Randomosity on Fridays: The Week in Pictures

This week has been full of yogurt and boba and books and puppy playtime.  In other words, this week has been relatively normal, although the yogurting has been, hmm, if not excessive, certainly prevalent in more than typical amounts.  That is because--

1. Hello Kitty is back at Yogurtland!  What with the hot summer weather, colorful Sanrio spoons, and delicious mango pina colada yogurt, we couldn't resist.

Left: Spoons from last time - Hello Kitty, Keroppi, Chococat.
Right: New spoons (so far) - Hello Kitty & Tuxedo Sam.

2. I made a couple of felt unicorns.  Still working out some pattern kinks and proportion issues, which is why the right one has no limbs and the left one has a rather long neck.

3. Bead show loot.  Crappy iPad camera can't handle the cornucopia of shimmering crystals and the pearly galaxy of stars cast upon the carpet.  Or the magnificence of the bundled dozen 2/0 Swiss sawblades in the bottom righthand corner.
Behold! Shiny things!!
4. Krispy and I both read the fourth/last Throne of Glass novella by Sarah J. Maas, The Assassin and the Empire, and were moderately unimpressed.  We both still want to read the actual novel but have adjusted our expectations accordingly.

5. Loki loves his new orange popsicle toy.  A lot.

He likes to torpedo around carrying his popsicle by the stick.
Then he'll charge over and death-shake it and wipe it on your legs
and he'll be all like, "HEY LOOK LOOK AT MY POPSICLE LOOK AT IT LOOK."

That's our week in review.  Mm, Yogurtland.  What are your favorite summertime treats?  If Hello Kitty were a pokemon, what kind of attacks would she have?


World-Building Wednesday

For those of you who have read any of our book reviews, you'll know that we love good world-building and can be kind of sticklers when we feel it's not up to par. But what makes world-building good? When is it inadequate? Where is the line between too much Real World influence and not enough realism?

These are all things we often discuss, and a few of you have expressed interest in these topics as well. So, we thought we'd write up a few posts discussing world-building. To kick things off, we'll give you a few quick examples of world-building we liked in recently (relatively speaking) read books.


Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor possesses two richly-rendered worlds: cold misty stony Prague and a fantasy world rich with magic, angels, chimeras, and war.  The scenery is stunning, the prose lovely, and the magic systems striking without being vague or overly detailed.

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott is a fine example of a fantasy world based on a Real World culture (in this case Japanese culture) without grounding the story in a particular time period or even necessarily making it set in Japan.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman features an exemplary clash of cultures: dragons versus humans.  The dragons in this book are cold mathematically-minded sentient creatures who--wait for it--do not feel human.  This may sound like an obvious facet of world-building a non-human race and culture, but far too often in fantasy books the dragons/gryphons/faeries/etc. think, act, and behave exactly like humans.  In other words, the non-humans are merely humans exoticized by having four legs, a tail, and fur or scales.  Kudos to Ms. Hartman for crafting an unusual and viscerally non-human race!

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen - This is a book that Alz didn't like because it was (oddly enough) all world-building with very little plot.  But that world-building was spectacular--atmospheric, damp, moody, dark.  The city of Pelimburg felt real and solid, all wood and stone and mist by the sea, its social systems complex, its various cultures and races and creatures diverse and at odds with each other.  These people have their own distinct mythologies and histories, and their interactions are always laced with intrigue and undertones of deceit.  It's just too bad that there was no easily discernable story to go with this beautiful world.

Graceling & Fire by Kristin Cashore We really liked Fire because it made neon-colored animals like chartreuse hawks and pink kittens with fascination powers seem non-ridiculous.  As for Graceling, the exploration of how Graces are used and taken advantage of was pretty interesting, and it had fascinating political implications.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - The island of Thisby is atmospheric and grounded in a reality that is easily believed. It's the picture of a small, mostly rural community that subsists on the tourism brought in by their one magical draw- the vicious water horses. Everything about the island and its hardy people is brought so believably alive that it's easy to believe in the existence of flesh-eating horses that appear out of the sea. The water horses themselves are recognizably horse-like and yet frighteningly alien as well.


Of course, there are other great examples of world-building, and we'll probably discuss those in later posts (as well as these again).

Q4U: Where else have you found examples of great world-building?


Randomosity on Fridays: Camping Edition

Can someone please slow time down a little? I feel like we've been blasting through summer ever since Memorial Day. I can't believe we're already halfway through July, eep!

So anyway, as you may or may not know, Alz and I are kind of NaNoWriMo addicts, but November is a notoriously bad month for me in terms of having time for writing. It's Thanksgiving, gearing up for end of the year holidays, and a bunch of people's birthdays. It used to be worse during college because November was also midterm season.

Lucky for us, the NaNoWriMo peeps started Camp NaNoWriMo for summer noveling, and like we did last year, we will be participating. Woohoo!

This is probably the only camping either of us will ever do because we both hate bugs and like hot showers.

BUT since it is summer and the time of camping and summer camps and such, I thought I'd thought I'd ask you about YOUR camp experiences. I've never gone on camping trips, but I did go to a week-long Marine Biology Camp in 6th grade and a week-long Astro Camp in 8th grade.

