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Posts Tagged ‘character development’

Book Review: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (Series, #10) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Cartoon style drawing of a blonde woman and blonde man reaching toward each other with a giant red rose in the middle.Summary:
With the Fae war at an end, Sookie tries to return to some semblance of normal, working on both physical and emotional rehab.  Although she has feelings for Eric, she is uncomfortable with his insistence that she is his wife, even if she technically is by vampire law.  Plus, his maker and his new vampire-brother show up, putting a strain on the relationship.  Meanwhile, the ramifications of the shifters coming out are beginning to be felt, and Sookie’s fae cousin, Claude, moves in with her, missing the presence of other fairies.

Review:
I just need to take a moment to point out two things.  1) The last time I read/reviewed a Sookie Stackhouse book was in October of 2010.  This is why I started the Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge for myself.  Books (even series books!) were getting lost in the pile!  2) Every time I look at that cover I think for a brief moment that Eric is bald.  Something is just off in that painting.  Now, on to the book.

Even though I read it almost three years ago (seriously, holy shit), I still clearly remember really enjoying the ninth book of the series.  It was action-packed with lots of development of both plot and character.  It reinvigorated the series for me so much so that even this much later, I was excited to pick up the next book.  I should have known it would fizzle some after the action of the last book.  It’s not easy to keep that much tension and action going, and it’s not like there weren’t any lulls earlier in the series.  What I can mostly say about this book is that nothing much happens.  Seriously.  It’s longer than some of the books but less happens.  I suppose technically things do happen.  Eric’s maker shows up with a new vampire-brother for Eric, the hemophiliac Romanov brother, who is just not quite right in the head.  This leads to some interesting development of Eric’s background, but not a ton.  And it just isn’t all that intriguing.  Similarly, even though logically it should be very interesting that Claude shows up at Sookie’s and the weres sniff out two fairies around, but it just isn’t.  They sound interesting on the surface, but when you’re reading the book it mostly feels like you’re hanging out at Sookie’s house eating a cookie and wondering if the calories are worth it to listen to her yammer on.

I think the crux of the problem might be that neither Sookie nor Harris is comfortable with Sookie being with Eric, in spite of the reader liking Sookie being with Eric.  If it’s not within the character for her to be with Eric, then a break-up needs to happen, regardless of what the readers like seeing.  It’s important to keep characters acting within character.  Interestingly, Sookie has started to notice that she is aging and thinking about what it will be like to slowly grow old and die.  She seems to be seriously considering her vampire options.  But we all know Sookie doesn’t want to be a vampire.  Sookie wants children. If she gives that up to be a vampire, it will make the series take an incredibly dark turn.  The next book will be an important one.  It’s basically a shit or get off the pot moment for character development, and in spite of the ho hum nature of this entry in the series, I am interested to see if things pick up in the next book in this regard.  They tend not to slump for long in Sookie Stackhouse-land.

There’s not too terribly much else to say about the book.  Weaknesses that are there earlier in the series are still there.  Sookie isn’t very smart and is kind of annoying.  The sex scenes continue to be cringe-inducing.  But the world is complex and fun to visit, even when not much is happening there.  Sookie does need to start taking some agency soon though, or being stuck with her first person narration may become a bit too much to handle.  Readers of the series will be disappointed by this dull entry, although it won’t come as a surprise since lulls happen earlier in the series.  Enough happens to keep some interest up to keep going with it though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review

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Book Review: Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson (Series, #1)

Man in tricorn hat standing over body of dead girl.Summary:
After spending over a decade serving hard labor in the Caribbean for mutiny and conjuring, Ethan has finally made it back to Boston.  He now makes his living as a thieftaker, essentially a private investigator who hunts down stolen items, using his conjuring where necessary to help him out.  But the year is 1767 and trouble is starting to brew in Boston. The Stamp Tax has been enacted, and the people don’t like it.  There are even riots in the street.  Against this back-drop, Ethan is asked to find a brooch that was stolen–from the body of a dead girl.  He doesn’t usually take on cases involving murder, but this one is different.

