Queen of Lies

Bitterblue is the last in the loose trilogy of Graceling, Fire, and now Bitterblue. Kristin Cashore has said that she has no plans for a fourth in the universe they’re set in. Bitterblue is the rescued princess from Graceling who becomes the Queen of Monsea. But her kingdom (or queendom) seems to be growing increasingly odd. Her father was a Graceling who forced people to believe his lies, and now Bitterblue herself has to step cautiously around the messes he left. Because basically, the man left a kingdom full of people with PTSD that are slowly falling apart. Bitterblue has been doing her best with advisers, but when she’s 18, she realizes that the polite white lies everyone is telling each other are only covering up the gigantic lies underneath that are wrecking the entire kingdom. The book passes the Bechdel test, and is very LGB friendly (Transgender is never mentioned in Cashore’s books). I really enjoyed this book, but in some ways, it’s the youngest book of the series. Part of that is simply that it has the youngest main character, as well as the one who nothing to protect her personally. Yes, Bitterblue is a Queen, but she’s just a regular person, not a Graceling or a “monster” from the Dells. This also makes it the most relatable book. Bitterblue has to cope with all the horrible and wonderful things that happen just like we would. It’s the longest book of the three, coming in at 576 pages in hardback. Romance and violence happen, in a roughly equivalent manner to the other two books. It’s…really good, and I think I just convinced myself that I want to read it again, despite just finishing it less than a week ago.

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Hot like burning

Oh, god, I just can’t get enough of the lame jokes. Sorry. Fire is the second in Cashore’s loosely bound together trilogy. It actually takes place prior to Graceling, but that really doesn’t matter. It’s set across the mountains in the kingdom of the Dells. They don’t have Gracelings in the Dells, they have “monsters”; beautiful, strangely colored animals and humans who mesmerize regular people and animals with their beauty. The female protagonist in this book is Fire, a “monster” girl with fire colored hair who can enter people’s minds and coerce them. This book passes the Bechdel test as well, although one thing Cashore does exceptionally well worth mentioning is to create male-female friendships that are simply that: friendships. She also deals well with failed romances, specifically men who fall for her strong heroines, but aren’t the man she falls in love with. This book is about war more than it’s about actual love though. The Dells are dealing with a warring neighboring kingdom (again, not one we met in Graceling). Sex, though, is definitely more on the table in Fire than in Graceling. The way Cashore deals with sex reminds me profoundly of Tamora Pierce, especially the Alanna books. Sex happens in friendships sometimes, and it doesn’t have to ruin them. The villain from Graceling pops up in Fire, and we learn where Leck was before he went to Monsea. Once again, this is for older YA readers (and everyone older), and it’s delightfully long at 480 pages in hardback.

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This Book is Killer

Okay, if you loved The Hunger Games, you’ll probably love Kristin Cashore’s books. She has a trilogy out – sort of. The books are loosely related to each other, all about different main female characters, but they’re all set in the same fantasy world. Graceling is the first book, and the one I’ve read the most, simply by dint of it being out the longest. The main character is Katsa, a graceling (AKA person with 2 different colored eyes who is “graced” with a special ability). Her grace is killing. She’s an assassin for her uncle, the King, but she doesn’t particularly enjoy it. Cashore’s books pass the Bechdel test easily, and even though they are classified as YA, they are definitely older YA (non-descriptive sex, a ton of descriptive violence). They are also super long (Yay!), with Graceling clocking in at 471 pages in hardback. She builds her fantasy world well, no excessive descriptions (I’m looking at you, corpsey Tolkien), with little maps in the front of the book to orient you. Other than the Gracelings, it’s fairly standard Renaissance life. No magic, no steampunk, just a great story that draws you in. She casually tosses in gay characters, with no issue to it, which is fantastic, and her books have a fantastically strong feminist element to them that lets teenagers know that you can be a powerful woman and fall in love without losing that power or surrendering it. (It’s oddly expressed in this book, but more conventionally expressed in the other books.)

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Suprisingly good

This is not a slam on Nora Roberts. I enjoy Nora Roberts, particularly her J. D. Robb books. I read those as soon as they come out. The Witness is her 200th book, and it’s really good. As in, set aside everything you ever thought about her, this is just a really good book. My mom suggested that she kicked it up a notch since this was the 200th book, and it managed to piss both of us off, since now we know that she can write this well, but doesn’t do it all the time. Nora Roberts has several cliches that she tends to rely on, but this book literally reads like one from a different author (barring the sex scenes). It’s sort of Kay Hooper suspense with the main character from the TV series Bones (not the Kathy Reichs book series, because two Temperance Brennan’s are different). But much better than I just made it sound.

The Amazon blurb says: Daughter of a controlling mother, Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive. The events that followed changed her life forever.

Twelve years later, the woman known as Abigail Lowery lives on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she designs sophisticated security  systems—and supplements her own security with a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. But Abigail’s reserve only intrigues police chief Brooks Gleason. Her logical mind, her secretive nature, and her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something—and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed.

With a quirky, unforgettable heroine and a pulse-pounding plotline, Nora Roberts presents a riveting new read that cements her place as today’s most reliably entertaining thriller author—and will leave people hungering for more.

