28 February 2011

Book Contest

Maggie Stiefvater is having a spring cleaning spree and she's posted stacks of books you can win on her blog!

Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck

Passion. Fate. Loyalty.

Would you risk it all to change your destiny?

The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she’d be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that’s exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spellbinding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever.

Tiger’s Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more.

It's probably a rather silly thing to mention, but the first thing I noticed about this book is that it's heavy. I think the pages are encrusted with lead or something else incredibly weighty, because the book has a heft to it. It's worth it, though, because it gives the book such a great feel, and the cover under the jacket is simply lovely.

Inside the book is just as nice as the cover. I'll admit I was prepared to not like the story. Romances nowadays are so iffy, and there is such a fine line between a good plot with a great romance and a romance with a bare plot in YA. This one was actually very realistic, though, and had some good effect. I like that Kelsey is very comfortable with the tiger, but incredibly uncomfortable with the man he turns into, even though her brain tells her they are the same. The relationship with Kadam is great, too, a nice balance between a servant and an ageless employer. Dhiren is more ambiguous, though. It may be because we mostly see him as a tiger, or because we see him through Kelsey's eyes, but he's still rather one-dimensional and there's not a particular lot to see as an attractive man outside his looks and status. Then again, because Kelsey has trepidation about him in man form it does help with making their relationship realistic.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book was the depth of Indian culture and religion interwoven into the plot. Then again, I'm not Indian and I don't know much about Indian culture to begin with, so I'm not a good judge of accuracy or whether the author is respecting the culture or just co-opting it. This does lead to a few problems, though. I never saw the author discuss race issues at all, which I felt was a little unsettling. There's so much in India's culture right now that glorifies white female beauty as the ideal that I'm a bit unsettled by the prince's true love and savior being a white girl from America. There's also no exploration whatsoever of the deplorable social conditions for women in India, even back in Dhiren's time, and the arranged marriage issue is glossed over as more problematic for the men involved than the woman being traded as property, so it's rather a non-issue. The girl-of-prophecy angle, though, is done in a good way, with Kelsey realizing that she doesn't have to love Dhiren, she just has to help him break the curse, so there aren't a lot of uncomfortable issues about her choice and agency being taken away.

The only other issues this book has are technical. I don't think the author really knew how to start it out because the pre-India section really drags and is rather choppy and uncompelling. The plot is good, but it halts every once in a while for some over-done descriptions that really should have been left out because they mess with the pacing a lot.

However, I don't want you to feel as if I'm completely against this book. I liked it even despite its issues (and, I'll admit, I feel guilty about liking it with the race issues that it brings up), and I will be watching for the sequels so I can continue with the story.

February Famine, March Glut

Hmm, I swore I wrote out a well-reasoned and long explanation post at the beginning of the month warning everyone that this blog would be bare while I visited home and had iffy internet, but now I can't find it for the life of me. Perhaps it was all a dream?

Anyway, thanks for being patient with me. I've been traveling a lot (including one particularly grueling 36 hour train ride) so I've read quite a bunch, but my internet connection has been iffy enough that I haven't been able to post. I'm pretty certain of my connection for the time being, though, so I'll be posting reviews more frequently. I've decided to do one a day until I'm done with my backlog so that you are able to savor each and every one :D Friday will be another hellacious train ride (hopefully only the planned 24 hours instead of the extended 36), so there may not be an update then, but I'll be back on Saturday.

04 February 2011

Thursday Re-Read: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

In this sly murder mystery, the mysterious death of eccentric millionaire Sam Westing brings together an unlikely assortment of heirs. Divided into pairs, they must uncover the circumstances of his death before they can claim their inheritance.

The Westing Game has long been a confusing book for me. When I was in Elementary School there was a contest to read past Newberry medal winners. I read The Westing Game as one of them and instantly regretted it. I didn't get it. I didn't like it. And, for some inexplicable reason, it left me confused and sad. I've revisited it twice since in Jr. High and High School with much the same reaction. I picked it up again hoping that I would, as an adult, see what the Newberry committee saw in the book. And, finally, I can say I think I get it. I don't know if it would have been my choice for an award winner, but I didn't read the other books eligible that year either, so I'm not going to judge. I do think, though, that it's important to remember that this is a children's book that I didn't get until I read it at age 30 when I already knew the ending.

The Westing Game isn't really science-fiction or fantasy. It's a mystery/thriller. A man builds a high-rise apartment building, invites specific people to live there, and then dies. At his will reading the tenants find out that they're all heirs, but they only get the inheritance if they figure out which one of them killed the millionaire. The heirs are paired off and given "clues" into who the murderer is, along with a small cash incentive. They spend the rest of the book trying to figure out which one of them is a murderer while dealing with a blizzard, a bomber, and a thief as well. There are ample clues along the way, however, even with this re-read I feel that there was never a good explanation as to why the game-master makes the choices he does, which leads to a certain distance from the game. You're also constantly jumping from character to character in the omniscient person, so you don't get much of a connection to a certain player, either. The plot is worked out well, with all the clues set in place and made to work together, but either it didn't work or it worked too well because I still feel that the ending comes rather out of left field. In all, this isn't the horrid book I made it out to be as a child, but it's still not going to be one of my favorites by far.