May 28, 2011

Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

I read this book on a dare. Not quite on the scale of the infamous Twilight Dare; more of a self-inflicted dare. Loni first alerted me to the offensive New York Times article implying that women wouldn't watch the new HBO series based on the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of which this is the first book. The writer, Ginia Bellafante, states,
While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Now I have never heard of Lorrie Moore, but I found this to be extremely offensive. Not only have I read The Hobbit, but I also worked my way through the full Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was 13 years old; Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider books are among my favourite series; and I have read lots of fantasy books in my time (often recommended by my cousin - waving to Kim if you are reading this!). So based on this article, how could I not read Game of Thrones!

I don't know what I was expecting going into this book, other than "boy fiction" as Ms. Bellafante calls it. I guess I was expecting lots of sex and violence and hopefully a well-developed fantasy world.

Sex - yes it was there, but not as graphic as I had feared. Violence - yes, but again not too graphic or offensive; more as a plot device which was not lingered on for longer than necessary. And the fantasy world? Yes, it was there (with some striking similarities to the European Middle Ages), and while I was reading, it was real to me. And dragons even made an appearance at the end!

I really liked how the story was told, with chapters alternating between different points of view from different characters. It wasn't told in the first person - that would have been too disjointed - but the different points of view gave a very balanced view of different characters. I'm not quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but that's real life I guess.

Now for what I didn't like...

The length. This book came in at 800 pages in paperback, and it is the shortest one in the series to date. The 5th book is scheduled to come out in July and there are 7 planned in the series. It is huge in scope with multiple inter-connected plot lines taking place simultaneously (hence the multiple points of view); however I can't help but wonder if it is so broad that it looses focus. I really found that it dragged on by the end, and I can't see myself plodding through further, longer volumes. Plus all of the plot lines ended without any resolution - almost like all 7 books are really one book in multiple volumes - one very long, 5600 page book.

The treatment of women. Maybe there is something to Ms. Bellafante's critique. There are a few stronger female characters, but for the most part, the women are either prostitutes or the property of their men-folk. The only truly strong female character (in my opinion) is Daenerys who takes the lousy hand she is dealt and manipulates the situation so that she thrives. (Another character, Arya, is strong, but gets there only by pretending to be a boy.) Plus there is a very blatant double standard - men are expected to have at least one or two bastards hanging around (or in some cases, many, many bastards); while if a wife gives birth to a child, no-one questions that it must be her husband's.

The despair. Every character seems to be longing for a time of peace, and "the way things used to be;" and yet there is no hint that anyone is going to get there. Plus the so-called good guys keep getting killed.

So am I glad that I took up the dare and read this book? Yes. There were some characters that I really liked (Daenerys, Tyrion, Bran). Will I read the rest of the series? Probably not, based on the length if nothing else; though I may watch the HBO series and from what I've heard, it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book. Besides, I can always find out what happens in subsequent books on Wikipedia!

May 20, 2011

Port Mortuary - Patricia Cornwell

I have been reading Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta books for several years now, and can generally count on them for a good diversion - interesting enough to keep me occupied for a week or so, but not so great that I need to rush out and buy a copy as soon as they are released. This one was no different.

When it came out last November, I added my name to the (very) long hold list at the local library. Now when there is a waiting list for a book, you only get it for a week, no renewals allowed; and yet my turn didn't come up until the end of February. I had waited so long that I assumed my name had been taken off the list! And when the e-mail did arrive in my in-box, I was 4 provinces away, at the beginning of a week's holiday. So needless to say, I wasn't able to pick it up in the 3 days specified, and when I got home again, I put my name back at the bottom of the list. And finally this month, I got to read the book.

The story was what I've come to expect from the series - some gory murders, scientific analysis of the evidence, and lots of red herrings. This book focused a lot on the relationship between Sarpetta and her husband, Benton, and I missed the presence of Lucy through much of the story. The writing was so-so. There were several glaring grammatical errors that made me cringe; and yet there was another scene that was so brilliantly written that I was drawn right in to the situation.

Possible Spoiler below.
(The book is written in the first person with Scarpetta as narrator. At one point, she is accidentally drugged, but didn't realize it at first. As I was reading, I was getting very frustrated with the dialogue and the characters, and I was getting ready to throw the book across the room because none of it was making sense. And then when Scarpetta realized that she had been drugged, it all made sense - we, the readers, were seeing the situation through her drugged view. I was drawn right in, and had no clue what was happening - I just knew that it wasn't making sense.)
End Spoiler

So I probably will keep reading the books in this series as they are released, but they will remain as library books, rather than purchases.

May 6, 2011

Skim - Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

This is a book that has been on my "Want to Read" list for a while, and so last weekend, when I was putting in an online order, I decided to add it to the list. And when the order arrived this afternoon, I couldn't wait to pick it up, even though I have 2 library books that I should have read first.

It is a quick read, as I am discovering that graphic novels usually are. But for the hour or so I was reading, I was transported right back to high school, and all of the confusion and insecurity associated with that time. I could relate to Skim (officially Kimberly Keiko Cameron) and her experience of feeling isolated and not quite understanding what was going on. The issues that I remember from high school are not the same as what Skim is facing - I don't remember any suicides at my school, and I didn't have a lesbian crush on one of my teachers - but the issues that I do remember (depression, bullying, teen pregnancy...) resonated the same. I still remember the feeling of wanting to fit in, and yet seeing fitting in as being hypocritical. As an interesting side note, the book takes place in the fall of 1993 when Skim is 16 - I was also 16 in the fall of 1993.

I loved Skim's observations of the crazy world around her. "Truthfully I am always a little depressed but that is just because I am sixteen and everyone is stupid (ha-ha-ha). I doubt it has anything to do with being a goth." "Halloween is when a lot of non-witches dress up like witches. So it's hard to see people as they really are. Unless they are dressed up like Barbie or Nixon or Freddy, in which case you know they are lame-o freaks." "My school = goldfish tank of stupid." "P.S. Mom is NOT a light sleeper. Good thing I'm not a drug addict or anything or I could easily rob her blind."

So who should read this book? Anyone who remembers the real angst of being a misfit in high school. Or anyone who is currently experiencing the angst of being a misfit in high school. (Interestingly, this book is put out by a children's publisher.) Maybe not the "popular girls" from high school - though I'm not saying that they didn't have their problems, they just appeared as though they didn't.

And as an extra bonus, the day after I ordered this book, John over at The Book Mine Set announced a mini-challenge - if 10 Canadian books with a Japanese connection are reviewed in the month of April, he will donate $200 to the Red Cross. As Mariko and Jillian Tamaki are cousins of Japanese origin, this book definitely counts!