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A Failed Experiment with Twilight profic: Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

Published October 28, 2014 by Shannon

Gabriel's Inferno (Gabriel's Inferno, #1)

My first experiment to see if Twilight pulled-to-publish stories actually worked as original fiction failed. Not because the story doesn’t–I think it probably does–but it was so far from being my cup of tea that I gave up around the chapter 11 mark. I refer, of course, to Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard.

The Premise: Gabriel is a sinful, sinful man who sins a lot. He is also a Dante scholar who for some reason has more money than God. Julia is one of his students. They have a past connection that he doesn’t remember. He is rude and boorish, even while he decides that Julia is a delicate little wilting flower who blooms under kindness. The Jacob character is a perfectly nice guy named Paul who deserves to be in a story where he will not be the third wheel of this creepy, creepy love triangle.

At first I rather enjoyed this book. It was over the top and full of ridiculous amounts of cheese. If I stopped thinking of these people as even remotely realistic and started thinking of them as archetypes who lived on some other planet, I could get through it. Also there were manly tears in the first few chapters, and overwrought prose, and I felt a little like I was reading a bodice ripper of yore.

Then the Dante stuff started getting dropped in, and it’s not subtle at all. I read The Inferno once in high school and again in college. It was fairly easy to see where Reynard’s parallels were coming from, because a master of subtlety he is not. Clearly Julia/Bella was an analog for Beatrice, Gabriel/Edward was the Dante analog, and Paul/Jacob was the Virgil. And once we had our Beatrice, Reynard never failed to bring up how pure she was. Julia is a virgin. For some reason, this matters to everyone much more than I think it would in the real world. To put it another way, Julia is the very definition of a purity sue. And to no one’s surprise, along with that, there’s a whole host of slut-shaming.

Ultimately, it was the weird virgin/whore dichotomy that made this book unreadable. I could deal with over the top earnest crack. I was made uncomfortable for Julia, though, whose purity caused literally every man she encounters, up to and including the waiter at a restaurant, to put her on a pedestal. When I stepped away from the book, I found myself wondering what Gabriel would do after they inevitably got together and he discovered that pure, innocent and perfect Julia poops like everyone else.

Maybe it’s unfair to say this, but I was even more bothered by the benevolent sexism on display here because Reynard is a man. I think I could have put up a bit more with the purity nonsense if the book had been written by a woman. Then I could take it as female fantasy. But since the writer is male, it made the white knight in tarnished armor thing creepy rather than hot.

So yeah. I know this trilogy did well enough for itself, and I might see what Reynard is capable of if he ever gets ahold of a better editor, but I think I need to read a book where the heroine is allowed to get down and dirty without needing to put up with a guy who runs hot and cold and also puts her up on a pedestal.

Grade: DNF

Another reading goal not met

Published June 25, 2014 by Shannon

So I read five out of Andrew Lang’s twelve fairy tale books, but I have to throw in the towel at book 6. On the one hand, The Grey Fairy Book draws from wider cultures than the standard European. On the other hand, a lot of the stories are rambling and I encountered a nice dollop of outright racism and antisemitism. Since I’d like to spend time not hating the entire fairy tale genre, it’s time to pack this one in.

State of the Shannon: Readathon, Hugo Awards, and a recent DNF

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Sorry for the double post. I suppose I should let this go up tomorrow, but lazy blogger is lazy.

First of all, I signed up for the Dewey’s Readathon. It takes place this weekend, and I will probably make a few posts to let y’all know about my progress. I can’t do all 24 hours, because I do not love Internet fun events enough to get up at 5 A.M. on a day when I don’t have to. Also I have to get a hair cut, which I’ve been putting off. So I may do some reading on the road, or over lunch.

My plan is to put a couple of short books on the slate so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I know for sure that i want to reread Sarah, Plain and Tall because on audio it is barely an hour long and also there is a mail order bride. I’m also thinking about Double Indemnity because it clocks in at about three hours. And I’m sure I can find some smutty novellas to round out the slate. I’m definitely excited, and will need to make sure I have plenty of snacks for the weekend.