Review:
It’s probably hard to tell from this blog, because they’re hard to find, but I am a real sucker for a good Boston during the American Revolution story.   So when this title showed up I snapped it up.  I’m glad I did because it’s an interesting take on the Stamp Act Riots.

This is an interesting piece of historic fiction, because it’s more like urban fantasy historic fiction. Is that a genre? Can it be? What on earth would we call it? In any case, I was in heaven, because I love BOTH urban fantasy and history so having both in one book was heaven. I mean first it’s breeches and three corner hats then it’s look at this illusion of a creepy little girl. Brilliant.

I struggled a bit with Ethan, which in retrospect wasn’t a bad thing.  That shows he’s a realistic, well-rounded character.  But let’s be honest. I’m more of a Sam Adams revolutionary type. Ethan served in the British Navy and is all “oh these hooligans.” This bothered me a lot! Especially when I got suspicious that the book as a whole would lean Tory. But! This all ends up being part of the character development, which in the end is what makes the book stronger. Ethan isn’t sure about protesting and fighting the aristocracy at first. But he changes his mind with time. This makes for a great plot-line. I like it. I do hope in the sequel we will get less of this hemming and hawing about owing things to the crown and yadda yadda. DOWN WITH THE KING. Ahem.

As a Bostonian, can I just say, I haven’t seen a book so intent on giving actual street names and buildings before, but it worked. They are totally accurate. I could completely visualize not just the streets but the entire routes Ethan was walking along. Granted, it was as if through a looking glass, since when I walk them they’re a bit different than in 1767, but still. It was very cool. I also really appreciated the depiction of the South Enders, since I spend quite a bit of time in Southie. Seeing the historical versions was really fun.

The magic portion of the book was also unique. Ethan has to cut himself to get blood to work the more powerful spells. The less powerful ones he can work with surrounding grasses, plants, etc… This makes the interesting problem that people struggle in fist-fighting him because if he bleeds he just uses it to work spells. It’s a nice touch.

So with all this glowing, why not five stars?  Well, honestly, Ethan bugged me so much for the first 2/3 of the book that I kept almost stopping in spite of all the good things. He’s just such a…a…Tory. For most of the book. Instead of being angry at the man for putting him in prison for conjuring, he blames himself.  Instead of being angry that the rich just keep getting richer while he struggles to pay his rent, he blames himself. You get the picture. Being irritated almost constantly by Ethan kind of pulled me out of the world and the story, which I wish hadn’t happened, because it really is such a cool world.  I get what Jackson was trying to do, character development wise, but the payoff in the end was almost missed because I kept stopping reading due to being irritated with Ethan.  Perhaps if his change of heart had started to show up a bit sooner it would have worked better for me.

Overall, though, this is well-researched and thought out version of Boston during the Stamp Act Riots.  Fans of historic fiction and urban fantasy will get a kick out of seeing the latter glamoring up the former.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Pretties By Scott Westerfeld (Series, #2)

August 19, 2009 3 comments

coverprettiesSummary:
Tally Youngblood lives in a dystopian society where everyone is given an operation at the age of 16 that makes them perfectly pretty.  What is not known by the general population is that during the operation lesions are put on the brain to make people dumbed down and easy to control.  A few people are selected to be “Specials.”  They don’t have the lesions and control the rest of the society.  Some people resist the operation and the control and live in the wilderness, calling themselves “Smokies.”

After being captured from The Smoke, Tally has been made pretty.  She has mostly forgotten her experiences and has a new boyfriend, Zane.  They belong to a New Pretty clique called The Crims.  The book follows what occurs after teens from the New Smoke bring Tally pills created by adults in the New Smoke that are supposed to cure the brain lesions.  She and Zane share them and begin plotting their resistance of the regime and escape from New Pretty Town.

Review:
I am quite torn about this book.