Both were very fun, but we stayed in dorms and had hot food and water. Marine Biology Camp was tons of outdoorsy fun - snorkeling, kayaking, hikes, beach days + learning (of course). Astro Camp was also pretty fun, but I think there was more learning involved. I just remember climbing a tree obstacle course thing and building something out of PVC pipes underwater in a pool. Oh and I'm pretty sure our chaperone hated us. :P

So Q4U: What are your feelings on camping? Have you been camping / to a summer camp?


Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Krispy's sister is 50% to blame for this because her curiosity about the book infected me like a zombie plague. Unlike a zombie plague, this book wasn't kind enough to turn me into the shambling unthinking unfeeling undead. Like a zombie plague, the book destroyed my brain.

We're going to do this a little differently than normal—this book is 95% Twilight fanfiction and everything in it is godawful baaaaad. So I'm just going to summarize bits with doodles because I lack the ability to coherently aslkfja;ldfja;dfa when it comes to this supreme piece o' crap. There are no spoilers because there is no plot as such but I mean I guess if you think finding out about Grey's deeeeep daaaaark past (which he summarizes to Ana in literally eleven words) is a spoiler, then be forewarned.

I'm partway into the second book which isn't really a second book since it seems like the way-too-long story just got chopped up into a book-sized pieces. So there may be Fifty Shades Darker info mentioned here because I can't keep them straight. Book 2 is just as bad, btw.

Fifty Shades of Failure Grey by E. L. James

Pros: Sharing the horrible hilarity with Krispy and her sister.
Cons: Having to actually skim the book in order to share the horrible hilarity.

Intellectual Rating: 0 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: F

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind - until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this man, and when he warns her to keep her distance it only makes her more desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her - but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey's singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring affair, Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the Christian Grey hidden away from public scrutiny.

Can their relationship transcend physical passion? Will Ana find it in herself to submit to the self-indulgent Master? And if she does, will she still love what she finds?

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Alz's Take: To backpedal, Krispy's sister wanted to know why the book is titled Fifty Shades of Grey. Krispy and I assumed that this probably had to do with the layers of the guy's personality at best or was random at worst. Something or other had led Krispy's sister to believe that this was some kind of codename or codeword or at any rate had something more to it.

Which impetus set me to reading this travesty of a book.

Long story short, Krispy and I were right. It does have to do with his personality since the first mention of "fifty shades" has Grey referring to himself as "fifty shades of fucked-up" (Ch. 16) and later Ana refers to his "fifty shades". And later she starts calling him Fifty Shades in her head. Repeatedly. Like at least twice a chapter. Sometimes more. STOP TITLE DROPPING.

Ahem. Let's move on and meet our protagonists! Meet Anastasia Steele, a naïve clumsy senior college student virgin majoring in English Literature at Washington State University and yet who does not own a computer, have an email address, or own any clothes except t-shirts, jeans, and "Converse shoes" which any normal person would simply call Converses. (Normal American person, anyway, the author is British and yes this shows itself very clearly in the writing. This will be touched on later.)

Anastasia Steele is completely and absolutely totally without question
entirely wholly unlike Isabella Swan. I mean, it's not like
their names even have the same number of syllables!
And this is Christian Grey, an entrepreneur of lots of stuff that is rarely specifically mentioned, president and CEO, makes $100,000 an hour, is not into BDSM because he considers himself a Dominant and wants Ana to be his Submissive because omg there's just something special about her because her blood smells so good.

Except he should have gray eyes.
And an abusive childhood.
And a taste for bondage.
 For sanity purposes, I'm going to represent Ana and Grey like this:

Complete with Converses and gray tie, respectively.
 So Christian is just totally stalker-obsessed with Ana from the moment they meet—which is because her college-newspaper-journalist roommate is sick and can't make it to the Christian interview. Rather than get one of her fellow journalists or someone actually competent to sub for her, she asks Ana to do so. Like any good interviewer, Ana goes into the interview completely blind without even doing a token Google search or bothering to ask her roommate what, exactly, the interview is for. Nor does she bother to read beforehand the list of (completely inappropriate) questions her roommate gives her, which results in her blurting out questions, much to her mortification.

For no particular reason, Christian decides that Ana is totally hawt and he wants to spank her senseless in his Red Room of Pain as soon as she signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement and Dominant/Submissive Contract. Of course, he does not mention this immediately since he has more of a sense of appropriateness than Ana.

Blah blah Ana works at a hardware store and her boss likes her and her boss's son totally digs her and Jacob in this story is a Latino boy rather than Native American and his name is therefore José and of course he's into poor plain mousy-haired Ana too. Later on, when Ana finally gets a job at a publishing house, her boss there hits on her constantly too. Because the only men in this story either want into Ana's designer panties (worn courtesy of Christian) or are friendly "avuncular" figures.

The text uses this word a lot to describe the non-sexual/non-threatening men in this book. You read that correctly: all men who are sexually attracted to Ana are skeezy threatening guys who don't know how to stop when a girl says "no" or "I have a boyfriend." Including Christian—oh wait, except Ana never actually tells him to stop during their kinky sexytimes, and he gets legitimately angry later on when she starts crying and whining and breaking up with him over it because he reminds her that hey, THEY HAVE SAFEWORDS, why didn't she use them or just tell him to stop?

