Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31st, 2011: A day to test my resolve

Ilona Andrews' "Magic Slays," Nalini Singh's "Kiss of Snow" and Julia Quinn's "Just like Heaven" ALL come out today...

...and I am gritting my teeth and attempting self-control, so that I don't instantly buy them all, and go on a "get-no-work-at-all-done-today-just-read-non-academic-literature" binge...

(it's interesting that the kindle edition of "Kiss of Snow" is more expensive than the kindle versions of "Magic Slays" and "Just Like Heaven" - is it because a non-electronic copy of "Kiss of Snow" is only available in hardcover, which costs more? If so, will the kindle price drop when the paperback version comes out?)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

THOUGHTS on: Sharon Shinn's "Troubled Waters"

Title: “Troubled Waters”
Author: Sharon Shinn
Series: n/a
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
I love Sharon Shinn's writing – in particular, I love her style of prose, and her style of world-building. “Troubled Waters” was no different – the prose is gorgeous, and the world is beautifully crafted. Although it's not one of my favourite books by Shinn [1], I definitely enjoyed reading it.
For the past ten years, Zoe Ardelay has lived in exile with her father, Navarr Ardelay, a brilliant and passionate sweela man who was formerly a favourite advisor of the King. “Troubled Waters” opens with Navarr's funeral, and Zoe deep in grief, unsure of what to do with her future. Her decision is made for her, however, by Darien Serlast, an advisor to the King who arrives at her village with summons. Zoe is to come to Chialto to become the King's fifth wife. Events do not unfold exactly as planned, however, and eventually Zoe finds herself surrounded by unexpected truths about her father, why he was exiled, her mother's family, the royal succession, and even unexpected truths about herself.
Since I love Shinn's world-building, I'll talk about that first. Nearly every aspect in the world portrayed in “Troubled Waters” is driven by a superstitious system of random blessings. These are blessings fall into five categories, each associated with i) a natural element, and ii) a human element: there is elay (air/soul), hunti (wood/bone), sweela (fire/mind), coru (water/blood), and torz (earth/flesh)[2]. The seasons and colours are organized according to these categories, and people also tend to fall into these five categories, each associated with characteristic personality traits. For example, if you are hunti, you are like wood, and have the characteristics associated with its random blessings like resolve, loyalty and steadfastness. If you are sweela, you are like fire, and have charm, intelligence, passion and creativity. If you are coru, you are like water – changeable, flexible, but persistent.
I found this world of random blessings interesting and intricately built, as I usually find Shinn's worlds, but what I love best about Shinn's world-building is that we are usually shown how the world works, and not told. That is, there are no paragraphs as above, whose sole purpose appears to be informing the reader of how the world works. Instead the reader gleans pieces of the world, and how the pieces fit together from observing the characters, or interactions between characters. For example, we learn what characteristics a Hunti man has when Doman, the (unofficial) hunti mayor of Zoe's village obdurately takes care of a grief-stricken Zoe; we get hints of what a sweela woman should be like when Darien tries to appraise Zoe's character. And while there are parts where we are overtly told how certain aspects of the world works, these parts are never given to the reader purely for world-building's sake – they are slipped in as explanations for assumptions that characters have made, or actions that they took which might otherwise seem strange to the reader. In other words, they are given exactly at points when the reader would be wondering about and wanting explanations, and the little bits of world-building provide this explanation in exactly the right amounts[3]. I think Shinn's skill at world-building is quite rare; it's often the case that I will be reading a book, and feel like the narrator is giving me a lecture about how the world works[4].
As for the characters, I liked Zoe and Darien, although I didn't find them particularly noteworthy. Zoe is described as a coru woman with a sweela heart – flexible, but resilient and persistent, with a passionate core. There were times when her character seemed inconsistent – while she is generally portrayed as very flexible, and easily adaptable, at times she was deliberately contrary, just for (what seemed to me like) the sake of being contrary. It was only around Darien that she behaved this way, however, which I realize now probably showed how Darien affected her. Zoe was also, at the rare time, irresponsible. I found that I could usually justify her mistakes, however. SPOILER

For example, Zoe's confrontation with Alys, where she abused her power as the Lalindar prime. I could justify Zoe's actions, although I did think it was a mistake, because i) I could see how she viewed Alys as a dangerous threat that no one seemed willing to check, and ii) Zoe's powers were very new to her, and unlike other primes, she was never trained to be prime, therefore hadn't had the time the other primes had to think about the consequences of her powers.

