Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tiffany Girl by Deeane Gist

The phrase "christian fiction" is usually enough to send me running for the hills. I have tried to read a few historical "inspirational" romances, and was incredibly annoyed to discover that these books were nothing more than cardboard thin pretenses at HR disguising what were basically devotionals. I have no problem with religious characters, but when it is the focus of the romance, and the word "God" gets more air time than love in what is supposed to be a romance, I get...frustrated.

Apparently, TIFFANY GIRL is also christian fiction. Or the author used to write christian fiction before she made the switch from Bethany House to a less strict publisher. First of all, as a secular reader, I would just like to take the time to say that TIFFANY GIRL is very readable -- whether you are religious or not. The character's faith is appropriate for the time in which she is growing up, and she uses it to explore a lot of really relevant issues. Is love more important than your creative passions? What do you do when your parents make the wrong choices? How can you tell if someone is really your friend? And, perhaps most importantly, what if you aren't good enough to do what you love?

Florence "Flossie" Jayne is an artist. But she has to drop out of art school when her father blows all their money gambling. Conveniently, the men who work at Tiffany's are going on strike, forcing the factory to employ female scabs. Flossie applies and ends up getting accepted for the position.

She knows that if she continues to live at home, her father will embezzle her funds, in addition to those of her seamstress mother, so she moves into a boarding house filled with colorful characters, including the stoic and ill-tempered Reeve. Reeve is a columnist with a troubled past, and struggling to make ends meet with his filler. Inspired by Flossie and her New Woman ways, he starts a column poking fun at her that actually becomes quite popular. But he doesn't expect that what annoyed him so much about her in the beginning actually will be what endears him towards her at the end.

TIFFANY GIRL is a very long book, and at times I felt the drag. But there were so many exciting developments and twists that I found myself unwilling (and unable) to put the book down. Gist is, in some ways, like a nonsecular Courtney Milan. The way feminism was explored in this book was surprising, and refreshing. In many christian romances, the female character struggles with her relationship with the male character and her adherence to her faith. In this book, Flossie struggles to balance her artistic talents and her identity as a feminist with her budding affection for Reeve.

I read the author's note at the back of the book, and was interested to learn that Gist was inspired to write this book after reading some of Clara Driscoll's letters about what working in the Tiffany factory was actually like. (Clara Driscoll is a character in this book -- she was also an actual woman in history who actually worked for Tiffany and, according to the author, is a big part of why we know as much about Tiffany as we do.) The details about choosing glass and the descriptions of the pieces were wonderful. Sometimes when an author has a character who is an artist, the descriptions of their Process can be very dull and full of info-dumping, but in this case they really added to the story. I could easily imagine the beautiful tea screens and lampshades and hat pins in this book. *sigh*

I suppose if I have any criticisms (ha -- me, without criticisms?), it is that a) sometimes Flossie could be very annoying and b) the romantic scenes in this book seemed awkward and a little forced. Flossie could be a little selfish and pigheaded and there were times when I rolled my eyes at her actions. Whether it's scams, pick-up artists, or believing her parents when they tell her that she is a special snowflake, I found it difficult to believe that someone could be such a moron. SERIOUSLY, WOMAN. But I guess women were pretty sheltered back then, and you could argue that, living on her own, for the first time, with nobody to explain how the world works, it stands to reason that Flossie would be the exact type of person who would fall prey to these mistakes. I just wish she was less annoying, though.

As for the romance, TIFFANY GIRL is a clean romance. There is a fade-to-black wedding night sex scene that is pretty steamy, I suppose, even though the characters are still clothed as the story ends. There is a kissing scene that is awkward (and there is a slut-shaming "I should have known that you're not that type of girl"-type comment that made me wince) because it ended so quickly, and the descriptions of the kiss seemed so stilted and brisk in comparison to the rest of the narrative. If the author did start out at a stricter publishing house, it makes sense that romantic scenes might not be something she has a lot of experience (or comfort) writing. A lot of the negative reviews for this book are actually from people who thought the scene was too racy(!)!) which makes me laugh, because this is one of the tamest romances I have read this year.

