Adventures in Reading

Fiction: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

I was thrilled that I finished Twilight just before I had to go to work so I was able to almost immediately begin Meyer’s second book in her supernatural series New Moon. The second book in the series gets off to a bit of a rough start and the novel suffers from some “series syndrome” until roughly 20 to 30 pages in. I admit, I do not envy any writer composing those first pages of any books in a series. Bella and Edward pick up from the prom Twilight left the reader at, the two shortly part at Edward’s request, and Bella spends the next 300 pages emotionally suffering and discovering the secrets of Jacob Black.

New Moon is a novel of pathos. There is relatively little action that occurs and I found the plot line weak. In fact, nothing much really happens in New Moon. The book reads as a 500+ page stepping stone Meyer’s uses to get from the first book to the third and eventually fourth books of the series (I assume). I left New Moon with the sense of a very long serial providing near endless cliff hanging questions: What will happen with Victoria? What about the Volturi? Will Bella finally become a vampire? What about the treaty between the vampires and the werewolves?

I felt the book was too long and despite the emotional conflict resulting from Edward’s and Bella’s separation, I didn’t feel the novel in any way developed their relationship. Granted, New Moon turned to develop a relationship between Bella and Jacob, but I am sure most readers would agree it’s not nearly as dynamic and in part do to Bella’s immediate and ongoing rejection of Jacob. Upon finishing it, I felt the book could have been greatly condensed and been just as good.

Despite all of this, it didn’t stop me from gorging on New Moon within a little more than one sitting. I anxiously turned the pages (I confess to some scanning), my heart throbbed for Bella, and I am not ashamed to say my eyes were damp more than once. New Moon is a canvas that brilliantly displays one of Meyer’s great talents: representing emotion tension and demanding a response from her reader. [1] The novel also created a landscape I assume the remaining two books of the series will catapult from. Still, I didn’t feel as if it was as tightly packaged as Twilight and Meyer’s writing was not as well done (or as well hidden) as in her previous novel.

However, if you’ve read Twilight you have to read New Moon. And New Moon is by no means a bad book. But it’s a thinking book for Meyer, delving further into her created world, creating twists and turns that may otherwise have proven difficult in other settings, and constructing a firm enough base that the next two books ought not need such prolonged development.

[1] I must say that at least a few of my ~40+ co-workers have attempted this series and were wearied by it. They found the emotions draining, unconvincing, and unrealistic.

Other opinions: Kay’s Bookshelf, In the Louvre, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, American Bibliophile, Ax For the Frozen Sea, Muse Books Reviews, Book Nut, J. Kaye’s Book Blog, Literate Chick, and Stephanie’s Written Word.


Fiction: Twilight by Stephanie Meyers

When I decided to finally pick up a copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, half of my co-workers cheered while the others half groaned. This sensationally popular young adult series has been flying off the shelf, but I confess I have had relatively little attraction to it. First, I’m not much of a fan of vampires and particularly when these mythic creatures are explored in the traditional manner. That is strong, ethereal beauty, stylish, almost immortal – too near-perfect for my taste. I have similar sentiments towards werewolves, which is why I did find Sharp Teeth such an appealing book.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself swept away by Twilight. Bella has decided to move in with her estranged stepfather in Forks, Washington. Bella’s experience at her new school is dramatic and enticing to most any reader; she is immediately popular—particularly with her male peers—and attracts the attention of the bad boy of the school Edward Culleton: who happens to be a vampire. Meyer’s vampire story is not traditional in every sense as it unfolds in a suburban, high school environment and some vampires have acquired special characteristics, dare I say superpowers, carried over from their past human life.

Bella is the normal outsider favored in contemporary novels. Though placed on the edge of peer acceptance, she is an attractive, slender, intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken teenager. Her one flaw, beautifully represented throughout the novel by Meyers, is her clumsiness. Perhaps Bella’s most endearing quality is Meyer’s quality ability to inject high-school desires into Bella believably and simultaneously pulling (even long stagnant) heartstrings of the reader.

Vampire violence itself has a sexual connotation to it through penetration, passion, and spilling blood. Twilight is not exempt from this interpretation. Repeatedly throughout the text, Edward comments on how he must control himself from “taking [Bella],” which literally refers to drinking her blood but is a barely disguised euphemism for sex. The sexual tension throughout the book is taught and is one of the more alluring and well-written tensions in the book. Likewise, at the conclusion when the traditionally virginal Bella pleads with Edward to “change” her it’s likewise a reference of offering herself to Edward.

But Bella is no longer a “virgin.” Andrea Dworkin describes in her book Intercourse, when discussing Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The place of sex is moved to the throat; and the meaning of sex is in draining her body of all its blood.” When Bella is lured by the vampire James to the dance studio, is violently attacked, is bitten by him (though in the hand), and all while being videotaped—it’s an experience synonymous with a violent rape and at that a recorded violent rape.