Darien Serlast is described as hunti through and through. This is pretty characteristic of a Shinn hero – steadfastness is the bedrock on which she builds her heroes: witness Gabriel from “Archangel,”, Tayse from “Mystic and Ryder,” Gaaron, from “Angelica”, Kent from “Summers at Castle Auburn,” etc.[5] He didn't seem to make much of an impression on me though – maybe he will improve with re-reading (Kent certainly did. I went from feeling lukewarm about Kent to him being one of my favourite heroes.) Thinking back, I suppose I can isolate one thing that makes Darien different from other Shinn heroes: although honourable, loyal and steadfast, Darien Serlast is willing to obfuscate the truth in order to keep the kingdom stable. He is willing to mislead the public and hush up scandals if he feels its for the greater good. All in all, I liked Darien, but not overmuch.
As for the romance between Zoe and Darien, like all Shinn books, it seemed to me to be fairly understated for a category romance[6], aware that I am that one would probably read it as quite blatant from a category fantasy. I was a little disappointed with the romance however – my heart didn't get caught in all the highs and lows the way it did for Rachel and Gabriel's relationship in “Archangel”[7] and I didn't fall in love with Kent like Corie did in “Summers at Castle Auburn.” I might come back and see how I feel about it when I re-read “Troubled Waters” (as I likely will).
Prose: A+ (If I could choose one writer whose writing style I could steal, it would be Sharon Shinn's. Gorgeous, lush, and yet the beautifully crafted words never distract me from the story she's telling. Unlike Patricia A. Mckillip, who I love and think has even more gorgeous prose, but I'm often distracted by just how gorgeous the prose is...)
Plot: B (I don't associate Sharon Shinn with lots of twisty plot turns, and so was surprised by at least one of the twists here. I may not have been, had been reading it as I would a Carol Berg or Diana Wynne Jones novel, where I sit up and look for plot twists. There was some political intrigue though, which is the way I like my fantasy – sprinkled with political intrigue. A bit odd considering how I have to force myself to pay attention to modern-day politics)
Characters: B- (They were ooo-kay, solid characters, though I felt pretty lukewarm towards them.)
World-building: A+ (Love, love, love.)
X-factor: A (I love Sharon Shinn)
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[1] I have obsessively re-read “Archangel” and “Summers at Castle Auburn,” and I think the only books of hers that I haven't re-read, and probably won't (excepting Gateway, which I haven't read yet), are “The Shapechanger's Wife,” “Wrapt in Crystal” (not sure why, but these ones didn't work for me) and “Jenna Starborn” (not because I didn't like it, but if I'm in the mood to read something like “Jenna Starborn”, I'll probably just go re-read “Jane Eyre”.) Oh, and “The Alleluia Files” because I borrowed that one from a friend instead of buying it.
[2] There are also three uncategorized blessings, which are rare.
[3] Of course, when I say “exactly the right amounts,” this is completely subjective. It's exactly the right amount for my default reading style. Some readers may feel she tells too much, depending on your reading style, and how much you pay attention. For example I feel that Diana Wynne Jones, whom I love, has hardly any explicit explanation of how her worlds work at all. The characters just go about their actions, and go about saying the things they say, and thinking the things they think, with the assumptions they would have having grown up and lived in their world. As the reader, you have to piece together, from their actions, thoughts and words, exactly how the world works. I felt the same way about the first Kate Daniels book “Magic Bites” by Ilona Andrews (by the later books I was already familiar with the world. I can't help but also mention here that I love this series. Kate Daniels is one of my favourite heroines). These books have fantastic world-building, but it required more active reading than is default on my part. So if you find the amount of explanation that Diana Wynne Jones gives to be the right amount, you might find Sharon Shinn to be too pedantic, but for my reading style, Sharon Shinn's world-building is just perfect.
[4] Interestingly, this is the exact opposite of what I want in academic writing. In academic writing, I want the theoretical framework and assumptions to all be explicitly stated and laid in the same place, preferably with a helpful table summarizing said assumptions. And preferably under a heading labelled 'theoretical framework and assumptions' or such. But it irks me when all of the world-building in a fantasy novel is dumped explicitly on me like this – I much prefer getting little implicit hints and clues, and building the world in my head from those bits and pieces. Although getting explicit explanations in fantasy novels is not nearly as annoying as confronting implicit assumptions and vague hints in academic writing.
[5] I think Jesse from “Fallen Angel” might be an exception. He didn't make much of an impression on me. Maybe I'll re-read it to check.
[6]...modern romances, I mean. I've quite enjoyed the Georgette Heyers I've read (Cotillion, Frederica), but find the romance in her novels to be too understated for my tastes.
[7]...then again, I've read "Archangel" some 26+ times (I stopped counting after 26).