I was pleasantly surprised by TIFFANY GIRL. If I had known it was christian fiction I probably wouldn't have applied for it on Netgalley, which makes me sad, because I would have missed out on what actually turned out to be a really great story. If you are a fan of victorian-era fiction and feminist themes, you will probably enjoy TIFFANY GIRL just as much as I have. Hell, it's probably worth it just for the descriptions of the glass, and for the fact that at one point the hero actually refers to the heroine as an Antichrist.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs

I'm torn when it comes to fangirls. On the one hand, their enthusiasm can lend a lot of energy to a fandom, stirring up hype and even inspiring the artist/creator/what have you. On the other hand, this same enthusiasm can make them...irritating.

Over the past few years, geeks have gone mainstream. Thanks in part to various indie movies (half of which seem to star Michael Cera), John Green, Felicia Day, and TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, and the way social networks allow people to connect over pop culture, it is now cool to be geek.

THE FANGIRL'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY reads like an introduction to someone who doesn't know the first thing about being geeky, but wants to...because it's cool. Which I'm torn about. I've always been geeky, but I was geeky at a time when it wasn't cool, and I had no friends with similar interests, and I was in high school before Tumblr and Facebook so I had no way of connecting with people over the things that I was interested in (vampires, anime, metal). To me, geeky isn't something that you can become, it's something that you are. And the way this book makes it out to be some sort of label or a brand, well, I felt like it kind of cheapened who I am.

The tone of the book doesn't help. There is a very superior, almost condescending tone to this instructional guide. The author continually feels the need to assert her "cred." She comes from the Etsy school of geeks, and believes that you're not a hardcore fan unless you're making Companion Cube rings and knitting amigurumi plushes of your favorite anime characters. Which is a bit unfair. Because, again, you're either artistic, or you're not (just as you're geeky or you're not), and this is not the sort of yardstick by which one can measure their love of a TV show or book or movie.

Or anything, really.

Another problem I had with FANGIRL is the elitism...and the sexism.

I hinted at the elitism before. Maggs' guide would have you believe that your fangirling is somehow "less" if you don't go all out (to conventions, write fanfiction, crafting, etc.). There is also a sort of close-mindedness in how she goes about portraying fangirls in all their stereotypical, unilateral glory: you don't have to be 100% effusive in order to be a fan of something. You can think critically about your ships, and maybe not like some things about them, either. This leads to interesting discussion. Her attitude seems to be "positives only!" and "block people who don't agree with you!" which I think is a very sad way of thinking. Isn't it better to be inclusive? Many girls who are geeks know what it's like to feel left out, and this hardcore fangirling can often be--dare I say it--exclusive. I can't tell you how many times I felt left out of something because I didn't like it enough to be "legit."

Maggs talks about trolls and at times, her definition comes dangerously close to "someone who doesn't agree with me." For example, one type of troll she cites is someone who claims that a post has no legitimacy because of bad grammar. I actually think that the point would go to a troll, because honestly, who wants to read something that says:

I loved last nites game of throne's! OMG g.r. martin stop killing of my favrite carachters! i hate u! lol

That really doesn't do the fandom any favors.

I believe another definition was someone who comes onto your post and asks you how you can like something, and lol you're such a dumb girl for liking that. Which kind of made me laugh (not really) because honestly, when was the last time someone went on one of your book reviews and told you that you were stupid for liking something? Because I honestly can't remember the last time. Usually, what happens is someone (a fangirl *cough*) comes onto one of my posts and tells me I'm a terrible human being for down-rating a book that their favorite author worked so hard on. Also, very frequently, that I'm stupid, and must have read the book incorrectly if I couldn't see the awesome.

This is actually a nice segue into my other problem with the book: the sexism. It is very sexist against men, and portrays them as Teh Enemy. Maggs would have you believe that all fangirls are about girlpower and sticking together and uniting against their Evil Male Oppressors. Generalizations like this are unfair to everyone because a) there are a number of fangirls who only got into their fandoms because of male friends or boyfriends (even if their enthusiasms eventually outmatched their buddies' or S/O's), b) a lot of fangirls exhibit internalized misogyny, and slut-shame or hate on their fellow fangirls , c) Maggs tends to use exclusively female pronouns but there are a lot of male geek icons who contribute a lot to fandoms and feminism, like Wil Wheaton and Joss Whedon. Not all girls are going to be part of your fandom sisterhood, and not all men are rapey misogyny trolls.

