me more than she gnaws me. She lets me scoop her up and dance around with her in my panties to K-pop. (Which I do in fact do. I admit it. I’ve no shame.)

The one major issue still left unresolved was Halo.

Halo, bless him, is an extraordinarily stupid creature. He’s the apple of his mommy’s eye, to be sure, but even that kind of maternal adoration will not stop me from admitting that, yes, he really is that dumb. (His favourite hobby is eating curling ribbon, for the love of god.)

And so when Halo decided that Nell was a shiny and thusly deserving of being his friend, he went about making her acquaintance by stalking up behind her, attempting to shove his nose into her bum without warning, then crying at me in piteous confusion when her immediate reaction was to growl. And the more she rebuffs him, the more he cries, which probably just annoys her even more too. Then Extreme Pattycake ensues.

Lather rinse repeat. Every bleeding day.

She’s too nervous to trust other cats, and he’s too stupid to catch onto the fact he really ought to let her alone or at least approach her in a somewhat less obnoxious way, so you can understand my concern about these two.

And you can understand how happy I was when I wandered into the bedroom this afternoon, and saw what I did. :)

Because at the end of the day, what can matter more than things like this?

1

Booksluttery: Let yourself become enthralled.

I’ve been sensing a theme with rather a lot of my favourite books that I’ve read thus far this year.

Said books include:

• Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Read the first chapter, if you haven’t yet already and don’t believe me!)
• Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus
• Lauren Oliver’s Liesl and Po

(Hilariously and ironically, my favourite book I have read thus far this year is resoundingly Will Lavender’s Dominance. But then again, Will Lavender generally has that sort of reaction with me — nothing in 2009 came close to touching his Obedience, either. For lack of a better term, this man’s writing gets my proverbial bookslut rocks off, and hard.)

Modern-day fairytales, and modern retellings of fairytales, things that are more fantastical than even fantasy, really do seem to be making a resurgance these days.

And while I normally don’t pay much attention to or care much about current writing trends (my brain does as it will, and I’ve long since given up even attempting to argue), this is one that I actually fit into, that I can actually get behind.

The world needs all the magic it can get, now. ♥

And what better place to find it than inside books?

Maybe it’s a neccessity even moreso than a trend; fairytales are reminders that the world can be fascinating and beautiful, even amidst the dangers and the filth. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is enthralling; fascinating, yes, but still with an element of danger and threat involved.

Maybe this is what resonates with the world at large, right now. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t resonate with me.

So go take a peek at The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland for now, and make a note to hunt down The Night Circus and Liesl & Po when they come out, and tell me what you think! ♥

(And then if you need a break from the fantastical, go get yourself a copy of Dominance, too. You can thank me later.)

2

Booksluttery: On Lauren DeStefano’s Wither and Will Lavender’s Dominance.

There are a lot of things I love about working in a bookstore. (Okay, really, I love everything. I don’t even mind the uncertainty of it, with the publishing industry the way it is, because at least if I’m going to go down I’m going to go down doing something I love.)

But there are definitely moments I adore above all of the rest — two of which have happened very recently, and one of them today. :)

One is the moment where you see a copy of a book that you already read and loved as an advance copy finally sitting out on a shelf, ready for others to find and fall in love with in their turn.

The second is that moment where you discover a shiny new advance copy — of a book that you’ve been waiting and waiting for months (if not years) to read. And knowing that not only is your wait over, your wait was even cut short.

 
We’re going to talk about two very different books, now.
 

Scenario A, here, revolves around Lauren DeStefano’s book Wither. Admittedly, I don’t read much YA these days — I do enjoy it when it’s done well, but I’m particular and, as a result, reluctant to just try my luck with random examples. I’ll dive into YA if I’m already familiar with the author (Neil Gaiman and Kelley Armstrong come to mind) or if the book is personally recommended to me by a trusted friend, but that’s generally as far as it goes.

However, I’m happy to admit it. I’m one of those people.

I judge books based off their covers.

Not solely, of course (Twilight, I am looking at you), but it can help to push me over the edge in my bookslutting decisions. I love books — the physical objects — almost as much as I love stories, so I have no problem separating an actual book from its content and viewing it just as an art piece. Ergo, even if the tale just drives me up the proverbial wall, I’ll still have something beautiful to display in my library.

The world needs all the beautiful things it can get, these days.

Enter an advance copy of Wither.

I glanced at it and almost instantaneously dismissed it as untested YA — and then I actually looked at it. And I fell a little bit in love.

Go to your local bookstore. Pick it up. Flip through the pages. (Look at the beautiful typography in the beginning, showcasing a quote from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, and hopefully smile just as hard as I did. Maybe it’s one of your favourite poems, too.)

The book’s designer, Lizzy Bromley, is something of a genius, if you ask me.

Needless to say, I stopped worrying about the book’s content and just very happily took it home. Words are an art form all their own, after all, and they can inspire me in and of themselves even if the sentences they form do not.

But, as it turned out, the sentences did inspire me, and the story snared me much like its house. It’s a glitterdark sort of tale — showcasing that sort of debris and grit that serves to reflect shine, a not-so-hidden weakness of mine.

I won’t outline the actual content here. I’d much rather you see the story’s summary on the back of the book itself, because even if it’s not typically your cup of tea, hopefully the typography at least will impress you.

But the point is, it’s both beautiful and actually deserving of its design. That can be a damned hard thing to find.
 

And that said, onwards to Scenario B! This one centres on a man named Will Lavender, and one of the hardest fucks my brain has ever had.

In February of 2009, I picked up a book called Obedience. I devoured it, and, upon reaching its end, was promptly depressed.

Not only because the book was over, but because I knew that, for all that it was only February, I had already just torn through the best damn book I would read all that year.

(I wasn’t wrong — though Stephen King’s The Dark Tower could tie with damn near anything, if you ask me — and neither was I complaining.)

I discovered, afterwards, that Will Lavender was working on a second novel, called Dominance. And my general reaction was roughly along the lines of “yesnowgodmoreplease” like the good little bookslut that I am.

I waited.

I waited.

I waited.

I tried wanting harder, as though that might help.

And, finally, today.

I came across the advance copy of Dominance, waiting just for me. ♥
 

Books have a magic all their own, and it’s moments like these that remind me of why.
 

(And, if you were wondering, my other favourite moment working with books? When someone comes up to me to purchase a copy of Good Omens, and I get to beam ridiculously at them as I excitedly announce that it is my favourite book forever and ever. Every single time. ♥)