So there were the Hugo Award nominations this weekend. I am actually considering buying a supporting membership to World Con so I can see how accessible the Hugos are to vote if you’re, you know, me. But then, I also considered actually tackling the Wheel of Time books, even though my wise and beloved Meka thinks this is a phenomenally bad idea that will result in me making rage faces at the Internet. She is probably right. That said, maybe this is the impetus I need to read Ancillary Justice and something by Mira Grant. Both of these things seem like they are bound to hit my sweet spots.
Also, the next World Science Fiction Convention is in Spokane. I want to go, seeing as it’s so close. I have to figure out how to make this work, though. Largely, this will involve finding con buddies, because there is no way I would make it through a whole entire convention center packed with people all by myself. I barely survive our convention of the Washington Council of the Blind without needing to curl up in bed and cry for my mommy by the end of the day because my introvert soul is screaming for SPACE! I need it! And that convention is a tenth the size of WorldCon.

The Hugo Awards weren’t without their controversy. I’m afraid I can’t separate artist from work when it comes to people who have been proven to spew racist vitriol over the Internet where anyone can read it. Some author behaving badly drama I can ignore, and generally an author’s place on my shit list or my “will never read this ever” list is malleable, depending largely on my mood. But I can remember why I’m not interested in reading Vox Day or Larry Koreia
rather vividly, and seeing comments left by their fans over the past few days have reinforced that this is a life choice I can live with. Besides, I like the kind of SF they don’t, so I’m sure they are not weeping overmuch into their beer at not getting to bask in my potential fandom, even though I am pretty awesome.
I had to DNF a book today. I haven’t been noting DNF’s on the blog unless they were terrible, (see: this post.) But the other day I read Memory’s excellent review of Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen. I had that book on my TBR, and I tend to agree with Memory’s tastes.

I made it to 20 percent or so, before reaching a scene that I couldn’t get past. It’s not that anything was horrible. The writing is fine. Not particularly awesome, but it gets the job done. The premise was fascinating–girl gets kidnapped and has to marry the troll prince to fulfill a prophecy, except it doesn’t work–and the hero brought the swoon. I just didn’t like the heroine. I’m not sure I could tell you why, either. She is everything I supposedly want in my fantasy heroines–strong-willed, determined and fierce. Yet I didn’t warm up to her, and after the point where she starts throwing a temper tantrum, I was done. I wanted more of her backstory. I wanted her to stop and think and be devious and clever. She wasn’t. She was shrill and reactive. I totally understood her motivations for her behavior, but I still didn’t care to read it.

I have no idea what I’m reading next. I have been trying to delve into my TBR pile more and dig out older books, but nothing is really demanding that I read it. Except maybe the first volume of the Wheel of Time, just to see if it’s really that bad, though I suspect that it might well be.

Feel free to rec me awesome books in the comments. Or tell me what you’ve been reading lately.

In which I learn a valuable lesson about hate reading: Reaper’s Property by Joanna Wylde

Published January 11, 2014 by Shannon

Reaper's Property (Reapers MC, #1)

Why do I do this to myself? I was pretty sure, going in, that motorcycle club romances weren’t for me. Nonetheless, I bought Joanna Wylde’s Reaper’s Property on the strength of the Dear Author review. Also on the strength of the fact that the hero is named Horse. For obvious reasons.

Here’s the blurb:

Marie doesn’t need a complication like Horse. The massive, tattooed, badass biker who shows up at her brother’s house one afternoon doesn’t agree. He wants Marie on his bike and in his bed. Now.

But Marie just left her abusive jerk of an ex-husband and she’s not looking for a new man. Especially one like Horse—she doesn’t know his real name or where he lives, she’s ninety percent certain he’s a criminal and that the “business” he talks with her brother isn’t website design. She needs him out of her life, which would be a snap if he’d just stop giving her mind-blowing orgasms.