FANGIRL could have been a good book, but it had a lot of inherent problems that prevented it from reaching its potential. Overall, I found it very frustrating, and I would not give this to anyone interested in becoming a fangirl because of the poor lessons it teaches. FANGIRL is superficial, elitist, and even a little sexist. You are who you are. If you're interested in geeky things, you will definitely have no trouble finding someone who shares your passions thanks to the internet. You don't need a book to teach you how to love what you love. And if you're not interested in geeky things, but are trying to force yourself to like them because you think it's cool...don't. Please. Don't.


1 out of 5 stars.

Where Sea Meets Sky by Karina Halle

A lot of Karina Halle's fans say that she's losing her edge...

I would agree with this statement.

Lately, KH's last couple books have heavily relied on what I call "appropriation of trendy subcultures." When tattooed gangbangers were popular, she wrote about that. When rock musicians were popular, she wrote about that. When nerds were popular, she wrote about that. And so on, and so forth.

From a commercialist standpoint there is nothing wrong with this, as long as you can make it work. And for a while, she could. But a lot of the soul has gone out of her writing and now her books seem to rely excessively on stereotypes and over-the-top sex scenes to keep the ball moving.

WHERE SEA MEETS SKY pissed me off, because KH decided to appropriate geek culture -- and she does it very badly. There's also a lot of slut-shaming, and the male MC is a giant dick whose only saving grace is his giant dick. Not going to cut it here, I'm afraid.

I made it to about 25%, and then I cast the book aside in disgust because I could tell this book was going to piss me off. Lately, KH has decided that she likes writing about cheating, and from what I've seen in reviews of her books that deal with this, the characters go about their adultery/infidelity with the emotional depth of horny teenagers. Whereas geek culture is something that I feel a part of, and I hate seeing it ill-portrayed, cheating is something that I have also, unfortunately, been exposed to, and I hate seeing it romanticized because I think it is disgusting and, yes, cowardly, and about as romantic as picking up a copy of FSoG infected with herpes.

Give this one a miss.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poems About Cats by Yasmine Surovec

POEMS ABOUT CATS is a little misleading, because the giant "CAT VS HUMAN" header made me believe that this was going to be a collection of comics from the strips I love oh so much.

But no.

POEMS ABOUT CATS is actually...poems about cats. They are illustrated, yes, but not actual comic strips, and the poems were not written by Yasmine; instead, they are a collection of nursery rhymes and poems in the public domain that she has made some drawings for.

I am an unapologetic cat lady, and I'm always really excited when I see cat-related things on Netgalley (like Pusheen, Simon's Cat, etc.). So I had really hoped that POEMS AND I would get on like a house on fire.

The drawings were charming and I did like the assortment of poems, but they weren't really what I'd signed up for. I felt tricked. Cheated, even. If I wanted to read old poems about cats from the turn of the century (or the turn of the last century), I would be able to do so, easily.

Yasmine Surovec draws really cute pictures of cats, and that's what I wouldn't have minded seeing more of.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rot & Ruin #3 by Jonathan Maberry


You know, it puzzles me why zombies became so freaking popular a few years back, because zombies don't really do anything. They don't have any personality, they don't have any motives beyond "oh! a thing with blood! I want to bite it! Nomnomnom gushy!" But zombies because A Thing, and suddenly everyone was leaping on the bandwagon, and talking about the zombie apocalypse.

Note: there are people who actually believe that the zombie apocalypse will happen. I have met several of these people. They are literally zombie preppers. Explain this to me.

ROT & RUIN is a book series. This is the graphic novel spin-off. Because if a book is successful, you must make a comic of it. This is a rule. (Can someone do this with one of my books?)

One thing I should mention is that the cover art is in no way representative of the actual art of the comic itself. The front is pseudo-realistic/X-box game level graphics. The comic book art is a few grades below Marvel, pretty obviously human, but cartoony, like Saturday morning all over.

Four teens named Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Chong are navigating the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Their source of conflict is from other humans as much as it is from zombies, and they are very wary of anything and everything except each other, maybe (and not even that, necessarily). So one day, during a zombie attack they are saved by another teenager who also happens to be pregnant.

This teenager, named Abby, says she lives on a farm with cows, with a whole bunch of her friends and family, and wouldn't it be nice if they stayed for dinner? Bitch, what do you think this is? But Benny & co. go to the farm, and find out that it's actually quite nice there.


Spoiler alert.