She also "forgets" to use the safeword after she
insists that he go ahead and beat her with a leather belt.
Afterward she cries and goes ballistic and breaks up with him...
...for less than a week. Then they're back together!
All right. Clearly I can't manage to keep anything chronological in this not-really-a-review because GOD the book is so horrible and I cannot possibly see how Christian is remotely attractive aside from being a physically hot billionaire. The fact that he's a stalker and a creeper and a control freak does not apparently factor. And the disgusting thing is that Ana kind of acknowledges that he is a stalker-creeper control freak (in fact she repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly calls him a control freak) and kind of thinks it's creepy, but then d'aww he's so sweet sometimes and makes her melt and he only wants to protect her. ♥

As for Ana, she couldn't beat a potato in a battle of wits. For the first half of the first book, she's always tripping over things and knocking things over and falling on her face because she's Bella, but like Bella, her extreme look-at-this-cute-character-flaw-I-have-in-lieu-of-personality quirk eventually vanishes. What is left? Her "harpy" of a subconscious and her "inner goddess", which seem to be two separate entities living in Ana's head: the former is a prissy little prude while the latter is an overused metaphor (or maybe it's literal for all I know) that performs acrobatics such as backflips and pirouettes as a sign of excitement at forthcoming "kinky fuckery"—which is another of those overused phrases that gets kicked around in this book.

I think there could be an actual legitimate paper written about the representation of the subconscious repressing female sexuality and how social conventions have ingrained that sense of shame into the female subconscious. Except that I don’t think the author put nearly that much thought into it, especially since the word "subconscious" is used incorrectly, considering that Ana's subconscious is more of a superconscious since it's very vocal and at the forefront of what little mind she has. (Another part of me notes the irony of her subconscious being the only inner voice with a sense of self-preservation while Christian wants Ana to be his "Sub." Unlike Ana, I was a real English major and did analysis to write essays on my computer.)

One of my favorite parts was pretty early in the book, after Ana and Christian have coffee at a shop, during which time Ana is severely attracted to him and Christian is broodingly mysteriously warning Ana to stay away from him. They go for a walk and then! Something happens!

This is the quality of scene and plot you can expect throughout the fanfic book. There are even better things later on in the second book, like how one of Christian's crazy ex-subs is stalking Ana and is potentially armed and dangerous and even breaks into Christian's apartment to stand over Ana's bed watching her sleep and slashes the tires of Ana's Audi (a grad gift from Christian) and throws paint on it. Ana naturally asks if they should go to the police. Christian in all his wisdom replies thusly:

(Ch. 8, Fifty Shades DarkerI

That totally makes sense, Christian. It's okay though since he has his own security team and everything and his proposed solution is to lock Ana up until they catch the crazy girl. Everything Christian does make sense! Including how he speaks:

(Ch. 8, Fifty Shades Darker)
Since, you know, normal people talk like that in casual conversation.

Oh, and about the author being British—it shows. Especially since it's first-person narration and Ana will frequently bust out some very non-American turns of phrase:

But enough of all that. You all really want to know about the sexytimes and the Red Room of Pain since this is after all erotica and the sexytimes is what's making this book such a big deal. If you are of a delicate constitution or are just plain embarrassed, you may wish to skip the next section. On the other hand, you may just want to satisfy your curiosity since from all the hype I was expecting some seriously screwed up and hardcore stuff and…well, my expectations far exceeded the book.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  (Scroll to the next bold red text to skip the next section.)

Christian does indeed have a Red Room of Pain full of whips and chains and floggers and ropes and etc., but the majority of the sexytimes in this book take place away from this sanctum. They only do it like twice in that room: I can't even remember if he just spanks her the first time and they do it or if that was in her room, and the second time he ties her to the bed and makes her wear a blindfold and ear buds to listen to music while he (gently) flogs her.

Which is not to say that there's a lack of erotic acts in this book! Oh no. They do it all the time, although much of the time it is "vanilla" by Christian's own admission—he's never had vanilla sex before! Only with Ana! Her first time was his first vanilla time—but it was okay because it was with her! Because she's so special! Oh yes, Christian deflowers Ana vanillaly because he was shocked to discover she was a virgin and wanted her to know what a normal experience was like before he started Dominating her.

Dominating her includes her signing that contract, which despite the flack I've seen around in other reviews I have to say seems like a good idea—in that it lays out the groundwork for exactly how screwed up their relationship is going to be, what to expect and not to expect, what each partner will and won't do, etc., and the terms are negotiable. Though I have to say that having a section that specifically says that Christian is not interested in, detailing such things as "[n]o acts involving children or animals" (Ch. 7), would immediately ring alarm bells—like, for example, if you list such screwed up things, what are you not listing?

On the other hand, having a list of pre-approved foods and being unable to snack between the three specified meals a day "with the exception of fruit" (Ch. 7) does seem a bit much. Just a bit.

