Lonely Werewolf Girl

I haven’t written a review in more than three years. Partly, that’s because I inadvertently picked an internet-based fight with a self-published author a while back, and reviews of her books (sort of) led to the tiff. (I’ve since removed the posts in which I flayed her, so don’t bother looking for them. My positive reviews of her books, however, remain up because, whether I like her or not, I enjoyed her books.)

That said, I feel I should be sharing some of the good stuff I read with you. Good writers read, and if I come across something worth recommending, I should pass it along.

Lonely Werewolf GirlI bought a copy of Martin Millar‘s Lonely Werewolf Girl for one reason and one reason only: because there was a quote on the back of the book from Neil Gaiman who seemed to have enjoyed it a great deal. “If it’s good enough for Neil,” I told myself, “it’s good enough for me.”

Boy, am I glad I got it.

I’ve mentioned it before in a quasi-review after I read it the second time. Since then, I’ve read it a third time and am currently contemplating a fourth. Yes, it’s that good. In fact, if asked to name my favorite book, a question I’m always hesitant to answer, this is the book I’ve named for the past few years, and for good reason.

I hate spoilers, and you won’t find me dropping any here. For that reason, it’s genuinely hard to say much about the book. I really don’t want to give any plot element away. I will, however, say in general terms what I love about it, and about Millar’s writing.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read another author who so seamlessly intertwines the absurd and serious as well as Millar. Among his fairly large cast of characters is a fire elemental whose love for fashion runs so deep a good looking pair of heels can (and does) bring her to tears. I laughed out loud, quite literally, at her antics again and again. Then, Millar would shift gears, smoothly pulling me back to a more serious element of the story line. Within the span of a few pages I might laugh until there were tears in my eyes, then find myself on the edge of my seat, concerned for the life-and-death well being of a loved character, and then plunge into real, honest-to-God philosophy as I considered the underlying causes of anxiety, fear, happiness and hope.

And he did it all without ever giving me whiplash.

It’s a stunning ride. Yes, there are werewolves, so if you have hangups with fantasy this isn’t going to be the book for you. (Of course, if that’s the case, one wonders how you ended up on my site…) However, if you’re looking for something new and different and thoroughly wonderful to read, you can’t go wrong with this book.

Below, I’ve included the summary from Amazon. There are no spoilers, and it’ll give you a general idea of what the book’s about. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

From Amazon:

While teenage werewolf Kalix MacRinnalch is being pursued through the streets of London by murderous hunters, her sister, the Werewolf Enchantress, is busy designing clothes for the Fire Queen. Meanwhile, in the Scottish Highlands, the MacRinnalch Clan is plotting and feuding after the head of the clan suddenly dies intestate. As the court intrigue threatens to blow up into all-out civil war, the competing factions determine that Kalix is the swing vote necessary to assume leadership of the clan. Unfortunately, Kalix isn’t really into clan politics — laudanum’s more her thing. Even more unfortunately, Kalix is the reason the head of the clan ended up dead, which is why she’s now on the lam in London…

This expansive tale of werewolves in the modern world — friendly werewolves, fashionista werewolves, troubled teenage werewolves, cross-dressing werewolves, werewolves of every sort — is hard-edged, hilarious, and utterly believable.

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the hunger games

I read good books. I have reasonable taste, a fairly good eye I for the sort of thing I would enjoy and a few friends who consistently make worth while recommendations for me. I rarely set a book I’ve started aside because it just isn’t grabbing me. Even so, it’s been a long time since I read a book I felt I could not put down, but that is exactly how I felt about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games is classified as “young adult fiction”, though frankly, I think this is a stretch. The themes are mature and often dark, and the writing is top tier. Not that a young adult novel has to be dumbed down, but this one pushed the limits a great deal. There is something about pitting kids, ages 12-18, against one another in a death match that simply doesn’t yield itself to immature readers.

The book had me from the first chapter. In part because, as I said, each and every sentence was well crafted. The pace of the books is perfect and Collins excels at ending each chapter in a cliff hanger that doesn’t feel contrived. As a result, I found myself up late last night pushing one more chapter in, just one more chapter, far later than I should have been awake given that today was a work day. But how could I put it down? How could I not press forward with so much hanging in the balance at the end of each chapter?

After finishing the book, morbid curiosity led me to see if there is a movie in the works. Sadly, there is. I have mixed feelings about this, though, as I don’t know how the film makers are going to be able to capture the raw, real brutality of the games while making a movie that will undoubtedly be targeted at teens. If it were made to specs, following the book kill for kill, it would certainly warrant an R rating. However, my fear is that the story will be softened, the kills represented through inference and implication. This is a shame because the heart of the book and its message will be lost if the subject matter is watered down. In spite of this, I’ll still see it. I don’t think I’ll be able to resist. (Hopefully it will be better than the movie version of Eragon, which I walked out of after 20 minutes. I wanted to walk out after 10. It was, in a word, awful. If you enjoyed the book, avoid the movie at all costs.)

It goes without saying that I recommend this book highly. Be prepared for some heartrending stuff and an addictive story line, but buy it. Read it. Pass it along. Books this good don’t come along that often.

torn & ascend

I’ve finished the last two books in the Switched trilogy by Amanda Hocking, and all three were fun and entertaining. I would recommend them. My review of the first book holds true to the second and third, so there is very little for me to add. I’ll just say that I enjoyed them a great deal.

switched

The article in Gizmodo earlier this week prompted me to throw down a whopping 99 cents to see what exactly Amanda Hocking is doing to create such a stir. I finished her first book, Switched, last night. Here’s the scoop.