THOUGHTS on: Jennifer Estep's "Spider's Bite"

Title: "Spider's Bite"

Author: Jennifer Estep

Series: Elemental Assassin 001

Genre: Urban Fantasy

(Review written May 29th, 2011)

I just finished reading "Spider's Bite," the first in the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep, and I enjoyed it. Gin Blanco is an assassin known as "the Spider." A last-minute job that seems like a quick way to make big bucks turns out to be a set-up, a ploy to frame Gin for killing corporate whistle-blower Gordon Giles after killing her. Gin is soon caught between trying to figure out who set her up, so she can kill them before they kill her, and along the way we meet Finnegan Lane, Gin's foster brother; the Devreaux sisters, a pair of dwarven sisters with interesting talent sets; and Donovan Caine, perhaps the only non-corrupt cop left in Ashland. Donovan's partner was hit by Gin before the events of “Spider's Bite”, and while Donovan Caine is willing to call a truce with Gin in order to find out who was behind the murder of Gordon Giles, he is not willing to forget that has sworn to bring to justice the assassin who killed his partner.

I thought "Spider's Bite" was a good, solid start to a series. Like an urban fantasy heroine should be, Gin Blanco is tough, capable and confident. And a little quirky, in that she is a bit of a foodie, and quite enjoys the classes she takes at the local college as her "cover" as a perpetual college student. As an assassin Gin is understandably morally off-centre, but she still holds fast to her own set of morals and honour, and is therefore admirable. Gin also comes off as vulnerable at times, usually when she struck by unbidden memories of people she cared for. These parts are (to me) quite brief, however. I like seeing a bit more vulnerability in my heroines, in order to better connect with them, but since this is only the start of the series, I suspect this may develop with further installments. And on further contemplation, I realize that the brevity of these parts does a good job of illustrating Gin's mental state. As an urban fantasy, "Spider's Bite" is written in first person, and so these moments of vulnerability are necessarily portrayed as short, because Gin, at this point in her life, will not let herself be vulnerable. Continuing along this line of thought, the book's portrayal of Gin's attraction to Donovan Caine might also be skewed by either conscious or unconscious editing on Gin's part: although she admits that Donovan's idealistic moral view is rare and admirable, her attraction is primarily portrayed as physical, with several descriptions of Donovan's physical attributes, and what Gin would like to do with, ahem, said attributes. A possible way of reading this, however, is that this asymmetry reflects not the compositional proportions of Gin's actual attraction to Donovan, but rather only what Gin will admit to. I suspect now that it may actually be Donovan's moral uprighteousness that primarily attracts her: here is an honourable man with a pure moral code that Gin, a bit unhappy and uneasy with the extreme boundaries of her own moral code, wishes she could, but could never actually adhere to. All in all, I liked Gin, and how she was portrayed. I especially appreciated that Gin wasn't a hotheaded, reckless heroine (although those heroine's have their places too).