But yes. All the time. They do it in bed, and then they do it again, and then in the morning they wake up and do it, and then they go take a bath together and do it. Then they spend their time at work productively by emailing each other all day long, which we the readers are gifted with reading verbatim, every. Single. Freaking. Email.

Then! They squabble over silly little things like Christian's stalking Ana or Ana biting her lip and sending Christian into a fit of lust. Seriously, the book mentions every other page how Ana bites her lip and Christian ends up a mad drooling beast of desire.

But then they have makeup sex so it's okay. They go to visit his parents and do it in the boathouse, and later in the next book they do it in his old room at his parents' house. Oh, Christian has a custom-designed-and-built yacht in book 2 and they do it on the yacht. They do it at Ana's condo (after college, she lives in her rich roommate's condo and still wears her roomie's clothes, or does until Christian buys her a designer wardrobe) and they do it in the elevator of Christian's baller apartment, although at least he had the sense to hit the "stop" button first.

Let's see, where else do they do it? They haven't done it in the car yet, much to my surprise, considering there were plenty of opportunities in Christian's Audi SUV or Ana's Audi. They haven't done it in public yet. But I bet they will. I don't know if I can continue reading this crap, even though all I'm doing is skimming.


Uhh, what else. Christian was apparently abused as a child before he was adopted and his mother was a crack-whore. Seriously. That's about all the info you get in the first book. There's even this whole section of Ana being like Oh Christian I want to know about you and he's like, No baby I don't want to tell you, and then she agrees to let him have his kinky way with her if he'll tell her about his Deep Dark Past.

Afterward, when she asks him to keep his end of the bargain, he says, "'The woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore, Anastasia. Go to sleep.'" (Ch. 20)

And she goes to sleep.

Christian's got this seriously creepy weird thing going on with food, by the way. He's always asking Ana if she's eaten, insisting she eat, and scolding her for not eating, and getting all creepy glaring and angry when she doesn't finish her food. This was the sole reason that pushed me to keep on reading past the first book because I wanted to know WTF was up with that—and by this point, it could very well be just his weird vaguely abusive childhood where his mom's pimp beat him sometimes and in general he was neglected and maybe didn't always have enough to eat.

Ana is the Vanilla Sun to Christian's Sparkling Vampire Skin Dark and Tortured Soul. And Fifty Shades of Grey is Mace to Alz's Dark and Tortured Eyes.

A creepy controlling stalker makes the best boyfriend
as long as he's also a billionaire and hot.

Alz's Conclusion: It is so not worth your time. If you must, don't spend money on it and don't bother reading it. Skim. Or better yet, get someone to tell you what happens. You can ask me! I'll tell you! At long and bitterly-complaining masochistic length!


Friday x Books + Puppy

Krispy and I are all schneizeleffort after our double review of Shadow and Bone and also I forgot it was Thursday, so for our blog post we've brought you a gratuitous picture of our mostly-library to-read book pile!

The pile includes:

Black Heart by Holly Black
Dragons and Dynasties: An Introduction to Chinese Mythology by Yuan Ke
Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant
Among Others by Jo Walton
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf

I already read Inside Out (it was good, although I wasn't blown away or awed), Magic Under Glass (it was all right--had some potential but was way too Jane Eyre), and Pandemonium (had issues with the plot and the ending).  I had a brief perusal of Stormdancer and it has potential, although I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  Krispy is currently reading Black Heart and likes it so far.

And to end our weeks on an even happier-dappier-yay note, have a puppy picture!

The Overlord of Cute just swooped up by the photographically elusive Alz.
I've got a boatload of my own library books that are not pictured, and if they're good enough I'll pass them on to Krispy.  If they're not up to snuff, she gets to hear alllll about them before I dump them back at the library.

By the way guys, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman has been released~!  Go read it!


Double Book Review: Shadow & Bone

We were both a little hyped about this book even though we tried not to be. For Krispy, it failed to pan out; for Alz, it failed to pan out even more.  We both read this one and so here's a double review!

(Alz speaking here: Since I'm putting the final post together, I'm going to jam in as many awesome pictures of colorful dome-topped Russian buildings as I can because I love the eye candy and got overexcited when trawling Wikipedia.  There are similar buildings mentioned in the book, but not nearly as many as I'm going to scatter throughout this post.)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Pros: Russian-based fantasy setting, the ambiguous maybe-evil-maybe-not Darkling, awesome prologue.
Cons: Alina is a mopey self-pitying self-victimizing heroine; too many plot devices; too many plot-twists & character epiphanies that have little to no setup.

Intellectual Rating: Krispy:  4 out of 10 stars /
                                  Alz:  3 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: Krispy:  C/C- / Alz:  D

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Krispy's Take: While there were definitely elements that I liked about this book, I came away from it feeling underwhelmed. I suppose that's what I get for letting the hype sway me, but that isn't to say this is a bad book. As usual with a very hyped book, I can see why so many people love this. I certainly liked aspects of this book as well. So let's start with those.