ROT & RUIN is a lot like THE WALKING DEAD, which is one of the more famous zombie media franchizes...except maybe WORLD WAR Z (aka WORLD WAR ZZZZZZ... that book was so boring). I'd say it's like a YA version of TWD, but it's really not. I think ROT & RUIN actually is marketed as YA, but it's so dark, and has so many concepts in it that I'm not sure kids younger than sixteen should be exposed to necessarily-- like violence, sexual violence, and adult themes.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by ROT & RUIN. I thought it was kind of lame how they referred to themselves as "samurai" but then I remembered that they are teens, and this is such a teen thing to do. It really is a lot like WALKING DEAD and if you're a fan of the show, this will be a pretty good match for you tone- and content-wise. Nice to find a zombie book that isn't too over the top.

Maybe I'll actually check out the novel now...

3.5 out of  5 stars.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Bosses, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks by Merritt Watts

Man, oh man, why didn't this book come out earlier, when I was working retail during Black Friday? I could have used some of this camaraderie.

FIRST JOBS is actually a really cute and inspiring book. It's divied up into sections: crappy jobs, jobs that led to better jobs, jobs that led to euereka moments, etc. There is a lot of breadth.

Some of the "first jobs" in this book:
-salmon packer in Alaska
-(atheist) bible salesman
-nude model(!)
-Disneyland employee
-amusement park janitor

Pretty much everyone will find at least one person to relate to in this anthology of personal essays. I think my personal favorite was the girl who enjoyed her job scooping ice cream, even though she got stuck with a lot of the more humiliating aspects of it (like mopping up floors); she was happy because she had a job, and because she had something to point to. I feel that way about my job, too. I work minimum wage, but I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I feel a sense of personal accomplishment when I come home at the end of a long day.

Another cool bonus about this work -- which, surprisingly, isn't advertised -- is that a couple of the people writing the essays are big-shots! One of the guys in here was the mayor of Los Angeles for a while, and there's also a couple magazine editors in here. One of the essayists could have had the chance to intern with Coco Chanel, because her grandfather knew her, but her parents nixed the idea, so the opportunity was a no-go. I WOULD BE SO PISSED. WORST PARENTS EVER.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, dear, dear. Why didn't this pan out? I love stories that navigate the tenuous bonds between reality and fantasy. Life is fantastic, and one of the best things about fantasy is how it often mirrors reality. So many great stories have played with the idea of using fantasy as a "safe" way to explain horrible events -- Millennium Actress, Mirrormask, Life of Pi. It's probably one of my favorite tropes in fiction, because I always look forward to the moment of reveal, when you get to see the man behind the curtain.

MR. FOX starts out interestingly enough. Mr. Fox is an author with an unfortunate habit: he always kills off his heroines. Obviously, he thinks that they deserve it, and whether they do or not is a matter of opinion. Did they deserve it? Do women ever deserve the violence meted out to them? Mary Foxe, Mr. Fox's muse, doesn't think so. Mr. Fox's writing habits disturb her and she wants to change them.

One thing that seems to have thrown a lot of people off in this narrative is the nonlinear storyline. There are POV swaps, some of which seem to be AU, or possibly even fictional (and you can't tell -- you have to decide what is real for yourself, Matrix style). Interspersed within these POV swaps are stories that, I guess, are supposed to have been written by Mr. Fox. Ironically, these stories are the best part of the book, and if MR. FOX was simply an anthology of these types of stories a la Angela Carter, this book would have a higher rating.

The flaws in this book (at least how I saw them) are as follows:
1. The middle of this story really starts to drag. Even though this is a fairly short book, it feels unnecessarily long.
2. The POV swaps felt like a calculated attempt to be artsy and just came off as confusing.
3. I'm still not clear on what, exactly, happened. The ending is so metaphorical and vague.
4. Most of the literary merit in this book seems to come from the interpretation of the reader. What exactly is this book trying to say? I got most of the fairytale references but I still don't quite get what is happening here.
5. Meta is not necessarily a good thing.

There are some extremely positive reviews for this book that are intellectual, and vibrantly written, and pretty much just made me wonder whether I was too stupid to grasp the brilliance that is this book. I'm not sure. I have my dumb moments, but I don't think all the fault lies with me.

If someone does understand what happened in this book, or thinks they do, please explain it to me (but use spoiler tags, please).

1.5 out of 5 stars.