Unfortunately I wasn't as pleased with the portrayal of Donovan Caine. Although we are told that Donovan has an upstanding moral code, and he certainly shows priggishness in adhering to his code, I never really found a part where this priggishness translated into an attractive quality. After all, honour is sexy, right? Or at least, it can be portrayed as such. For example, the moment in George R. R. Martin's “Game of Thrones” where Lord Eddard Stark claims the heartbreaking responsibility of executing his daughter's direwolf puppy? Or the moment in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Atticus Finch asks “Do you really think so?” when facing the lynch mob (not to mention Jem's obstinacy to abandon his father)? Shivers[1]. Not that I require all heroes to have the moral fibre of Atticus Finch, but I never came across any scene like this with Donovan Caine. His moral uprighteousness was usually portrayed by him showing disappointment or outright disapproval towards Gin's actions and values. And so it was a bit difficult for me to like him, or understand why Gin found him attractive. Unless there really is just a physical attraction. In which case, sure Donovan Caine is described as physically appealing, seeing as I like dark hair and hazel eyes as much as the next girl, but then Gin becomes much less interesting. Also, while his loyalty in his partner is, I suppose, commendable, the academic in me abhors the fact that this is blind loyalty. His lack of research into his partner to see whether his loyalty is justified irks me. I certainly wouldn't go making vows on public television without making sure I had collected all the relevant information. Again, this is the first in the series, so although I didn't find Donovan particularly likeable in this installment, we shall see. Although since this is an urban fantasy, and not a romance, I suppose I shouldn't have the expectation that I ought to feel attracted to the heroine's love-interest (my criteria #2 for categorizing a romance as one that fulfils its duties to its readers,) and certainly not so early. The romance in urban fantasy series usually comes a bit later in the series.

Prose: B (Not bad, but I felt that Gin as narrator told us too much about how the world and magic in it worked in words, instead of showing us with observations)

Plot: C+ (No holy-shit moments, but I don't think "Spider's Bite" set out to thrill and astonish us with plot twists and turns, so I had no problem with this.)

Characters: B (Gin was interesting, and the side characters like Finn and the Devreaux sisters were quite interesting and amusing, but the main love interest, Donovan, fell flat for me)

World-building: C+ (fairly standard urban fantasy, cities with dwarves, giants and vampires, and so far a fairly standard magic system aligned in terms of elements)

X-factor: A (I enjoyed it)

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[1] Er, It occurs to me now that my love for Atticus Finch may not be the norm. Or is it? I don't recall other girls in my 1oth grade class sighing over Atticus...(or any of the characters in any book we were assigned to read.)


THOUGHTS on: Gena Showalter's "Awaken Me Darkly"