Horse is part of the Reapers Motorcycle Club, and when he wants something, he takes it. What he wants is Marie, but she’s not interested in becoming “property of”.

Then her brother steals from the club. Marie can save him by giving Horse what he wants—at home, in public, on his bike… If she’s a very, very good girl, she’ll get lots more of those orgasms only he can offer, and he’ll let her brother live.

For the first nine chapters, I found the story extremely compelling. I thought Marie’s narrative voice was authentic, and it was fun to read about a heroine who isn’t nobly poor–she’s had a rough life, but mostly because she was born into poverty and didn’t exactly have stellar parents. In someways, Marie brought up some thoughts for me about my own class privilege, and if a book makes me think, so much the better.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with Horse. I think maybe I could have finished the book, quietly disapproving of Marie’s life choices, if the author hadn’t abruptly switched from Marie’s first-person point of view to Horse’s third-person perspective. Horse worked better as a mysterious and slightly sinister presence, and when his narration reveals that he is basically just a douchebag and, yes, a criminal, I lost what respect I had. I don’t mind antiheroes, but it seemed clear this was going to end up one of those books where all the changing has to be done by the heroines. I need for my romances to have both characters changing, or I can’t buy an HEA, and I didn’t get the sense Horse wanted to be redeemed.

The last straw, however, was the portrayal of the meeting of the motorcycle club, in which there was a scene involving one of the club members going on a rant about how they were Reapers, and therefore not pussies. Maybe men in motorcycle clubs really talk that way. I don’t know, but the scene didn’t feel like genuine dialogue the characters would say. It felt like a nod to the female readership of the books: “Don’t worry, girls. This isn’t going to be one of those awful politically correct romances.” They were working so hard to be manly that I kind of expected them to burst into song.
(Possibly this says way more about me than it does the book, though.)

What I’ve learned from this experience: Next time I need someone to talk me off the buying ledge when I get tempted by something so clearly not for me. I wish readers who like motorcycle club romances joy of them. Me, I’m off to read something with a less douchey hero.

Grade: DNF

Last Hour of Gann: Throwing in the towel

Published November 16, 2013 by Shannon

I’ve thought for as long as Ive lurked on the edges of book blogging that there was value in negative reviews, and even in snark. I like a good snarky review as much as the next girl, and have even written a few over the years. However, my opinion about books I don’t like and how I should engage with them has changed a lot over time.

It’s not that I want to be a Susie Sunshine reviewer who has nothing bad to say about anything, but I engage with books a lot. At work, I attend a book club sponsored by a vision loss group every other month. I also cohost a podcast in which I am required to read something every month. I also have a local YA book club that I’ve been attending. Therefore, in any given month, I have to read two, sometimes three, books that, very often, I didn’t choose. I will read those books to the bitter end, sometimes frothing at the mouth on Twitter the whole time. For everything else, if I’m not engaged, or worse, if I’m angered by what I’m reading (and not in a productive, “We-should-fight-for-social-justice!” sort of way, I’d much rather stop reading the problematic book and find something else. I didn’t used to feel this way. I thought I owed what readers I had reviews of everything, so I wouldn’t be seen as someone who loved everything she read and therefore couldn’t be trusted. That, unfortunately, is an excellent recipe for burnout, and besides,I’m finding that I am less likely to write about things I love unreservedly because all I can think to write are superlatives. A book I liked but found problematic in some ways at least gives me a jumping off point. The key, though, is that I have to like the book. If I’m hate reading, it becomes not just a chore, but a tedious waste of time, and I find myself resenting both book and author for that.

Which, of course, brings me to The Last Hour of Gann. Meka’s already peaced out of our readalong. I thought I could persevere, but then I read R Lee Smith’s interview on Dear Author. As I am wont to do, on my first reading, I went, “Huh. Well… sheesh.” Then I thought about what I’d read and the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became.

