A Whole New World – DNF

Liz Braswell’s A Whole New World is such a waste of potential. As with any book that has more than one attractive cover–I particularly like the style of the reprint covers for the series–the contents being less attractive is a major let-down. But it’s also a waste of a fun idea. The series is called “Twisted Tales” to reflect the concept that each book is basically a Disney animated feature film book adaptation with a what-if plot twist. The twist for the first book, based on Aladdin, is that he never got the lamp.

I’m assuming that Jafar did get the lamp and his reign of terror simply took place sooner. I didn’t get that far. For a long time, I had better things to read, or higher priority books like ARCs. I did suffer through the saccharine prologue about Aladdin’s unrealistically sainted mother a couple of times. It holds hints of the book’s many, many failings, but I didn’t want to dump it based on that alone. Fans of Renaissance Disney have this weird inclination to imagine the dead mothers of protagonists as idealised women who are perfect the way that a poorly written Yamato Nadeshiko is perfect: flawless, meek, and selfless to the point of lacking even healthy self-interest. The idealised Disney mother, if she’s ever alive, is written in such a way that she is quite obviously doomed to die, probably beautifully. It’s kind of gross. Dehumanising a character and thinking it poetic.

One thing the prologue has going for it is that it’s original. It has pathetic, incredibly forced callouts to recognisable things in the Aladdin franchise (comprised in my view of the three movies and the animated series) like Rasoul and Aladdin’s mother decides to get him a pet. Because when you don’t have enough money to eat, a pet is a thing you want. But it’s still more like fan fiction and less like a straight up novelisation. After the prologue, the book becomes a novelisation.

A breathtakingly dreadful novelisation.

Although I can see where quoting the movie verbatim would be irritating to some readers, I would have preferred it. Some lines of dialogue sound like they were in the movie, but since I grew up watching it, I could correct the changed lines in my head. They weren’t as good as the original lines, nostalgia notwithstanding.

Action was streamlined to the point of being outright removed, and I felt more like I was being told about the movie by someone who had both barely watched it and had hated what they did watch. In the movie, the guards who chase Aladdin during the song One Jump are ugly bumblers, but they’re still effing ARMED and he’s running. This communicates to the audience that they are a threat.

Braswell chose to remove all tension from the chase and instead reduce it to the same adverb-heavy navel-gazing as every other part of the narrative.

​He scooted around Rasoul and managed to duck past the rest of the guards as they grabbed at him ineptly. Ten of them weren’t worth one of Rasoul–thank goodness. He was the only one Aladdin needed to worry about–and he knew the streets almost as well as the boy did.

This is the only mention of the guards who are not Rasoul. All of Aladdin’s dialogue during the chase is broken up by heavy breathing and too much thinking. He gets injured, which did not happen in the movie and cannot be chalked up to the “twisted” what-if that the book is supposed to deliver.

At this point, I was fatigue-y and in a lot of pain, so I’d asked my husband to read to me so I could maybe fall asleep after a bit. But I couldn’t fall asleep when every few sentences I had to stop him to ask if the book actually said that or if he was bamming me. His disbelief was about as constant. Why is there an allusion to prostitution? Because there was a visual reference in the movie? That could come and go without comment because it was a visual reference. Written references are far more overt, and they have to be justified. The small moment of kindness when Aladdin gives his bread to the tinier orphans becomes this overwrought drama with waffling contradictions about how street rats treat each other. “Oh we look out for each other!” And then he thinks, “I know what it’s like to be picked on by the bigger kids who stole my food!” Which is it?? Honour among beggars/thieves or everyone for himself?

Then there is the research fail. It’s painful. If any research of Middle Eastern countries went into this book, it must have come from the back of a cereal box. Baklava! Turban! Effendi! Dates! If Abu hadn’t been in the movie, I’m sure the author would have felt it necessary to add a monkey on her own initiative. Braswell apparently has an anti-monarchy streak in this series, and it looks like woefully uneducated American revisionism, because this is so obviously not her culture. Aladdin made a random mental observation about the fat sultan playing with his toys instead of seeing to his people. …which… no.  This was what ultimately drove both Hubby and me to just stop trying and DNF. He literally handed me the book and said, “Reading this is making me uncomfortable.”