The “vegetarianism” that the Culleton family has resigned themselves to, that is rather than attack humans they hunt and drink the blood of animals, is a rejection of vampirical violence and in a sense the sexual violence that accompanies it. The Culleton’s have refused the misogyny of their kind, which is an interesting parallel to Bella’s English report on the misogynistic tendencies of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

I admit, I am taken with the series and am looking forward to picking up the next book in the series Eclipse. Perhaps what I am even more impressed with though is that I would disagree with the oft heard banter that it’s a fun or fluff series: candy for the brain. An argument that too often cuts the legs out from under “children’s books” and refuses said books to be considered seriously. Though I still think roughly 50-pages could have been chopped from Twilight to make it a tighter novel, it really is a sensational book to read for pure enjoyment or literary interpretation.

Other opinions: books i done read, Necromancy Never Pays, Two-Legged Animal, and the Lit Connection.

Fiction: A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott perhaps best known for her novel Little Women (or the various film adaptations of it), which Alcott referred to as her “moral pap for the young,” much to my surprise had also written a good amount of other works. When I stumbled across A Long Fatal Love Chase at the library book sale, a book espousing on the cover “He stalker her every step—for she had become his obsession….” I couldn’t resist and in my continuing excursion to read the teetering stacks of books I already own I jumped right in.

A Long Fatal Love Chase is extremely different than Little Women. Alcott went to Europe with a friend for a trip much like a Grand Tour and upon returning immediately began writing to help with her family’s financial troubles. Alcott was asked to write 24-chapters for a pulp magazine though A Long Fatal Love Chase was not published until after Alcott’s death. It’s a romantic, dark, and scandalous novel of the fair Rosamond falling in love with the fiendish but dashing Philip Tempest. They marry and lead a gay life until Rosamond discovers that she has been duped: Tempest was already married.

If one of the Brontë sisters had taken it into her head to write a sweeping melodrama that unfolded across various countries of Europe from villas to impoverished apartments to mental asylums, Alcott’s novel would have been a reasonably good comparison. A Long Fatal Love Chase follows the story’s heroine as she attempts to escape Tempest and pursue her own freedom. The editor Kent Bicknell reminds the reader of Alcott’s reoccurring themes of “quest for physical, financial, intellectual, and spiritual independence” running through the novel.

I found the book fairly reminiscent of earlier novels such as Clarissa and the works of Radcliffe. Though Rosamond is not nearly as simpering or delicate as these other heroines, she does succumb to a rather pornographic death finale as if Tempest cannot have her no man will. Alcott is also a bit heavy handed with the symbolism and foreshadowing. Every second chapter of the book is also written as a bit of a cliffhanger and all together Alcott produced quite the sensational and titillating read. A Long Fatal Love Chase is a great contrast novel for anyone who has read her little men and women stories.

This book is available through Bookmooch.

Other opinions: the Book Mine Set.

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Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey

I finally got around to reading Fortune’s Fool from Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdom Series. It was actually seeing this book released in mass market that encouraged my interest in reading The Fairy Godmother and One Good Knight. Usually I try to avoid reviews of books I’m currently reading or just about to start, because I find I have a habit of determinately trying to agree or disagree with the review. For Fortune’s Fool, I did happen to come across a review (goodness knows where, perhaps on Amazon?) that did not look so favorable on the book.

The third novel in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series is quite different from its predecessors as the novel relies heavily on movement and scene changes. Katya, the Sea King’s Daughter, and Sasha, a Seventh Son and Fortunate Fool of the land kingdom Belrus, fall in love. During a mission to find a kidnapped Swan Princess and a Snow Woman, Katya allows herself to be magically stolen to discover that an evil Jinn is plucking women with magic abilities from their home. Katya’s story unfolds from her desert prison, but Sasha’s story has him meeting with numerous magical creatures and fanciful tales.

One of my favorite authors Walter Moers truly depends on movement through his story to maintain reader’s interest and this can be done terribly well or just terribly when authors employ this almost flippant regard to scenery and happenstance. Lackey does a good job with this and more closely follows the precise tales in Fortune’s Fool than she has in the previous books in the series. Additionally, while The Tradition is always an important force in the series, in Fortune’s Fool it exists as something of a backdoor yet grounding force. A Jinn, or fire spirit, does not belong in this part of the Kingdoms and the Tradition really has no path to follow but instead offers suggestions.

In short, Fortune’s Fool veers away from what otherwise would have been set ideas for the series.

The book does not go perfectly smoothly either: the beginning’s rough with a bizarre House of Flying Daggers (the movie) scene, Lackey spends time poorly interlacing Japanese and Russian folklore, Lackey moves away from really reinterpreting the tales, the lonely, and the virgin princess is becoming tiresome regularity, as are the bloody Unicorns.

As far as the series goes, you do not have to read these books in order but it does help. Ella from The Fairy Godmother flits into One Good Knight, and the dragons Adamant and Gina from One Good Knight are the champions in Fortune’s Fool. It also offers you a better grasp on Lackey’s capitalized pursuit of Champions, Seventh Sons, Fairy Godmother’s, and so forth. You can assume what is going on and will probably be right if you read these books out of order.

