White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
I picked up White Oleander during my first trip to LA last month. One of the friends I was visiting was reading it at the time, and she said “Yeah it’s kind of a bummer but I really enjoy reading it.” And if I had to sum up my whole experience of reading White Oleander, I would probably say that exact thing. Janet Fitch writes beautiful, lyrical prose, but jeeeeeeeeeeesus chips was this a depressing book. Not quite in a “I am going to spend the next three days sobbing” kind of way like Where the Red Fern Grows, or in a “Mankind is utterly doomed” kind of way like 1984, or even a “What the fuck is wrong with this author and why does everybody LIKE this” kind of way like The Velveteen Rabbit. White Oleander is pervasively sad, and there are many times when we are given hope that we know is going to be miserably crushed in the next chapter. However, it ends on a neutral (if not slightly positive) note.
So, now that you know very specifically how depressing this book is or is not, we can get to a bit of plot summary: Astrid’s mother, Ingrid, is a frighteningly intense poet who goes to prison after murdering her former lover with the poison of the white oleander flower. Like I said, INTENSE. Astrid is bounced through a series of foster homes (all varying levels of depressing) from the time she is 12 until she turns 18.
This is a coming-of-age novel, and one that focuses on the relationships between mothers and daughters, and more specifically on how men ruin the mother-daughter relationship. I think Janet Fitch must have had serious issues with her own father, because male characters with any redeeming qualities are few and far between. In White Oleander, men are cause for obsession, irredeemable selfishness, and almost always betrayal. At one point, Ingrid calls fatherhood a “social construct,” which is a really interesting (but, you know, hideously depressing idea) and there are not many examples in the book that prove her wrong.
That said, the real villain in the story here is Ingrid, and one of my favorite things about the novel is how Fitch just lets Ingrid be terrifying and evil. She’s brilliant, sure, but you also get the impression that if this were a different kind of book she’d fly around on a broomstick and turn young princes into beasts and throw people off bridges if they didn’t answer her riddle correctly. She’s Medusa and Medea, the best and the worst example of a woman. She’s brilliant, she’s hilarious, and she’s eerily charming and you might want to watch out because she might kill you just because she’s bored and she thinks it might make great material for a poem later.
Her daughter has a bit of a Bella Swann complex, in that she’s a blank slate and generally mirrors whichever woman happens to be passing through her life at the moment, but it is so, so, sosososososo great to watch her go from being a terrified pre-teen to naive teenager to hardened street rat to survivor to artist. Astrid makes a lot of terrible decisions in the book because of her need for love and acceptance, and each mistake leaves it share of mental (and physical) scars, but she grows. She also doesn’t spend a lot of time beating herself up with regret, which I appreciate.
This is definitely a book-club type book, in that there’s a lot of heavy ~*~symbolism~*~ and there’s a lot you can talk about in a way that will make you feel very literary and smart. It does indeed have very lush and descriptive writing (think Francesca Lia Block for adults), and some pretty raw emotional depths. Thankfully, it never gets overly sentimental, and those looking for a Big Redemption or a Grand Emotional Speech will be disappointed. It is an excellent read, and I would highly recommend it to any other woman. Even the sad parts are good, I promise.
The Bride, by Julie Garwood
Some of you may remember that I had an ambitious (for me) TBR list that included two SRS books, and The Hunger Games. It will surprise none of you that I made it through The Hunger Games before I decided that was enough heavy shit and people dying. I decided it was time for some lighter fare, or at least a book that didn’t prominently involve death. Enter The Bride by Julie Garwood and its 172 5-star reviews on Amazon. Because apparently the fanatically positive reviews for Sherrilyn Kenyon have taught me nothing.
The Bride is a Highlander romance, in which a bonny and spirited English lass is wed to a menacing Highland laird and they learn to love each other in spite of their cultural differences, usually through nonstop newlywed fucking. Handy that kilts provide such easy access! That reminds me - there will be at least one joke about Scottish lairds being naked under their kilts.
So anyways, the Bonny and Spirited English Lass (TM) in this situation is Jamie. Oh, we’re going to have a little chat about Jamie. Garwood apparently couldn’t settle for just one Spirited English Lass (TM) cliche, so she went for them all. Here’s a list of facts about Jamie:
She has a couple of token flaws: she has a poor sense of direction, and she’s an insufferable know-it-all (Garwood may not have intended that reaction, now that I think about it). Still, she’s doing pretty good for a woman in 1100! I know suspension of disbelief is important for all novels, but at this point I think the time-traveling nurse from Outlander is a more realistic.
Her Highland Laird is Alec. Here’s a few facts about Alec:
In the beginning, I was having a lot of fun. Alec and Jamie meet and get married and journey to Scotland, and it’s pretty good! The sex gets going early in the book (Alec sees Jamie bathing, which happens so frequently in romance novels I’m starting to think authors have Frequent Plot Device cards and are cashing in on hotels stays and discounted flights somewhere), and their sparring is fun, if not terribly inventive.