The Addiction of Acquisition

Is it more fun to buy books than to read them? The same amount? Sometimes when I’m too fatigued or muddled to read or do much of anything, I start looking through my TBR and often find myself adding to it.

I have more than one type of TBR list, too. I have a huge list of books that were given to me or bought from library sales. Over a period of years. My mother-in-law cleaned out her garage, so I have some of those that I haven’t read yet. I was given a treasure trove of lovelies for Christmas, and I haven’t read them yet. My father-in-law loves me and gave me a shiny box of science fiction and fantasy classics that holds pride of place safely out of toddler hands. The one I’ve probably made the biggest dent in is what I’ve bought from Better World Books, and even then I’m sure I have at least a hundred more to read.

And that isn’t even touching on my Goodreads TBR, which contains books I don’t even own. Or my Kindle Wishlist, which is obviously made up of only those kinds of books. Sometimes I’ll go through it and see if anything has been marked down.

Is it because the potential of a new book is so exciting? Particularly if there’s a sale (and there are always sales), you buy low-priced indie books, or of course my favourite: the library. It’s a low or no cost experience that gives you all the butterflies of starting something new.

Knitters like to acquire yarn. Apparently there’s a phenomenon wherein a knitter will have bought or been gifted more yarn than they could ever use in a lifetime. That’s me (and many many others) with books. I have this rosy ideal that there are people out there who reread and stay on top of TBRs under fifty and actually read new books the week they come out. Is this you? Can you teach me? I’m still trying to read stuff that came out before I was born. There are classics I still need and want to read.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to important priorities like ARCs that need reviews (my personal policy of never failing to review is going to kill me) and books that friends have asked me to vet for them. Vetting is one of my favourites. I do all the research–if it’s a retelling, I go back and reread the original. I look into the author and when I read the book, I do it in the mindset of the person for whom I’m vetting.

But when it comes to my own interests, I am a snail. I’ve had The Love Interest for a month, and it’s one I was dying to get. If it weren’t for NetGalley, future me would probably be reading Mask of Shadows while Christmas shopping. And adding more books to my list. If I had a superpower, it would be the supernatural ability to read seven books in two hours. …Originally, I was going to say, “stop time,” but then I’d never start it again. So there’s the world saved, I guess.


Bad Cover Representation


I’ve been buckling down to finish this 5-book ebook bundle for a series that I have lots of feels about. HOPEFULLY I’ll be done and have it reviewed before I die of old-age, but who knows. Pregnancy fatigue also knocked me out for hours today…

Some of my feelings on this series are positive, and the negative ones all have to do with disappointment. Without getting into specifics, the covers and titles make promises that are not fulfilled. Sadly, this reflects badly on the entire series, which is almost unfair. ‘Almost’ because I assume the titles were under the author’s control, but I know covers tend not to be. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t actually apply to books in real life, either. The POINT of a book cover is to help a consumer judge whether or not they want to buy it.

Particularly when one is talking about an entire series. Twilight themes its titles by using terms for celestial events, or in the case of the first, at least a time of day. The covers have a small, very recognisable palette and share the same style throughout. But how well do they represent the content?

From a target audience and marketing perspective, the brief titles and minimalist design say “YA” and “drama.” The use of red contrasted with black can mean romance and/or horror, and the theme naming suggests supernatural elements. Twilight is a paranormal YA romance with a pensive tone and heavy atmosphere, which primarily uses drama for conflict.

The level of quality is not a question that can be answered by the cover. If you love Twilight but hate the covers, that doesn’t change the fact that they do tell you what kind of book you’ll be reading. If you love the covers but hate Twilight, the same applies. The question was, how well do the covers represent the content? The answer is, quite well indeed.