I enjoyed the world-building, though I wish there was more depth and look forward to this in the next book. While not as mind-blowingly original as some have touted it to be, Ravka was still refreshing and even at times enchanting. The Russian-inspiration is loosely threaded throughout the world so that there's just enough of it to be recognizable without it becoming "Russia but with magic!" I've seen some criticisms of the inexpert use of Russian influences but since I'm woefully unfamiliar with Russian culture, I don't feel comfortable commenting on the accuracy (or lack thereof) of that. Suffice to say, it didn't bother me because of my lack of familiarity, but I understand where this kind of criticism comes from since I tend to be more sensitive to fantasy worlds built on Asian cultural influences that end up being exoticized/inaccurate/or too much like a direct transposing of the real world culture into a magical world & just slapping another name on it.

All Religions Temple.

Still, the Russian/Eastern European feel of Ravka was a nice change of pace from the usual. From the deadly and intriguing Shadow Fold to the fairy-tale-like gilded halls of the king's palace to the frigid but beautiful terrain of Tsibeya, the world felt expansive. The settings were familiar but new, and I loved that the in-universe folklore continued to pull from Slavic and Scandinavian influences. (E.g. I really enjoyed the Celestial Quadruped. No, seriously. I took a Scandinavian folklore course in college, where I learned about this motif/mystical creature and I loved it.) I also liked the set-up of the Grisha and the idea that their magic is sort of a science. I liked that we actually get into the Magic System/ Magic Theory of the world (though again, not quite enough of this), and I hope to see more of that in the next book.

Celestial Quadruped as depicted by Alz.
My favorite part of the book was The Darkling. He is powerful, mysterious, feared, and (my favorite thing) ambiguous. His reputation seems to be at constant odds with the way he treats the main character, Alina. Every time he appeared, I had to wonder what his game was, and while I was (again) a little underwhelmed by the reveal regarding his plans, I appreciated the reasoning. I liked that his shadiness had a line of logic to it, and there was always something change-able about his character that I found intriguing. I think this was one of the strengths of the book; attention was paid to its antagonist.

That said, I think my main issue, why this book is ultimately not something I loved, is Alina. I just can't get behind Alina as the narrating MC. I appreciate that she's insecure and lonely and desperate for a sense of belonging, but seriously, the lady doth protest too much! A good chunk of the book is spent with Alina adamantly insisting that she COULD NOT POSSIBLY be special because she is just so PLAIN and ORDINARY. Even when her power manifests and is proven to be legitimate, she clings to this idea that she can't, oh she just can't be special, really. No really, she's can't be. CAN'T.

Except that she is. And I know realistically, insecurity like that doesn't go away even in the face of proof, but it was a little MUCH how absolutely convinced she was of her flaws. Also, it frustrated me that instead of taking her "specialness" as maybe something to be positive about, she goes about it in a resigned way. I get that she really wants to belong and her "specialness" separates her more, but it's like it never occurs to her that it might be kind of cool to have the power she has or have the opportunities that she now has. And at one point, it's like she actually gives up and decides she's just going to wait for (literally) a Magical Plot Device to fix things for her, at which point, I actively disliked her.

And it's also a little peculiar that she feels so strongly about her being an outcast because in any given situation, Alina seems to always have at least one ally/friend, and it doesn't seem like groups at large are especially keeping their distance from her. If anything, she seems to be the one actively distancing herself from the group, and while I can understand this desire to be alone or to protect oneself from rejection by avoiding it all together, her "outcast" status seems at least partly self-imposed.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

While Alina didn't actively annoy me (most of the time), she was very frustrating and if I were to describe her in one word, it would be "mopey." I can deal with mopey heroines when the situation calls for it, but after a while, I really didn't think Alina's situation warranted this level of constant mopey-ness. Her insecurities do play into her character arc / a driving point of the plot, but the execution of that was lacking. There were aspects about Alina that I didn't realize until a third of the way through the book that might have made me more sympathetic to her insecurities if I had known them, and they would have set up for her realizations and subsequent transformation. For example, I thought something about her physical description was caused by her recent stressful environments, not that it was a long-term condition of hers. But since these things were not clear, the resolution/change in Alina happens too quickly. I'm cool with psycho-somatic issues that are solved or vastly improved by some kind of character-driven breakthrough, but for Alina, it was literally like a switch flipped and she went from Ugly Duckling to Swan Princess. Again, it was a little much.

Not to mention predictable. That was the other big reason why I came away from this book underwhelmed. The plot was fairly straightforward and typical in the sense that maybe it wasn't exactly predictable, but every time a plot twist happened, I found myself not surprised.

For example, in any 90s teen romantic comedy, the nerdy/geeky/outcast boy/girl always somehow gets picked up by a popular kid or group, who help him/her break into the upper echelons of High School society. There's always a Mean Girl or Jock to deal with, and there's always a dramatic makeover in which the outcast is shown to actually be very attractive. And given these premises, you can probably guess how the rest of the movie is going to go.

Anne Hathaway (Princess Mia) post-makeover in The Princess Diairies.
Because you know, we couldn't tell that Anne Hathaway is gorgeous.

Both Alina's character arc and the plot follow a prototypical path, which is fine (I mean, I'm totally into some of those 90s high school flicks) but not what I'd call amazingly original. Plus, the book's plot takes a long backseat to Alina's character arc, which would have been okay if it had been more interesting or if I had liked Alina more.