It wasn’t so much Smiths provocative thoughts on rape (though how she could be unaware that rape is a theme in her work I can’t understand), but her talk about characters… this passage in particular was what drove me especially nuts.

*sigh* Because no one else survived? Because I’ve been criticized before for having a “cast of thousands” and the faceless mob was my only way to deal with 40+ extra people? Because “decent” people tend to disapprove quietly while the wrong sort speak up? But mostly because there is a very ugly facet of human nature that wants–needs–to find a scapegoat in the wake of catastrophe and Amber was it.
Although there was a small military presence aboard the Pioneer, most of its passengers and all of its crew were members of the Manifest Destiny Society, which was, as it was during the westward expansion, fueled by a zealous belief that they had been appointed by God to lay claim to new territory by virtue of their own innate superiority. Even Amber thinks of them as a cult. They were not bad people. I don’t think they were even particularly weak people, but they were people whose entire philosophy got slapped out from under them in an instant. They weren’t just people whose ship crashed; they were people who believed God wanted them to go to Plymouth and who instead crashed on Gann. Even more than the average survivor, if there is such a thing as an ‘average’ survivor, they were lost. And Scott took them in.
Scott was a Manifestor. He knew exactly how to talk to those people and he said all the right comforting things while Amber was there telling everyone they were never going home. He took charge–and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about people in a crisis, they seldom question the guy in charge–and he started immediately rewarding loyalty with extra rations and tents. In short, he gave his supporters the best chance of survival. And if you don’t think his supporters would pick on Amber just because he did, you don’t remember high school.
Scott made it impossible for anyone to disagree with him and stay in the group and I want to make something very clear: No one could have walked away and survived, alone, on that world. There were decent people in that second group of survivors, but they had to choose between going along with stuff they didn’t agree with or walking off into the wilderness and dying for their convictions. I believe that people are mostly good, but I don’t know anyone who would choose the latter.

She may be right about human nature. She may have it exactly right about how most people would react in a crisis. Granted, I’m still early days with the book, and maybe soon the asinine high school popularity contests the human colonists are having will be over because they have other stuff to worry about, but my patience for that sort of thing is gone. Maybe it really is that I don’t like dark books, but such a bleak outlook on humanity is one I don’t want to read about for 1500 pages.

Then there is the issue of expecting something different from what the text provides. A long time ago in Internet years, I was hanging out with my sister, and she started to read this awesome YA book aloud to me. It was about a girl who had agreed to leave her flighty, free-spirited mom to live with her gruff and taciturn dad in Washington. I thought what I would get was a nice coming of age story about a young girl moving to a new place and discovering herself, maybe having wacky adventures along the way. What I got, it turned out, was Twilight. I stuck it out to chapter 11, when I finally realized my nice coming of age story was never going to happen and gave up.

I expected Last Hour of Gann to be about humans settling on a hostile planet. I had a resourceful, if blunt and bitchy protagonist. I wanted her to thrive and survive. She had flaws, but hey, I can name, like, two true anti-heroines in the books I’ve read recently. Then Meoraq showed up, and it became obvious that this wasn’t so much a story of humans making a new start as it was a story about Meoraq’s journey to a deeper understanding of faith. Which, ordinarily, I’d be all for, except for those pesky characterization issues. And the fact that every woman I’ve met so far except for Amber has been helpless or useless or both. Besides, Gann is not The Sparrow.

Now that I know my major sticking points will not get any better, I’ve spent time mulling over whether I want to continue this series of blog posts. Given that Meoraq wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d want to read about under normal circumstances, little say the kind of romance hero I enjoy, I’m going to throw in the towel now. I like him fine but am not super invested, and I am not invested enough in Amber that I absolutely have to know how she fares. At this point, I’d simply be hate reading, which I derive no pleasure from. I think it’s time to call it a day and accept the fact that R Lee Smith isn’t for me. I’m sorry my first attempt at a readalong failed so spectacularly, and here’s hoping the next one will work better.

And now I am off to find a book to read that I know I’m going to enjoy.