You can browse the list of examples on TV Tropes’ Covers Always Lie page in the Literature section in search of covers telling lies, but they are not necessarily bad representation. Since I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, I’ll make one up based on something Hubby said on the subject using the plot of Assassin’s Creed 2.

The covers are all whimsical cartoon renditions of a boy in Renaissance Italy, always depicted in or in front of a bank. For example, sitting at a desk covered in paper and stacks of coins, or in mid-pratfall dropping an armful of ledgers in the street as he’s tripping over his own feet. Every title contains puns on accounting or banking terms. But the story is about a young man whose family is murdered in the second chapter of book one, driving him to go on a decades-long journey of graphically depicted murderous revenge. His father simply happens to have been a banker who worked closely with the Medici family–the boy himself was never even interested in joining the family business.

In that imaginary example, the covers say “Middle Grade” and “comedy.” The consistent setting and props tell us he will be deeply involved in financial matters and stay in a fixed location while depicting a fairly regular daily life that probably won’t show off much historical detail or accuracy, and the naming suggests that nothing dark or serious will occur. But this is obviously historical fiction with a mystery component intended for an adult audience, with a nigh atramentous atmosphere, lots of death, and exploration of complex themes. People would buy these books for younger readers and be distressed if not pissed.

Bad cover representation absolutely affects a reader’s enjoyment. …and I just thought of an example: the first two books in Moira J Moore’s Hero series. But I already made my point, so I’ll just link to them on Goodreads.


Book logging


Listening to: X Gon’ Give It to Ya – DMX

My support network is a little ragged, so I have always liked keeping track of what I’m doing with an impersonal app. They don’t always last. But it’s a good practise when I can actually do it. Right now, it’s mostly just using Books Wing for reading. It’s got a nice icon, and it does pretty much everything I want it to, even if I can’t (don’t know how to?) input backdated stats.

I’ve been going way less insane on books this year (regarding reading them, I still buy too many and I’ve been given more than ever before) so I have actually done anything other than read–I’ve seen movies this year! I even played Fallout 4 at all–but it’s still my primary leisure activity.

Because I read so much, I don’t really remember everything I read. Sometimes I finish a book, and then I can’t recall it a week later. Either my memory is getting poor, or I’m reading too many books to remember much about all of them. Writing is an aid to memory, so I started keeping summary notes every reading session.

Within reason. On days when I read for two minutes before someone mistakes my book for a sign that I want to have a long conversation about shit I don’t care about, I keep my summaries back until I have managed a significant number of severely accumulative pages.

This morning, I actually had an hour of uninterrupted time (!!!) to read, and I used it. Then I lay in bed with my phone in hand, struggling to summarise the last 97 pages. …wow, that’s 25% of the book. I think it’s the third fourth of it, so it’s also when lots of threads are coming together and major changes happen, so I guess I was struggling for good reason. I actually stopped just so I could write a summary.

Anyway, it was challenging and fun. I play it sort of loose, so I sometimes add in my own comments. Eventually, I may find that I’m keeping an all-out book journal. Whether I do or not, I’ve already achieved my goal with this idea: I remember much more of what I read, and I have a reference/journal to reflect on.


Mature Relationships in Fan Fiction

Continuing from yesterday…

All of the fics I read featured adult characters in romantic relationships. And yet, not one of them really acted like an adult in a romantic relationship. There is a great article I read recently that lists nine “signs” that tell you you’re in a mature relationship. Very few of the things on that list even happen in a teen romance.

It seems like the kinds of things that get explored in fan fic romance are high drama (“1. Being your significant other’s partner isn’t hard.”) and low substance. Fluff is fine, but too much can be like eating cotton. Bleh. Take another look at that list–a lot of those signs not being in evidence will tend to be the source of drama conflict for a fic. The same kind of place teen romance gets its drama.