Title: "Awaken Me Darkly"
Author: Gena Showalter
Series: Alien Huntress 001
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Science-fiction Romance
(Review written April 19th, 2011)
I've just finished reading Gena Showalter's "Awaken Me Darkly." It feels more like urban fantasy than paranormal romance to me (which is too bad because I picked it up craving some paranormal romance), given that it's written in first-person, which is characteristic of urban fantasy. However there's more emphasis on romance (or at least, more paragraphs dedicated to the romance) than what I noticed in urban fantasy series that I have previously read, like Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, and Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series, etc.
Unfortunately, this novel doesn't work for me as either an urban romance or a paranormal romance. In short, I don't like it very much. As a warning, there are unmarked spoilers below, as I have used specific plot “twists” to illustrate some points.
First, I don't like the heroine, Mia Snow. A government-sanctioned alien hunter, Mia is pretty much a bigot when it comes to aliens. I almost stopped reading three pages in because she was so hateful. Although we are eventually given the reason for her racism, I still can't like her given that for the majority of the story, Mia never questions these prejudices, or acknowledges that circumstances in her history might have given her a skewed, less-than-rational view of aliens. This lack of doubt on her part suggests to me that she is either i) aware that she's a bigot, but too hateful to care, or ii) too stupid to realize that her views are bigoted. Not even when she finds out that she herself is half-alien do we see Mia spending much time questioning the validity of her (I assume by then, former) views. We don't see her feeling any guilt about having ruthlessly killed aliens, or any remorse for having bigoted views. Rather we see her being angry at her father for lying to her and “misleading” her into hating aliens. To me this indicates a serious inability or unwillingness to acknowledge her personal responsibility for her past actions/views.
This emotional immaturity is a facet of her character that I really dislike. While I'm sure Mia is supposed to be the typical "strong heroine" associated with urban fantasy, as she can kick physical ass, is ruthless as an alien hunter, and supposedly has an “indomitable will”, while reading I felt that Mia lacks mental/emotional strength. For example, when Mia first learns that she is half-alien, and that the murderer she was pursuing was her biological mother, we see Mia wanting to inwardly scream in defiance of the truth, and we also see several instances of her refusing to listen to the truth (eg. her screaming at Kyrin to shut up, cursing at him, slapping him, etc.). These repeated references of her unwillingness to face the truth[1] indicate an unjustified emotional immaturity. Now, Mia doesn't actually scream in defiance (usually), which I suppose might be meant to show that she has some sort of mental fortitude, but we're never shown her struggle with these issues. She just wants to scream at the unfairness of it all, but doesn't. So instead of seeing her as vulnerable, and overcoming her vulnerabilities through an admirable emotional strength, I got the sense that she was emotionally weak...and that her actions were completely disconnected from her emotions/internal state. In general, I thought that Mia screamed too much, either out loud, or silently. When a story is written from a first-person point of view, even though the screaming is silent, it's annoying.
As for her ruthlessness in hunting, which I expect was supposed to show her badassness, well...it troubled me greatly. In fact, it came off rather like power-tripping irresponsibility. Thus not only is Mia emotionally irresponsible regarding her own personal conduct, she is also irresponsible regarding the rights and personal welfare of others.
Exhibit A: The situation where Mia ordered all of the citizens, at what seemed to me like a peaceful protest, to be arrested.
Note that she herself had instigated the protest as a scheme to trap Kyrin, who also plays the role of her "love interest", for questioning in a serial murder case[2]. Mia never even tells her underlings on what grounds to arrest the citizens - and this is obviously because there are no grounds to arrest the citizens! It was just part of her ploy to make sure Kyrin did not escape her trap.
Ok, right. I'm sure this is an obvious point but: this completely tramples over the rights of the citizens that she is supposedly protecting! This, to me, shows that the heroine completely lacks a sense of responsibility towards the public she has supposedly sworn to defend. Her claims that she hunts aliens to protect humans is a lie. She hunts aliens because i) she's a bigot and therefore hates them, ii) she wants revenge because aliens killed her older brother, and iii) because she's trying to make her alien-hating father love her again. If Mia's ruthlessness actually stemmed from some honourable source, like wanting to protect the public, I may have been able to accept it (maybe...), but it doesn't. It stems from what I felt to be weaknesses in her character. For me, this would only be acceptable in a character if that character were the villain of a book, not the heroine.