And that gives you a pretty good idea of what the book is about. But it makes it sound pretty trite, and doesn’t really talk about what a BAMF Abigail is, keeping shitloads of guns all around, and more than willing to use them. It passes the Bechdel test. (Oddly, most of Robert’s books do. She’s big on female friendships.) The code words “quirky” and “reserve” stand for a woman who doesn’t immediately fall into a man’s arms. She has a functioning sex drive, and does fall in love eventually (it’s a freaking romance novel, that’s not a spoiler), but like most people on Earth, it takes her more than a day. Altogether, really good, and probably NOT what you should give someone for a first Nora Roberts book, because it sets the bar for all the others a little too high. Alternately, just do it, and don’t ever let them read another.

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May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

If you don’t know what The Hunger Games series is about, it’s quite possible that you live in a cave. Forbes has had 4 or 5 articles about it, so we’re not just talking kid stuff. The movie is based on the first book, The Hunger Games, and the author, Suzanne Collins, was a screenwriter so it’s really accurate. I saw the movie this weekend, and I was blown away. There are tons of little toss-away moments in it that will mean something to you if you’ve read the books. And yes, they cut Madge, but it’s okay. You can’t fit a whole book into a movie without cutting something. And Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta to perfection. I loved Peeta already,  and after seeing the movie I loved the character even more. And the Rue plotline…done to perfection.

Issues to address for the book (and really the trilogy):

  • Is this a kid’s book/movie? 

 No. It’s a YA (young adult) book. But there is a lot of violence and death. It’s basically a post-apocalyptic war novel with teen protagonists.

  • Is this like Twilight?

 No. It gets that comparison because there’s a female protagonist, and two guys that she chooses between. But the heroine, Katniss, is strong (stronger than Peeta, one of the boys).  And really, it isn’t so much about her love for Gale, as her fighting her love for Peeta (in my opinion). Also, uh, no vampires or werewolves. Just regular people, fighting to the death…like you do.

  • So is it really that good?

Yes. Go (re)read it and watch the movie. I personally like it even more than the Harry Potter series. (I know, heresy.)

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Magic Private Eyes

He has a halo because he’s awesome.

 So, this is a whole sub-genre. Fantasy/Mystery. I particularly like PI’s who know magic. I KNOW. It can/could be trite, but it’s also awesome. The best are the ones who completely acknowledge that the hard-boiled PI detective story comes with lots of cliches, and deliberately mock them. So I present Simon R. Green (Brit) and Jim Butcher (American) to you. Neither really passes the Bechdel test, because both are written strictly from their male hero’s point of view.

Simon R. Green’s Something From the Nightside is great (so’s the entire Nightside series). John Taylor has been living in London, working as a private detective. He’s good at finding things. All sorts of things and people. It’s his gift. But then, he’s really from the Nightside, a sort of flip-underground-always-3am London. It’s whispered that his mother is coming back, but no one knows exactly who she is, only that she’s someone scary. Full of snark, darkness, loads of violence, and the occasional whisper of sexiness. Favorite female character in it: Suzie Shooter, a kick-ass assassin who everyone fears, but who was sexually abused as a child by her brother. I didn’t say it was all fun and games. Favorite Nightside quote, from Just Another Judgement Day.

“You’re smiling that smile again,” said Suzie.  “That I’ve just done something really nasty and  utterly justified and no-one’s ever going to be able to pin it on me smile.”
“How well you know me,” I said.  “Now, where were we?  Ah yes – the Baron.”
“Bad man,” said Suzie Shooter.  She worked the action on her shotgun.  “I will make a wicker man out of his nurses and burn him alive.”
“I love the way you think,” I said.

Wizards like staffs. Just ask Gandalf.

Jim Butcher writes (along with other series) The Dresden Files. Storm Front is the first. Caution: according to some people (my sister), Butcher’s writing can come off as cliched. I like him though. He’s also snarky, and his hero (Harry Dresden) is wryly self-deprecating. The story was made into a Sci-Fi series for a season, fairly well done, but if you watched it you will picture Karrin Murphy wrong. (In the books, tiny blonde, in the series, tiny Latina.) Not a big thing, but you will. This one is actual magic/mystery straight on. Wizards! Good versus Evil! Werewolves, vampires (three kinds, just for fun!), sidhe, all sorts of stuff, Knights of the Cross….you want it, you’ll get it. Dresden is tall, chivalrous, and bad with the ladies. Sometimes they die, but mostly they just leave. Favorite woman: Lieutenant Karrin Murphy is a tiny ass-kicker, a cop with attitude and the skills to back it up. Favorite quote: “Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.”

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British people are funny!

Jasper Fforde is a very funny man, I would assume, given that he writes very funny novels. Imagine the wit (and love of puns) of Terry Pratchett combined with the delightful silliness of Douglas Adams, squashed together with an intense focus on literature and much mocking of all things British. It’s a given that if you’re going to read Fforde, you have to start with The Eyre Affair, his first published novel. And you probably want to pick up an actual, physical copy. He likes footnotes. Loooong footnotes that are in themselves hilariously funny. He plays about with what really happened in England’s past (in his fictional England, the Crimean War went on for 100 years not 3) and future, due to the Chronoguard (a high-level, time-traveling department of the British police state). The title comes from Jane Eyre, of course. Fforde’s heroine, Thursday Next, has the ability to travel in books and she ends up in Jane Eyre quite a few times in the course of this novel. She’s also a literary detective, or LiteraTec, in the British goverment/police state. It came out in 2001, but the book is set in 1985. It passes the Bechdel test, and Next is a great heroine. Once you’ve read the first book, you’ll want to read the rest of the series in order:

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