To contrast, I will describe an adult romance with actually adult characters. In Put Up Your Duke, there are both internal and external conflicts. Internal: Isabella has low-ish self esteem and is trying to develop her identity, while Nicholas is a unsure of himself around her and doesn’t know how to work with a partner, let alone a wife. External: Isabella’s abusive parents turn their bad behaviour on her sister after she has married, and the man who lost a title to Nicholas (legitimacy debate) is bitter and trying to get the title back. In their relationship, they fail to communicate occasionally, but that is not the major source of conflict. In fact, they have frank discussions that either prevent or clear up problems that would have a fan fic for any fandom blowing out the drama speakers.

My feelings boil down to this: most fanfic seems based on relationships the way that anime characters portray them. Since the target audience for anime are teens and children, there is a decided skew when the characters are adults. (it also really bugs me when non-Japanese writers apply very Japanese tropes from anime to non-Japanese characters, but that is a topic that I should probably not raise…)

And that is probably where the mischaracterisation starts. Maybe it isn’t all a case of Can’t Write Guys. Some of it could be the age gap. A young writer might think a shy man and a flamboyantly extroverted man would have huge relationship bumps to overcome over the space of years, based solely on those aspects of their personalities. They might miss that Captain America and Iron Man fought over more subtle things than not being the same kind of person, or that Black Widow and the Hulk might have come together over something more complex than We’re Both Broken Birds and tragic purple prose.

Teen romance is fine. But when I want to read fan fiction about fictional grown-ups I love, I would like to see them be grown-ups… unless it’s an AU where they are teenagers. I would probably love that. But only if that’s what it said on the tin and it was what I wanted to read right then. I want to choose it, not click through seven fics and not see one grown-up wearing grown-up pants.

We do not live in a world where a person stops mattering when he or she passes the age of 30. (hell, RDJ is 51, you guys.) People continue to have sex and fall in love after that. And holy crap,they are IMMENSELY more interesting when they do that stuff when they are any age older than 20.


A long time ago, in a realisation far away…

One of those crappy, “Oh I should start blogging again” posts that I wrote was about joining Harlequin Rewards. It’s been awesome, especially when I discovered Maisey Yates. I have bought all of the Copper Ridge series in both print and digital formats. Still trying to get Hubby to read them. I think he will, it’ll just be a while. It took me a year to get him to read Johannes Cabal, and those books are practically starring him.

The majority of my Harlequins are still free stuff I was given or declaimed library books I bought. But now I have actually bought more than just Pregnesia at 2:00am. I’ve tried new authors and expanded into more subgenres. I used to just read historicals, first because I liked the covers, then because that was absolutely what I was into. Now I love western romance (of course cowboys, I’m from the southwest!), paranormals, intrigue, and there’s a special shelf for my Love Inspired so my mum can read them.

Which reminds me, I need more vikings. I have Highlanders coming out of my ears, but I am low on vikings.

Romance is such an amazing genre. I love the term Romancelandia, as it conveys just how zarqing big it is, and also notes the humour that we all have about and in it. Although I shouldn’t pick favourites, I do tend to love my bookfriends who read Romance the best.

Maybe this is coming out of nowhere. I guess after a long absence, anything I have to say is coming out of nowhere. Soon, I want to talk about rediscovering my love for the Aquabats thanks to Owen. Zarqing fardwarks, he’s going to be three in a fortnight.


And I Suddenly Remember I Have a Blog!

Somehow things have reverted to the way they were when I first started this blog. “Because I feel like it! But only when I feel like it!” Hurrah. Today, I feel like it. Also, some cool stuff has happened, and I feel the need to catalog it, since this day has been on the horrendous side.

I’ve been a fully realised Romance reader, as we all know perfectly well. And I did it in about three years. So I thought it was about time I joined the Harlequin rewards program. And soon after registering, I looked through my library and realised with a sheepish grin that all of the Harlequin books I own were given to me. Almost all of them are destined-for-the-bin Love Inspireds that Jared gave me, in fact. Which is great, but it means that I don’t have any purchases to redeem. How red is my face, right? Apparently everything I buy is Hachette or Macmillan. Oops.