Another fun and enjoyable read I wiled away my rainy day off with.

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One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey

“…Champions were who you turned to when all was lost. Champions were the rescuers of the hopeless, the protectors of the innocent and, above all, the warriors no amount of money could buy.”

My curiosity was peeked with The Fairy Godmother and I quickly found myself scanning the library shelves to pick up the next title in Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series One Good Knight. The second title of this series takes the reader into another of the Five Hundred Kingdoms to watch how The Tradition interacts with the inhabitants.

What is an academic princess supposed to do when dragons attack? Andromeda – also known as Andie – gets to experience this question when the kingdom of Acadia is attacked by a dragon. Resulting from the questionable motives of her mother Queen Cassiopeia, Andie is offered up as dragon fodder and must rely on the help of a mysterious Champion to save her and the kingdom.

I enjoyed One Good Knight as much as I enjoyed The Fairy Godmother. It was a fun read, an enjoyable re-exploration of various fairy tales, though the introduction of it was somewhat more transparent. Lackey does explore some interesting territory though with magical gender bias, a female Champion, and a lovesick dragon. These are more then compensation to make up for the weaker beginning.

It was interesting having a hero wearing glasses (or “oculars”) and desiring to keep her nose in a book. Lackey continues with a virgin princess emphasis (the Unicorn jokes are becoming slightly stale, but still funny in the same way that I can’t help occasionally laugh at Saturday Night Live when I tune in), but Andie is significantly different from the helpless or overly prepared oft seen alternatives.

However, once again I found myself scanning the last quarter or so of the book. From the two Lackey books I have read, she seems to favor and rely very much on a plot line that depends on the rising action and as a result the climax has too much to live up to and the epilogue is very much an easy way to escape a more well-constructed resolution. [1] Lackey is definitely an author where the journey is the meaningful and engaging aspect of the novel rather than the conclusion.

Overall, an okay and entertaining read for a rainy day. I did find this one reminiscent of Jane Gaskell’s The Serpent.

[1] (1) The introduction, (2) the rising action, (3) the climax, (4) and the epilogue.

My review of The Fairy Godmother.

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The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

For a long time I have considered myself a fan of fantasy, though truth be known I am more a fan of Terry Pratchett who is considered a fantasy author. From time to time, I get the urge to strike out into new fantastical geographies and most recently, I stumbled across Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series. This series is Lackey’s exploration of western classical fairytales, but rather than simply retelling the story, Lackey grasps the source at the root.

In the world of Five Hundred Kingdoms is The Tradition or “The way that magic tries to set things on a particular course […] And there are dozens and dozens of […] tales that The Tradition is trying to recreate, all the time, and perhaps one in a hundred actually becomes a tale.” In The Fairy Godmother Witches, Hedge-Wizards, Sorcerers, Sorceresses but particularly Godmothers and Wizards herd this power. Like shepherds finding sheep, when a Godmother observes a story unfolding she will recommend (with a few nudges and prods) the story towards a correct or better direction.

Elena Klovis was born to be a Cinderella, but once her eighteenth birthday passes and no prince has appeared her story begins to follow another course. Her stepfamily leaves town because of outstanding debts and Godmother Bella appears in town to recruit Elena. From here, The Fairy Godmother follows Elena through her training, her involvement in fairy tales, and finally a romantic tryst with a Champion that breaks and smashes all the established rules of The Tradition.

The Fairy Godmother is a fun book and the first in what looks to be a promising series exploring fairy tales and possibly how to break them. I did find the book in parts too long and a little too detailed. The risk of retelling known stories, no matter how delightful a fashion, is that your reader is already familiar with the tale and usually the outcome and thus I found myself scanning the last thirty pages or so. In addition, Lackey seemed to have many ideas for The Fairy Godmother that could have spilled over into a second book. Lackey definitely incorporates ideas and themes from the romance genre into this book, which I am not such a fan of. [1]

I enjoyed my adventures with Mercedes Lackey’s The Fairy Godmother, it was a pleasant book, and I am looking forward to picking up the second book in the series One Good Knight for more light reading. It also feels good to spread my fledging fantasy wings a bit more.

[1] There is nothing wrong with sex, violence, “bad words,” etc. in a book if it serves a purpose and makes sense. But (as with The Fairy Godmother) if it can be removed and doesn’t detract from the story, I find it superfluous and more often than not a bit ridiculous.

My review on One Good Knight.

It’s Not You, It’s Your Books
May 12, 2008, 2:15 pm
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , ,

Thanks to my partner, an interesting article on love and books or more specifically about falling in love with people who read the right or wrong books.

I can’t say I’ve ever become too upset because of people’s lack of familiarity with Pushkin, but I can entirely understand dating someone in regards to their books. Seriously. I cannot imagine not dating an avid reader. Granted, I don’t demand taste alignment as my current partner’s tastes are quite the opposite from mine: non-fiction and poetry.