The writing itself is serviceable with some moments that lend itself to real loveliness (e.g. some of Alina's memories of Mal and their childhood, and particularly the beautiful prologue), but I also found it to be at times a little too "telling." Like paragraphs that made it clear what Alina thought of a person in a subtle way would then be followed up by a line that explicitly told me what Alina thought of that person, which was not only unnecessary but also made it feel heavy-handed. However, I did like how the Epilogue works with the Prologue to book-end the story in quite a nice way.

Krispy's Conclusion: Alz, of course, has more to say on a number of things - inconsistencies in character and plot, logistics and plausibility - and I do agree mostly, but my section is getting long. So these were my main thoughts about the book. I think, overall, it has a lot of good elements and a good framework, but it just doesn't quite come together for me. I kept wanting MORE depth, and I hope to get that in Book 2. Because, I'm not gonna lie, despite the flaws Alz pointed out in his character & plans, and despite the fact that he may or may not be evil, I'm quite enthralled by the Darkling. What can I say? I've got a soft spot for shady dudes with dark powers and beautiful faces. (And he's called THE DARKLING, which is awesome.)

So yeah, I'll be back for Book 2. I just pray Alina's over her Mope.


Alz's Take: I hated this book. Not a deep and abiding hatred worthy of a spot on my Crime Against Literature shelf, but a blah-how-typical gosh-this-is-predictable WTF-this-plot-only-makes-surface-sense sort of hatred. Since Krispy read it first and warned me beforehand that I'd probably dislike it, I was prepared for the experience, which still undercut my grossly lowered expectations. Nevertheless, like Krispy, I can see the appeal and there are a few good elements.

The world is atypical since it's Russian-based fantasy, and the settings and culture come through nicely clear. I have marginally more familiarity with Russian culture than Krispy but not enough for me to pinpoint most of the instances where the author was playing fast and loose with facts and language. I won't comment on it because I don't have the awareness, but the fact that there is so much outcry does rub me a little the wrong way since it brings to mind how aghast I was when I learned that many Avatar: The Last Airbender fans didn't know it was Asian-based and thought it was pure fantasy.

Church of the Savior, St. Petersburg
I did have a few issues with the Shadow Fold, namely because it ended up being just another plot device. I thought we'd get more insight into how it was made and maybe what has been done to combat it or other interesting stuff. But we never find out much about it—it was created and there it is and it's a problem and that's it. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting there trying to figure out how this kingdom has existed for 500 years split in twain and suffering "massive casualties" (10) every time they cross the Shadow Fold—which they seem to do pretty frequently. How big is the Fold anyway? There's a map in the front of the book, but it sure seems like the Fold is pretty narrow/quick to cross considering events in the book—i.e. it seemed like minutes instead of hours.

Unlike Krispy, I felt that the Magic System/Magic Theory was barely touched upon. Yes, they regard their magic as a science (they call it "the Small Science") and there's a token paragraph or two talking about the theory of "like calls to like"—but as I recall, Alina actually says something like, "Oh, and there's more, but it's kinda complicated and I don't get it." Ah, here we go:

"[Couple o' paragraphs on how Grisha magic is just manipulating matter on fundamental levels.] But if I understood what we did, I was less sure of how we did it. The grounding principle of the Small Science was 'like calls to like,' but then it got complicated. Odinakovost was the 'thisness' of a thing that made it the same as everything else. Etovost was the 'thatn'esso of a thing that made it different from everything else. Odinakovost connected Grisha to the world, but it was etovost that gave them an affinity for something like air, or blood, or [SPOILER]. Around then, my head started swimming." (148-149)
I appreciate that she touches upon it, but that's all the explanation we get. If you're going to be both vague and specific as well as teasery, don't even bother. I expect this will be expanded on in the sequel but I don't even understand why they call it a science since they don't appear to treat it at all like a science except for the Fabrikators, whom we barely glimpse and all they're doing is creating things in a magical process that is never explained.
For a great example of magic-as-a-science as well as magic-in-the-military,
check out the anime/manga Fullmetal Alchemist.
I did like the Darkling though. He is an ambiguous, powerful, mysterious figure, and his relationship with Alina is equal parts intriguing and suspicious. But whenever any Big Reveals concerning the Darkling happened, I found myself rolling my eyes. All that mystery and intrigue went the way of Surface Logic Only—dive any deeper and the plot/motivations/explanations start falling apart. I also disliked what was revealed because it fell along the lines of extremely genre-typical Grandiose Plot.

Incidentally, it also bothered me that Alina took everything at face value and started drawing connections from extremely vague bits of ambiguous dialogue. Nor did she ever consider that hey, maybe all this [BLANK] might be a good thing, considering [BLANK] and what everyone else thinks of [BLANK] and how [BLANK] has been at [BLANK] for [BLANK]. Do you like how I avoided all those spoilers?