Back when I was pregnant and bored and not sleeping at night, I bought Pregnesia. I even wrote a review about it. And guess what, you guys. It’s a Harlequin Intrigue. I remember thinking at the time that I hated to buy a book when I had so many free books and library TBRs. Also, I never bought ebooks at that time. (that time is incredibly over) It wasn’t an ebook vs print book thing, it was a miserly “I have access to a bazillion FREE books thanks” thing. But it was called PREGNESIA so of course I forked over my moneys.

Now I am 200 points away from a free book from the rewards program. Also scouring my memories to uncover and possible purchases that fall under Harlequin’s roof.


National Reading Day

I’m not entirely sure who this day is supposed to be for, but I want to celebrate it. I’ve still managed to read a book a day–a challenge I think I’ll stop worrying about in Februrary–so today I think I’ll read two or three books. :) Even if they’re short. I have a couple of short books that have been waiting on my list for a while.


If I manage it, I’ll write up the reviews on Goodreads and Booklikes. Especially since I’ve finally gotten my Booklikes blog looking more the way that I want. Yay, CSS!

As for the big picture, I don’t know how possible 250-300 books this year will be. It’s only the first month, and I do get tired. Still, it’s nice to see my unlisted To Be Read list of books shrink, if only a little.

I think I’m coming down with something. My back hurts something fierce, and I can’t focus on a train of thought.


Friday Book Review – Shroud for the Archbishop

As has happened before, I am too tired to upload an image. It can be such a bloody chore.

When I read this book, before logging it in, I scrolled through other people’s reviews. Then I went back and read a few more reviews for the first book. Then, my heart swiftly sinking below my knees, I checked a couple of reviews for book three. So. Many. People. Liked. Them. “What’s wrong with me?” I wailed. Well, not wailed, but I was mystified and wondered at my insufficiency.

The story is set in the far reaches of history, in a land of beautiful scenery and rampant history going on everywhere. We have a fiery Irish sister who not only solves crimes, but does so with the highest authority. The lady can speak on a level with kings, and just about DOES. Lots of people lie, almost as many die. Everything is crammed into about the space of three or four days.


After having read the first two books, I’m convinced that it’s the presentation. The tone is very dry, and I felt no difference between reading this and skimming a heavy textbook. Although characters do emote, the style is almost strictly 100% tell. A lot of reviews bring up Show-Don’t-Tell, but they usually don’t explain what they mean. Telling, even when an emotion is involved, renders the information flat. “Fidelma was astonished.” Knowing how she felt is not the same as seeing how she felt. Showing the same would look more like this: “Fidelma staggered back a step, one hand half-raised to her heart.”

I don’t think there is any showing at all, if that’s possible. You’d think it’d at least happen by accident. And I think the reason is easily ascertained by examining another problem with the book: treating readers like idiots. Granted, the author knows more in general than probably anyone who will ever read this book. But he doesn’t encourage, facilitate, or even allow inference. The worst culprit is this gem:

“…If a man dare kiss, or even touch a woman against her will, by law of the Fenechus he can be fined two hundred and forty silver screpall.

Eadulf knew that the screpall was one of the main Irish coins that were circulated.

I didn’t know what a screpall was before Fidelma used the word. But her usage of it made it pretty clear that it meant MONEY. Not only was no further information necessary, the manner in which it was given is ridiculous. That kind of thing runs rampant throughout. This kind of information should be a seamless part of the story, not jarring insertions of research notes. Seriously, I had to pay extra attention in order to distinguish the novel from the lengthy notes included.

The murder mystery itself may be a decent, forensics mystery, but having the correct formula with some good twists isn’t enough. The world is too starkly presented and the characters somehow manage to have absolutely no voice. At all. I didn’t think you could even do that.

I want so much to like these books, and all I get out of them is tired and bewildered. I remember someone once complaining to me of the weakness in the setting of the first book, but this one was really bad. All I remember are the cockroaches at that one boarding house and that the catacombs were massively disappointing.


