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[personal profile] akujunkan
Good god, has a quarter of a year really gone by since I last updated? For what it's worth, I've been writing reviews the entire time, if not actually posting them. So let's get started on the backlog shall we?

During the week above, I read one horrid book, one intriguingly good book, and two excellent books.

1) Bad Shoes & the Women Who Love Them - Leora Tanenbaum
If women's magazines were written like Bad Shoes & the Women Who Love Them I would actually read women's magazines. Tanenbaum's text is an interesting hybrid--part popular history of high heels and part miniature coffee table book. She discusses why purchasing and wearing a pair of high heels is as much about purchasing and wearing a fantasy as it is a physical object, why it is that heels confer not only blisters, bunions, hammertoes and worse deformities, but femininity as well. She consults with orthopaedic surgeons who caution against wearing heels and orthopaedic surgeons who perform and market surgeries to mold the human foot into the impossible dimensions demanded by heels. She traces the development of high heels throughout the centuries, and gives pointers on how to prevent them from causing permanent physical damage to the wearer.

Tanenbaum's style is clear, light, and hiply executed--Bad Shoes reads much more like a series of well-written magazine articles than a single, cohesive volume, but don't let that scare you off. There's a lot of solid content in this little book, for all that it looks like a novelty read. Better yet, Tanenbaum is far from idealistic or didactic: wear high heels if they make you happy, she says. Just do it having informed yourself of the risks and take steps to avoid permanently injuring yourself. And of course, one can hardly write a book on modern fashion's footwear dictates for women and the injuries they entail without giving a the pre-modern Chinese practice of footbinding a mention; luckily, Tanenbaum's take on this difficult subject is both refreshingly original and extremely well argued.

Indeed, the topic of high heels is so surprisingly fascinating and Tanenbaum such a good author that I wish she'd written a more thorough (even scholarly) book on this subject. Even women who adamantly refuse to leave the house without at least a "sensible" two-inch pump to round out their outfit will find much to consider in Bad Shoes.


2) Wings - Aprilynne Pike
I take a lot of heat from mes parents for refusing to give up on books. In other words, if I start it, I will absolutely continue reading to the final page. Yes, this chagrins my dazzle at times. But at other times, it means I don't make the mistake of tanking out on books like Wings too early in the game.

From the overly enthusiastic cover copy courtesy of Smeyer to the Mary Sue descriptions of the main character (flawless skin, effortless grace, consumes only vegetables and soda) Wings didn't appear to have much promise. The novel opens with the standard "young girl with low-level angst moves to new town and discovers that she is not what she seems" fare, and Pike's prose, while by no means awful, isn't distinctive either. Indeed, the first 100 pages made it seem like Wings would be nothing more than a mediocre paint-by-numbers teen fantasy.

I think Pike was setting me up, because the final two-thirds of the book contain one of the most original, logical, and internally consistent takes on the standard fantasy plot I've encountered in quite some time. (PS: no wonder it gets compared so unfavorably to Twilight…I think the subtlety is going over some heads here). The Mary Suism? Yeah, there's a reason for that. The gaping plot holes? Closed. And I needn't have worried about those ominous homeschooling references--Pike uses science as the foundation of her fantasy world. Science! This is Pike's first novel, and it shows in the writing, but Wings is still one of the better entries into the genre.


3) Shadow Prowler - Alexei Pehov
Ever since Tolkien created the fantasy genre, subsequent authors have been forced to write fantasy novels With a Gimmick in order to set themselves apart from good ole J.R.R. "I'm going to rewrite The Lord of the Rings…but from a Wiccan perspective!" "I'm going to rewrite The Lord of the Rings…but with a half-elf as the protagonist!"

Pehov's Gimmick appears to have been to rewrite The Lord of the Rings while bitchslapping the reader's intelligence multiple times per page.

Shadow Prowler is 396 pages long.

Folks, that's a lot of bitchslaps.

Indeed, Pehov takes pains to make the Shadow Prowler experience as painful as possible. Purple prose abounds. "Humorous" situations and dialogue are handled with the subtlety of a hyperactive toddler on coke. Characterization is not drawn with broad strokes, but with broad sledgehammer strokes to the head. It's difficult to find somewhere where the narrative doesn't contradict itself within the following few pages. The novel takes place in a world where men outnumber women by a ratio of ten million to one, if their relative rate of appearance in the narrative is anything by which to judge. Consistent use of verb tenses and even pronouns is apparently optional in most places.

Some of descriptive sentences (note: that's "sentences," not "passages") are nicely done, but that's about the only thing I can say in Shadow Prowler's defense. I think Pehov's novel might read beautifully in the original Russian, and/or be a transposition of the standard fantasy yarn onto the Russian subcontinent, but if that's the case, it's the duty of the translator to make such things apparent to readers who know little about either the Russia's language or literary scene, or forego translating the volume at all. Translator Bromfield has made no such effort, and that leaves 90% of Shadow Prowler's potential readers with nothing but an overly long, overly derivative, poorly-written dud of a novel in their hands. Your time and money would best be spent elsewhere.



4) Shade - Jeri Smith-Ready
It is a sad fact of life that while shitty writing lends itself to incisive and witty criticism, it's impossible to review excellent writing without descending into inarticulate glee. Prepare yourself now for some inarticulate glee re: Shade.

This book is phenomenal. It is phenomenal. It is a crime that it is not bigger than Jesus. Shade blends a host of YA subgenres--coming of age, teen romance, paranormal romance, scifi/action--and tropes--love, loss, sexuality, independence, interdependence--into an absolutely perfect book. Everything, from the dialogue to the situations the characters find themselves in to their actions and reactions, is perfectly believable and utterly unforced. It features one of the smartest, strongest heroines to be found in fantasy fiction. It features Irish rock. It features intelligence and grace and wit. The Internet has produced phonebooks on why Smeyers sucks; Smith-Ready explains it better than all of them in a sentence.

Read this book.

Read it.

READ IT.


That will be all.

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akujunkan

January 2012

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