But let's talk Alina. She was the most unbearable part of this book and since she's the protagonist and the narrator, that's why the book has 3 stars and a D-grade here and 1.5 stars on my Goodreads. Alina is so plain! She's so ordinary! She can't possibly be a gorgeous Grisha! She even says "gorgeous Grisha" multiple times in the book! She doesn't have any special powers! Not even when it's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (har har) that she does have them! She doesn't belong anywhere! She's never belonged anywhere!! WOE IS ALINA!!!

This whole "never belonged anywhere" thing pops up like 2/3 into the book and I was all like, "Bwuh? Since when have you never belonged anywhere? Why was there no evidence of this feeling before?" There are several things about Alina that suddenly surface out of nowhere, from physical facts to impulses and conveniently forgotten-and-then-remembered memories, all of which surprised me because I'd been reading for like 200 pages and this was the first time I'd heard of it.

Setup. That's what this book seriously lacks. When not riddled with extremely stupid plot devices and authorial/narrative trickery, Alina's character arc isn't an arc, it's more like a set of uneven steps where her character is in a static plateau of self-pity and resignation only to suddenly inexplicably jump up into her next bit of character "development." So I hate her because she's badly written as much as because she's a loser who gives up in favor of Magical Plot Devices saving the day.

Want to read a spoiler-free quote about her giving up?

"'You're not even trying anymore!' she shouted. 'You're waiting for [A MAGICAL PLOT DEVICE]?'

When she started railing at me, I just shrugged. She was right. I was tired of trying and failing. I wasn't like the other Grisha, and it was time I accepted that. Besides, some rebellious part of me enjoyed driving her into a tizzy." (175)
This part sealed my hatred for Alina. Not only does she totally give up and resign herself for waiting for external things to save her, she also gets enjoyment out of being a bitch to the one person who is trying hardest to teach her to use her powers. Never once does she try to turn situations to her advantage or exercise some agency on her own. She's so pitiable because she's not a real Grisha, boohoo, even though there are actually Grisha who are nice to her and who in general try to make her welcome. Alina is too busy angsting about how they're not really her friends and she's not one of them, while at the same time having bizarre feelings of contempt for them because they're so catty.

Too many mixed signals. Just like how Alina's character is a bag of nonsensical contradictions, i.e. she's so insecure and convinced she's plain and ordinary and so overwhelmed by everything, and yet she'll randomly snap insults at people or be snarky in her head. All her snark felt artificial, as if it was supposed to show she had spine. Jellyfishes have more spine than Alina.

Closeup of St. Basil's Cathedral
And the plot. Oh god, the plot. There's hardly any. 70% of the book is typical high school drama, with Alina as the new country girl who transfers into Grisha High and makes friends with the outcast girl and has to deal with the Queen Bee Bitch, etc., exactly what Krispy says. And this was another one of those vastly un-setup lame things, since the Queen Bee shows up, is mean to Alina, and gets her comeuppance—all literally within 5 pages. This makes Alina's little "vengeance" on her several chapters later seem petty and mean-spirited.

When the deeper plot finally surfaces in the last third of the book, it was so head-bangingly typical I had to put the book down for a moment. I took it back up in the hopes that there would be some big reveals and plot twists to change what was fast becoming a very generic fantasy plot, but nope, there were none—except for a couple near the end that came up out of nowhere with no setup for the sole purpose of getting characters out of certain situations.

There is some romance in a kind-of-sort-of love triangle. I'd say that romance isn't really the focus except that apparently it is—yes, it's another one of those badly-setup things on one side, where I wasn't aware of the sheer and utter transcendent depths of Alina's feelings for this other character. I'd thought it was more of a crush. At one point it seemed pretty clear to me that she'd gotten over it except *GASP* TROO LUV 4EVAH AFTER ALL. All right, maybe not quite so bad as that, but I didn't buy it.

Alz's Conclusion: Shadow and Bone ought to appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy and/or maybe contemporary high school drama stories. But don't come here expecting anything new except for the setting—that includes plot, deeper world-building, and characters (except kind of sort of the Darkling). If mopey self-pitying heroines incite loathing within you, avoid this one.


Randomosity on Fridays: Summer Music

I'm all out of sorts from that holiday in the middle of the week. Thursday seriously felt like this:

Anyway, since we are well into summer now, I thought I'd have the Sister come back on and rec some fun jams for your long, bright days. Take it away, C!

Disclaimer: I'm sorry if some of these songs are I guess in a way "non-legit," meaning they are very pop and not the normal type of music I listen to. However, it is summer and summer is all about fun! I can't help that I like catchy songs that happen to be pretty mainstream!! Also some of these songs come from some albums that were out a few years ago, but old songs are part of enjoying summer so whatevzz.

1. The Freedom Song - Jason Mraz

Love him. The end. But I will write that this is the first song the Mraz man has covered and put on his studio album. I just love the horns and the whole vibe of the song. Favorite part is when he starts singing "come on along..." I just can't help but start groovin at that point.

The Freedom Song by Jason Mraz on Grooveshark

2. Bad Girls - M.I.A. Uhh who doesn't love a badass girl? I've never been a hardcore M.I.A. fan but all of the stuff I have heard from her has always made me wish I was as badass as her. I just love that she brings it. Plus the music video for this is pretty kickass.