On the one hand, I like that Westerfeld is clearly gradually moving our traditional hero, Tally, toward turning into one of the bad guys in this society.  It’s a move not commonly seen in YA lit, and I think it’s a bold thing to do.  It could lead teens to question what makes people behave badly versus what makes people behave well.  It’s a bit reminiscent to me of the key question in Wicked: Are people born bad or do circumstances make them that way?

On the other hand, I am profoundly disturbed at how Westerfeld presents Shay, Tally’s one-time best friend and the one who came up with the plan to escape to The Smoke in the first book, Uglies.  Tally followed Shay there, won over the guy Shay had her eye on, and betrayed Shay to the Specials, causing her to be turned Pretty.  Oh, and in Pretties she completely leaves Shay out of the whole pills-curing-people-and-escaping-to-New-Smoke-thing.

Since Tally is leaving Shay out, Shay is left to her own devices.  These are delineated in the chapter titled “The Cutters.” In this chapter Tally and Zane discover that Shay has discovered a way to temporarily clear the fuzziness in her head caused by the operation.  She is ceremonially cutting herself and has some followers who are now doing the same.  They call their clique “The Cutters.”

Self-injury is a real element of multiple mental illnesses.  People suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and borderline personality disorder will display this symptom.  However, it is most well-known and highly associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is already stigmatized and misunderstood by the media and general population.

Westerfeld’s presentation of self-injury in his storyline reinforces multiple stereotypes regarding it.  First is the idea that self-injurers only cut.  This is not the case.  Burning, head banging, hitting things until your knuckles bleed, picking at and peeling skin, and pulling out hair are just some of the multiple methods people used.  Cutting, burning, and head banging are the most common.  Thus, showing all of The Cutters using the exact same self-injury method to clear their heads is misleading.

Second, Shay and the other Cutters proudly display their scars and make a show of the bleeding.  Self-injurers must face the prejudice that they do this for attention, that they do it in places people will notice to garner that attention.  For the vast majority of self-injurers this is not the case.  They do it in places that are easy to hide, such as upper thighs, or purposefully wear long sleeves to hide the marks.  They are usually profoundly ashamed of what they did, or at least terrified that people will find out.  It would be much more accurate to portray Shay cutting herself in a private room and have Tally accidentally see it, than to have the large ceremony in the middle of a park that is portrayed in the book.

Third, while it is true that some self-injurers say their mind feels clearer from injuring, others say it helps them shut down emotions they don’t want to feel.  It’s perfectly plausible for Shay to be in the former group, but it seems to me that at least one of her followers would be in the latter group.

My real issue though comes from the fact that Tally seeing Shay self-injuring is the final decisive straw to her.  She emphatically announces that Shay is crazy, and Zane agrees with her.  No one dissents from this viewpoint.  Shay’s scars are the markers that she’s gone off her rocker; there’s no turning back.  To top it all off, the cutting is what makes the evil Specials decide that Shay and her group should be Specials themselves, thus associating self-injury not only with “being crazy” but also with being evil.   Additionally, the ceremony in the middle of the woods is clearly connotated as being primitive.

Can you imagine what reading this portrayal would do to a teen struggling with self-injury?  She is portrayed as purely crazy, evil, and primitive.  Shay is a lost cause in the book, and clearly the teen must be too.  So little sympathy is given to Shay.  Not even a spark of goodness is visible in her.

I’m not the type to say that if you display thus-and-such group as evil you’re saying they’re all evil.  I think it’s just as discriminatory to always portray a certain group as good.  However, the portrayal of Shay turns so one-dimensional with the on-set of her self-injury.  There is zero depth to her character, zero exploration of her as a conflicted person.  She could have had rich character development.  Indeed, the entire group of “Cutters” could have been a wonderful opportunity for Westerfeld to explore more depth in his story-telling.

Yet he went the easy, sensationalist route and portrayed an evil, crazy, primitive female slashing her arms while reciting a spell, letting the blood drip down in the rain.

An incredible image to visualize? Yes.  A deep, accurate one?  No.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Previous Books in Series:
Uglies

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