Exhibit B: Mia's parroting of laws that are obviously ruthless and unjust - for example, any aliens involved with crime are to be eliminated/executed. They don't have to be guilty, they just have to be involved.
Now this is obviously a problematic law. If Mia were a child, I could understand how she could parrot these laws and not question them...but she isn't! Here I am in a similar situation as regards to her bigotry: I can't decide if this is an example of her ruthlessness - i.e., if she realizes these laws are wrong, but doesn't care, because it lets her kill more aliens, or if it's an example of stupidity, because she doesn't realize these laws are unjust. In either case, I care for Mia less and less.
For all of these reasons, I found it impossible to admire or like Mia. And thus I found it beyond annoying whenever I was told or shown that the majority of the characters in the book did admire and like her.
As for the hero, Kyrin? He could have been a computer for all I could tell. To me he seemed little more than a requisite plot device. Sure, he was described as powerful, beautiful, and given the requisite bad past to atone for. And I suppose the way he continually overrides Mia's free will with either i) physical binds (eg. tying her up) ii) a magical armband (which inflicts pain on her if she tries to escape his house), or iii) drugs, are indicative of the requisite domineering aspects we expect from an urban-fantasy alpha-hero[3]. But I never got a sense as to what his character was like. There is a part in the book where Mia describes what she has concluded about Kyrin's character, given the state of his home, but as we were told instead of shown these things, I didn't really buy it.
Needless to say, the romance didn't work at all for me. It was pretty much doomed since I didn't like either the hero or heroine, but even so, I didn't see them getting to know each other at all (I could refrain from making the actual joke about “know” in the biblical sense...) There was no sense in which I felt they complemented each other, or, actually enjoyed each others company.
So in short, this book didn't work for me as an urban fantasy, because what I look for in an urban fantasy is i) a strong heroine and ii) a good plot[4]. Nor did it work for me as a paranormal romance because what I look for in a romance is i) likeable heroines and heroes, and ii) scenes that show the hero and heroine are falling in love. I didn't find any of those in “Awaken me Darkly.”
Will I read another book by Gena Showalter? I think I would, if only because I think this is one of her earlier books. Perhaps she hadn't hit her stride yet. And I didn't read the book all that carefully - it may have been the case that the things above all jumped out at me, and I missed the significance of things that may have changed my mind about my assessment.
Prose: C (I wasn't too fond of the writing style - there was more telling than showing, I felt)
Plot: C (predictable, but not terrible)
Characters: F (...obviously, I did not like the characters)
World-building: C- (I wasn't very drawn in by the world, but I'm not big on aliens in the first place. And since this is the first in a series, maybe it gets fleshed out in later books.)
X-factor: n/a
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[1] A truth, which really, she must have, or at least should have, suspected.
[2] When I say "a serial murder case," I should actually probably say "the serial murder case” since this murder case forms the backbone of the plot.
[3] Right, I haven't even voiced my opinion on how these actions by Kyrin are, to say the least, problematic. But that's because although now that I've listed them, I see objectively how problematic they are, but I didn't really care when they happened in the book. This is probably because I didn't (and still don't) buy Kyrin as an actual character, whom I might expect to have admirable characteristics.
[4] I haven't mentioned the plot above. Basically, I felt it was rather predictable. I saw it coming that i) she was half-alien, ii) Atlanna was her mother, and iii) that the brother Atlanna referred to would be Dare, and not Kane. But that may be because I've been reading quite a bit of Carol Berg recently, which has primed me to look out for plot twists. Although I must say, this is the first novel I've ever read where the heroine uses a poisoned whip to whip the villain to death.
...Also, there is a part where Mia tries to glean insight from an Atlantis myth, into the motivations of a suspect named Atlanna, purely because "Atlanna" sounds like "Atlantis". If that's representative of the type of police work that Mia uses to link suspects to crimes, the aforementioned laws are even more problematic than I thought.