Bad Girls by MIA on Grooveshark

3. Lucky Strike - Maroon 5 This whole new album is so pop that it's pretty weird but good. I still need a few more listens before I decide how I feel about the album but this song totally stood out to me when I listened. It's just so catchy and well the "ohhs" in the chorus I SWEAR ARE FROM ANOTHER SONG!!! If someone knows please tell me because it has been bothering me for a week now. The slow-down of the bridge in this song is my jam, no lieee. Also, it was tough for me to choose between this song or "One More Night" so check that song out too. The best part of that one is the way he sings those verses.


4. As Long As You Love Me - Justin Bieber Yes that's right. Justin Bieber has made it onto this list. I was never a Bieber fan/girl but when "Boyfriend" came out, man was I surprised. It was such a different sound from "Baby" and I just really wasn't expecting that from him. And well that song totally made me interested in what else he had up his sleeve. I've listened to his new album and well I actually enjoy some of the songs including this one. Yes Backstreet Boys will always have the superior song but Bieber does not disappoint with this. The staggering in the chorus is really what makes the song for me. Also, Big Sean's rap on this is so stupid so please ignore that first line. You'll understand when you hear it.

As Long As You Love Me by Justin Bieber on Grooveshark

5. Fireworks - Polock Such an appropriate song considering it was the 4th two days ago but I found out about Polock sometime last year and instantly fell in love. If you are a fan of the band Phoenix, you will probably like Polock. They're pretty much the Spanish version of them since they're from Spain and the vibe of their songs just reminds me of Phoenix. Plus the first few lines of the song are "1 2 3 4 5 we are young and proud." 'Nuff said.

Fireworks by Polock on Grooveshark

6. I Can't Get Enough - Rooney Rooney is such a Californian band and this song just screams California to me. I just wanna put on my shades, roll down my windows, and drive down to the beach with this song on. It's just so fun and summer-y!

I Can't Get Enough by Rooney on Grooveshark

7. Windows Down - Big Time Rush That's right, BTR is back on another one of my lists. What can I say, I just can't help myself. They're songs are so catchy!! Anyway, this is their new single and it was actually Ke$ha's song. She decided to sell it to BTR once a demo of her version was leaked. There is a mash-up of her verses in BTR's version somewhere online which is pretty awesome but the song without her is also pretty great as well. The little lead-up into the chorus is my favorite part. I've realized that I just like little slow-down moments in songs. It just begs you to get down and groooveee.

Windows Down by Big Time Rush on Grooveshark

8. On Top of the World - Imagine Dragons One of my new favorite bands. They just released an EP titled "Continued Silence" and I definitely recommend that you guys check it out. It is so amazing. I literally listen to it on repeat every night when I'm playing with the puppy. I figure this song has more of a summery fun vibe but one of my favorites from the EP is "Radioactive" so check that out too if you're interested in this band! They're definitely one to watch.

On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons on Grooveshark

9. Satellite - The Wanted So long story short, I pretty much was a Wanted hater for the longest time. When I first found out about them back in 2009-ish (when they first started out) I hated on them. Their first single was just horrible, and the music video was the most hilarious thing I had ever seen. Even with the other singles they had, I still could not get into them. They just didn't do it for me, and I even said "they will never make it here" (since they're British). Fast forward to now.

I gave in once fate allowed them to change their show from The Roxy to The El Rey, where I was interning at the time. Not only did I have a really fun time at the show, but I met them afterwards, and their kindness made me a fan. I can't hate when I got hugs and kisses on the cheek ok. That's just rude. Anyway, "Satellite" is a song I thoroughly enjoyed and liked off the bat (which is pretty crazy even since I've become a fan because some of their songs take time for them to grow on me). I found out that Ryan Tedder produced it later on and that was when it all made sense but frealzz it is a good song.

Satellite by The Wanted on Grooveshark

10. Sweater Weather - The Neighbourhood This is seriously my new favorite band. I basically got into them when I saw them open up for The Wombats (I think but I guess this detail doesn't really matter) when I was working a show. There were two openers that night and The Neighbourhood went first. The thing that impressed me about them was that they had so much energy and really got the crowd going even if they were the first opening band. It's always hard being an opener and to get the crowd that engaged takes some serious skill. And well I was also impressed with their overall musical style. They just have this dark, r&b vibe mixed in with some rock. It really is hard for me to explain exactly what it is that I like about them but all I know is that I like it. They just released an EP a few months ago called "I'm Sorry" and you can download it for free at their official site! They're currently working on a new album and I am pretty excited for it. Also check out "Female Robbery" off the EP. That is definitely one of my favorites.

Sweater Weather by The Neighbourhood on Grooveshark

What are you jamming out to so far this summer? HAPPY WEEKEND!


Happy Fourth of July!

Late post today because Alz, the Sis, and I were out frolicking on this holiday randomly in the middle of the week!

We saw the new Spider-Man movie (pretty good!), ate food, gave the puppers, Loki, a swimming lesson, and now we prepare for more foodage and fireworks!

Hope you all have a happy and safe Fourth of July! And for you non-Americans, hope you're having an excellent Wednesday. :)

The Cute Overlord says Happy Independence Day, silly mortals.