Then they get to Scotland, and the whole book turns into a mess. I should have known it was coming. It was like going out on a bad date. You know the signs. The dude might order a Zima, or casually mention Ayn Rand. But you don’t REALLY know what you’ve gotten yourself into until you find yourself listening to him tell an obviously-exaggerated story about his spring break trip to Gulf Shores with his main brahs.
The story gets to be episodic and kind of boring. In one day, Jamie is chased down by a wild boar, saves a small child, is almost burned alive in a cottage (somebody wants her dead or something I don’t even care at this point), and she probably starts a war or whatever (she’s always starting wars). And yeah, that’s STILL boring. There’s too many characters, I kept losing track of the action, and by the end, I started flirting with the other books on my Kindle.
I have to say, it wasn’t unpleasant. There were a lot of redeeming moments throughout the book, and I even laughed out loud a few times. That said, there are so many talented romance novelists writing great books right now, and you don’t have to spend your time and money on a book that’s “not unpleasant.”
Go check out Braveheart or Outlander if you need a kilt fix. I’d skip this.
Forever Young Adult on the Jessica Darling Series, Which Is Just an Excuse to Say How Much I Loved This Series -
So who read Sloppy Firsts? And the rest of the series? It’s been YEARS for me, but I remember reading it and thinking it was one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read. EVER.
Since I’ve only read the first book, and I just realized there are FOUR more I can read, you guys might be in for a Jessica Darling marathon over here. There is a totally awesome YA-style romance, so it counts.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey -
This is the most entertaining thing I’ve ever read about Fifty Shades of Grey, certainly far more entertaining than the short bit of the book itself that I managed to read before I turned my Kindle off and threw it across the room. My favorite lines:
“That dry, skittering sound you heard is your fallopian tubes curling like party ribbon.”
“A passage where we find out what Anastasia Steele looks like via girl-frowning-at-her-appearance-in-a-mirror exposition should be punishment for vehicular manslaughter in some states.”
“When Christian Grey “rips through” Anastasia’s virginity, she actually says “Argh!” like Jon finding out that Garfield has once again shredded the curtains.”
“I get that this is supposed to be BDSM Lite for people with Aztec-pattern Kindle Fire covers …”
“I’ve seen better storytelling in an evening news segment about a raccoon who got a peanut butter jar stuck on his head in a Wendy’s parking lot.”
The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Well, you’ve already got an impression of how I feel about the first book. Since then, I’ve read the other two books and seen the movie, and I feel like we have to get a couple of things out of the way if we’re going to talk about this together:
Let’s start with The Hunger Games itself. It was an amazing read. The writing felt very tight and crisp and there were a few moments, such as when Peeta makes his Big Declaration in the interview and when Katniss steps on the platform to be raised into the arena, that I will never forget. There were wonderful little touches of humor, like Peeta’s bread jokes, and even the stretches where basically nothing happens (you seriously cannot convince me that Katniss nearly dying of dehydration in the arena over many, many pages were necessary) were still tense and exciting.
Katniss herself reminded me a lot of my two other favorite K-named kick-ass YA heroines: Katsa from Graceling and Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. All three of these girls are tough, they’re smart, and above all, they’re survivors. I want them to start a K-Name Action Girl Club and drive around in a van solving mysteries and fighting crime.
Peeta’s Everlasting Love for Katniss came across as a bit schlocky, sure. But since I feel that way myself about Peeta, I’m not going to judge him. I know what it’s like to be held in the thrall of a charismatic fictional character.
Eh, we can talk about Gale later. Let’s talk about Catching Fire.
Here’s where I felt like we started to get in trouble. It became evident to me that Suzanne Collins had a great (if not necessarily original) premise, she wrote it brilliantly, and then … tried to do the same thing for Catching Fire. When we get to the Big Twist in the middle of the second book, that (AND THIS IS A BIG SPOILER) Katniss is going back to the arena, I actually groaned and rolled my eyes. Seriously? That smacks of Plot Device.
That said, since Collins is so good at writing Hunger Games, the second book was still pretty exciting. The clock arena was fascinating. There was more Peeta. We got to know some of the victors from previous Hunger Games, and that ended up being really satisfying.
And then came Mockingjay. Oh dear.
It was a clusterfuck, to say the least. It was bloated out with too many characters. Katniss basically threw a series of fits until the end, I got REALLY tired of the “Katniss thinks she fucked up but ACTUALLY, she really impressed everybody,” and the big speeches were totally hokey and occurred about once a chapter. Collins started to get pretty heavy-handed with the Goosebumps-style cliffhanger chapter endings, and I started rolling my eyes at each one.