THOUGHTS on: Carol Berg's "The Soul Mirror"

Title: "The Soul Mirror"
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica Series 002
(Previous in series: "The Spirit Lens")
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
(Review written April 3rd, 2011)
I loved "The Soul Mirror" - Anne de Vernase is a fantastic heroine. Four years before the "The Soul Mirror" begins, Anne's world fell apart; her beloved father is charged with treason (Anne's own testimony damning him), her brother is taken to be a hostage while her father is at large, and her mother's mind has broken and twisted into madness.
Since these events (which unfolded in "The Spirit Lens"), Anne has been struggling with the financial burden of keeping her home afloat for her captive brother and sister, who is away at the College Seravain. Things do not become easier for her: "The Soul Mirror" opens with Anne learning that her 17-year old sister, Lianelle, has died in a horrific explosion. And worse, Lianelle's suspicious death is being brushed away as a foolish accident and no one at the College Seravain will answer Anne's questions.
When she Anne returns home, Portier de Savarin Duplais, the Royal Accuser who mercilessly collected evidence to convict her father four years before, awaits with the news that Anne has been summoned to court. She is to become part of Queen Eugenie household, as a maid of honour, in the hopes that she may make an honourable alliance. As anyone in her position would be, Anne is wary and untrusting. What purpose could she, the single remaining able-bodied member of the Vernase family, serve at the court of the man her father betrayed? Certainly no man would consider marriage to the daughter of a traitor a beneficial alliance. At court, Anne fears for her life, and soundness of mind.
Although Anne is afraid and suspicious of those around her, she is not cold. Berg shows the reader Anne's vulnerability: her pain at being helpless and unable to do anything for her sister, mother and brother, terrible victims of circumstance. And despite Anne's vulnerability, she is not at all a weak heroine. She is also angry on behalf of her victimized family, furious that their victimization has been covered up under the pretty guise of courtly politeness and bureaucracy, or brutal magic. And Anne shows that she is willing to face her substantial fears in order to stand up for the truth.
One thing I particularly enjoyed in "The Soul Mirror" is how differing viewpoints/perceptions were put forward, or kept hidden. We see Anne's perception of Portier. Because the reader knows that Portier is honourable from previous acquaintance in "The Spirit Lens", we are aware that Anne's perception is subjective, and can view Portier's demeanour and actions through Anne's eyes, and see her interpretations, even while calculating our own interpretations of Portier's actions. However, there is also the aspect of how Anne perceives her own situation and actions. Because Anne's voice is so strongly written, her motivations always seemed so honest and clear that I did not consider at all how her actions and circumstances might appear to others. So when, near the end of the book, we are given a glimpse as to how vastly different her actions and situation appeared to others not privy to her state of knowledge and motivations, it was as revelatory for me, as the reader, as it was for Anne.
I love reading romance, and while the romance in "The Spirit Lens" didn't do much for me, I very much enjoyed the gentle sort of romance that developed in "The Soul Mirror." I was surprised by it, but after the surprise passed, the pairing of the characters seemed obvious to me.
My subjective rating:
Prose: A (not as much to my taste as Sharon Shinn or Patricia A. Mckillip, but pretty gorgeous)
Plot: A (twists!)
Characters: A+
World-building: B-
X-factor: A
Oh, and the cover art for both "The Spirit Lens" and "The Soul Mirror" is gorgeous. In fact, I practically decided I would read these based solely on the beautiful cover art.

Funny and sad, gritty and grand

I once read a quote from an interview with Vivian Vande Velde, in which she describes T. H. White's "The Once and Future King" as her favourite book because it is "funny and sad and grand and gritty all at the same time."[1] The quote struck me because upon reading it, I realized that whenever I read a book that hit all four of those points, my enjoyment of the book always increased exponentially. For some reason (to do with assonance, I assume), I always remembered the quote as as "funny and sad, gritty and grand," hence the title of this blog.

I love to read, but for a long time I was ashamed of the fact that I didn't love to read "literature." I loved reading things like fantasy, romance and YA/children's books. Every now and then I would read something that people deemed "literature," and once in a while I would even enjoy it, but these books rarely[2] became books I would reach for when I wanted a comforting read. Although I've mostly gotten over this sense of shame, and just read whatever I want, I still feel guilty spending vast amounts of time on a hobby that, while extremely enjoyable, is essentially non-constructive. So this blog is an attempt to make my hobby somewhat constructive[3] - the aim is to write informal reviews/critiques on the books that I read[4]! These will be primarily historical romance, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, children's fantasy, and YA.

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[1] http://www.teddarnoldbooks.com/vivian.html
[2] Exception: "To Kill a Mockingbird." I love that book.
[3]...although even more time-consuming.
[4] ...the definite article "the" in "the books that I read" is probably misleading, as I have no intention of reviewing every book I read for pleasure. Then everyone would know just how much time I shamefully spend reading non-academic literature.