Friday Book Review –


One of my biggest pet peeves is when people try to justify unethical copying with the philosophy that everything has already been written and nothing is new. It’s codswollop and it aides lazy, unoriginal thought. In the first two books, I don’t remember thinking often that Condie borrowed ideas. The closest I can remember is that the journey portion in book 2 reminded me of Tally’s journey to find Shay in Uglies. (while preferring Uglies and feeling that the association was probably unique to me.) This time, a load of dystopian YA clichés abound.

Some of the elements in dystopian YA are so oft repeated that I wonder if they’re considered genre standbys. Which is stupid, because dystopian YA is not a genre any more than Zombies is. Elements in that category that show up in the Matched series are:

  • Female main character named after a plant most people don’t recognise. (Cassia, Katniss, Rue)
  • Love triangle. Often with an obvious choice.
  • Oppressive government is poorly explained or not even all that bad.
  • Previous goes hand in hand with: A resistance that is as bad or worse (or the same as?) the reigning government.
  • Dumb made-up words for simple things that don’t exist.
  • Stupid reactions/references to things that are perfectly normal to readers.

And the whole search for the plague cure just felt like something I swear I’ve already read (but can’t put my finger on).

There was a scene that I like to think of as a “two-handed bum-cover” wherein an unpleasant character pronounce new works of art as worthless because it’s all been done before. She even repeats the encounter in the last chapter. Just to make sure all the meanies who try to take her to task over the unoriginal elements,

It’s a good ending to the series, though, and it’s definitely better than the second book. But like any book that deals with a plague as a major plot point, it drags on and on and on so really, do not ever listen to the audiobook. Anything you can listen to comfortably at 2x speed is insane at normal speed. It’s also something you can literally sleep through for at least ten minutes at almost any given time.

The actual Rising coming into power was interesting, because stuff was going on for once. It really shows how ill-defined the world is, though. For all the flowery description, I don’t think I had a mental picture of anything in the world beyond some of the people and the street that Cassia lived on in the beginning. But yeah, political intrigue was great. The stuff about the cure, though, is drawn out to such an extreme length that I got bored and stopped caring. Which is really bad. People are dying and there’s a race to the cure! I’m supposed to give a crap! I don’t! And the reason is: REPETITION. Even months later, I remember the horrible, expecting to encounter readers with an IQ of 7, lecturing repetition. I’ll be damned if Condie didn’t explain the same thing about blood four times.

Really, the Stretch-Armstrong treatment on that part of the story is best illustrated by this passage.

“Remember when you and I were talking about the small red mark on the people who had the earlier virus?”
“The virologist they took out had a theory about that.”
“What was it?”
“He thought that if someone had the red mark, it meant they’d had the virus, like we thought—and he also thought that it meant that they were protected from the new mutation.”
“How could that be?” Lei asks.
“The virus changes,” I say. “Like those fish you were talking about. It was one thing, now it’s different.”
She shakes her head.
I try again. “People who had the immunizations had been exposed to one form of the virus, a dead one. Then the first round of the Plague came along. Some of us might have contracted the virus, but we didn’t get really sick because we’d already been exposed to it in its weakened form. The immunization did its job and our bodies fought off the illness. Still, we had exposure to the live virus itself, which means we might be safe from this mutation. The dead virus wasn’t close enough to the mutation to protect us, but our exposure to the original live version of the Plague might be, as long as we actually contracted it.”
“I still don’t understand,” she says.
I try again.

And he does try again. This is after the virologist already had to explain it to him twice–and he probably did it better. I read this passage with an outraged look of shock on my face. I felt like the author was talking down to me and patting my head while I was stuck in a nightmare zone of the same easy-to-understand facts repeated ad nauseum. And somehow the grammar just seemed to get continually worse. I just re-read it now and my eyes glazed over. “The virologist they took out?” That sounds like a mafia hit. “Like those fish you were talking about. It was one thing, now it’s different.” Oh no, please, be more vague. I almost understood what you were referring to.

If this book had wrapped up at least fifty pages sooner, I don’t think things like that would have galled as much. I’m just glad I finished it at last.