Collin’s writing, in addition to getting sloppy, gets to be tiresome and obvious. Someday, in the future, seventh graders of The Republic of New Breadia will have a field day dissecting Collin’s obvious symbolic names. Katniss is a hardy tuber, Primrose is decorative and useless (you will not convince me otherwise), Gale is enigmatic like the wind, Rue is symbolic of regret, Peeta is warm and delicious and will envelop you like pita bread, President Snow is chilling, and by the time we get to Coin, I’m just like, I GET IT. YOU CAN STOP NOW. There are exhaustive passages that reiterate that Katniss is the Girl on Fire, from the Coal District, which causes a Spark of Hope, which cases a Wave of Fire, which is symbolic of hope, and also she has wings like a bird, and must fly but cannot risk being shot down and seriously, can we fast-forward to more Peeta?
Okay, that was a lot of bitching. I still liked a few things about Mockingjay, and The Hunger Games as a series, and I will put them in a convenient bullet list for you.
So that’s it. TL;DR: The Hunger Games is a fantastic book. The series starts a steep decline in quality after that, but who are we kidding, you’re going to read them all anyways and probably in record time.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
It’s crack. I’m a goner. Send help.
I’ve been flitting from book to book and I haven’t really been able to finish anything for quite a while now. It’s kind of a bummer. That said, I’m pretty stoked about some non-romance books I’ve got queued up:
Anyways! I was planning to review these for RC (at least The Hunger Games), but I can probably rustle up some old romances to review if you guys aren’t feeling it.
In the meantime, what romances are you guys reading? What’s in your TBR pile? Does anybody have anything original to say about 50 Shades of Grey? Because seriously, I am NOT going to read that shit.
lisisjulia asked: Hi I just followed you, your blog is great! I was wondering if you could recommend any other blogs that are similar to yours, I would really appreciate it. I want to follow more blogs that review or just talk about romance books, but they are proving hard to find lol.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is the authority for romance blogs, and Sarah often posts thoughtful articles in addition to hilarious reviews. Her friends over at Dear Author are also pretty great.
Also, they’re not strictly romance as their name implies, they’re YA), but Forever Young Adult is absolutely hilarious. I often look at their reviews and wonder, “How can I be more like FYA?”
Thanks for following, and sorry for the late response! I’ve been out of town.
Noticing that the lady next to you on the train is reading the latest Alpha and Omega book, starting a conversation, and getting a ton of paranormal romance recommendations. Even (especially) if the other passengers heard us talk about cat shapeshifters and vampires vs fae romance.
She said she was so captivated by the last book in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series that she missed her stop.
A Few Words on the Alpha and Omega Series, by Patricia Briggs
This is a werewolf romance series. There is basically no new ground to cover in a werewolf romance series, but Patricia Briggs does a pretty good job of refreshing the genre enough to make this worth reading. I waited for probably a year for the third book in the series to come out, if that says anything. You probably know Ms. Briggs from her Mercy Thompson series, who if I remember correctly is a coyote shifter somewhere in the Pacific Northwest and I read the first book of that series and was like, yeah okay whatever, and I didn’t feel the need to continue (though the Alpha and Omega books have a bit of overlap and the latest book indicated that Mercy hooked up with someone verrry interesting).
The Alpha and Omega series is a lot more appealing to me personally, since I’m a sucker for alpha heroes, and the dude in this series, Charles, is basically one of the highest alphas to ever alpha. He’s half Native American and half Welsh, and his father is the leader of all North American werewolves. Charles himself is the pack’s executioner and justice dealer. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, and he’s almost unbeatable.
So, as it always goes in these kinds of books, he’s paired with his opposite. Charles finds Anna, a newly-changed werewolf, after she calls for help. Her pack alpha has gone insane, the rest of the pack has not fared much better. Anna, considered the most submissive wolf of the pack, has been horribly abused by her leaders. So she’s mistrustful of all people, not to mention men, double not to mention scary men like Charles.
Charles meets Anna, and he pretty quickly figures out that she’s not a submissive wolf, she’s actually something called an Omega wolf. In Briggs’ universe, Omega wolves are the counterpoint to the Alpha wolves. They are neither dominant nor submissive and they’re a sort of soothing emotional presence for all other wolves. It’s hard to explain, and I’m not doing a very good job, but it makes sense the way Briggs presents it.
Series that follow one couple through multiple books obviously hinge on the strength of that couple, and in my mind, Anna and Charles get a solid A. They’re very different (… obviously), but their pairing is very sweet and steamy enough to keep it interesting but slow enough that it’s believable, particularly given Anna’s past.
The books all involve a standalone mystery of some kind, and this is another aspect that I really enjoy. I looove a good procedural, and the fact that there’s a romance involved makes these books a rich treat for me.
The third book, Fair Game, came out last week, and admittedly it was not as strong as the first two. I’m starting to wonder if one SHOULD read the Mercy Thompson series to fully appreciate the Alpha and Omega series, and the ending was rather rushed and was sort of clumsily paving the way for another book.
That said, I guess I’ll be waiting however long it takes to read the next one.