First and foremost, let me say that the book is fun. It isn’t terribly deep, but there’s no harm in that. The story is interesting, reads quickly and is very enjoyable. In fact, I’ve already bought the second and third books and plan to read straight through the trilogy. Hocking is creative and accomplishes a nice pace, the story unfolding in a comfortable cadence that is at times predictable, but still interesting.

Her single greatest strength is her ability to write dialog. Conversations feel real and lived in. Characters talk just like real people talk, which is much harder to do that it would appear. What’s more, her characters have distinct voices, each taking on tones and sentence structures that make them feel unique to the character, which is, again, deceptively hard to achieve. Hocking does it with grace.

However, while her story is original in regard to the legend she chooses to flesh out (her main character is a troll), the male lead bears a lot of resemblance to Edward Cullen of Twilight fame, and the similarities don’t stop there. While I could chose to site this as a weakness of the book, I’m rather inclined to be defensive of Hocking. Her story is a better story than Meyer’s, her approach more creative, her heroine far more likable.

The beginning of the book is, admittedly, rough around the edges. It feels like Hocking got more comfortable with her own role as a writer the more she wrote. (I wonder how many drafts she wrote. I can’t help but think the first third of the book deserved one more to iron things out.) But as the book moves along, so does Hocking. Now three chapters into the second book, I’ve concluded, at least for the moment, that Hocking is a writer evolving, which makes it all the more fun to read her work. The prose improves, the descriptions growing in strength and depth. Her words flow more naturally.

As I said, not the most profound book, but an exciting series to read. One, because Hocking is living a writer’s dream right now. She’s making a living doing something she loves without any publisher, greedy for maximum market share, breathing down her neck. She’s doing it on her own. Two, because the stories are fun. And three, because, come on–haven’t you ever wondered what trolls do when people aren’t twirling them so their hair stands up? Just a little?

inception

For the last week, since my first viewing of Inception, my conversations with friends and co-workers have invariably included the following interchange:

“Have you seen Inception yet?”

If the answer the that question was yes, much discussion, admiration and speculation ensued. If the answer to that question was no, they got the following response:

“Okay, then I’m not talking to you about it. Get to a theater. See it. And avoid anyone who wants to tell you anything about it.”

My friends/co-workers nodded, stirring their coffee, and chuckled. I solemnly stared them down and asked, “Seriously, what are you still doing here? Go. To a theater. Now.”

This created a few awkward situations, but I made my point.

I can’t write what I would like to about this film. Not yet, anyway. I can’t because I’m not going to put spoiler alert warnings all over this post and I refuse to try to tell you about it without telling you about it. I’ll only say three things about Inception at this time:

1. I loved it.

2. It is easily the most original film since the Matrix, which was pretty damn original.

3. It was more fun to see the second time than it was the first.

I highly recommend it.

who wants nicer villains?

Someone over at Entertainment Weekly‘s book blog, Shelf Life, has suggested that Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy wasn’t the self-proclaimed feminist he thought himself to be.

The logic goes like this, and I quote: “Larsson seems to want it both ways: to condemn such savagery [as descriptive rape scenes, for example,] while simultaneously exploiting it in graphic detail for titillating storytelling purposes.”

So, because he doesn’t pull punches in describing the violence and brutality committed against his female characters, he must be enjoying it a little too much? Is that it? Or he’s a sellout because he’s willing to go to dark places, painting these horrific pictures for his readers when his true agenda is just to sell more books by exploiting his female cast?

That, I suggest, is a stretch.

I’ve just recently finished this series of books. I loved them. And I will agree that there are scenes that are difficult to read because it’s true that Larsson describes some pretty dark shit. I would like to offer a different interpretation, however, of his motives: perhaps he just understood what makes a villain a villain.

You can’t very well convince your readers that the bad guy is truly evil if you don’t allow them to see his evil ways in action. Larsson shows us the depth of the depravity of his villains, all of whom are male, by showing just how merciless they can be toward both men and women. Sure, he could have made the narrative more tame. But I would not have seethed with hatred toward them, and I’m supposed to. The title character sure as hell did.

By showing me the full extent of their treachery, I was led down the same emotional path his principal characters were led down. That, my friends, is just good story telling, not some cheap, exploitive stunt.

And it’s worth mentioning that his female characters are strong people. They fight back. And they win.

How, exactly, does that make him not-a-feminist?

werewolves, laudanum and high fashion

Today I finished Lonely Werewolf Girl (by Martin Millar) for the second time. It has become one of my favorite books.

I don’t often re-read books. In fact, it’s extremely rare. It’s not that I don’t want to re-read books. I re-watch movies all the time. In fact, I typically enjoy a movie the most on the second or third viewing. Were I to make a list of books that I think would be fun to re-read, it would be long. But the fact of the matter is that the list of books I want to read for the first time is also long, and as much as I like cozying up to a familiar story, I enjoy exploring a new one even more.

So I don’t often go back to books. But I came back to this one.

It would be hard for me to tell you why in a blog post. All three of the words in the title of this post are not only relevant to Millar’s book, they are key to the plot. How could I possibly explain their connectedness in such a short amount of space without confusing you or sounding like an idiot? Answer: I can’t.

Maybe you have no interest in Werewolves. Maybe you’ve never heard of Martin Millar. Maybe you aren’t even sure you know what laudanum is. Even if all of that is true, if you like a good, engaging story, you should read this book. Hell, I’m half tempted to pick it right back up and dive into it for a third time. Eventually, I will.

For now, though, I have a date with a girl with a dragon tattoo.

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