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What Janine is Reading — August 2012

Last month was a busy month for me and therefore I didn’t read as much as I usually do. Here’s what was on my plate in August, reading-wise:

Spice and Smoke by Suleikha SnyderSpice and Smoke by Suleikha Snyder

Set in the world of Bollywood cinema, Spice and Smoke is comprised of two connected novellas. “Bombay Dreams” is the story of a quadrangle/foursome, in which one of the relationships, Avi and Michael’s, is m/m, the other, Harsh and Trishna’s, m/f, and yet Avi is married to Trishna. Got that? If it sounds complicated that’s because it is, but it’s an interesting set up. The foursome are filming a historical epic together when this tangle comes about.

The second novella, “Monsoon Bedding,” takes place on the same movie set and deals with another couple (m/m). Sam and Vikram were lovers long ago but then split up due to Sam’s addiction. Now out of rehab, Sam is trying to stay sober, he and Vikram both fear a second chance to hurt each other.

Snyder has a strong writing style and the stories were full of potential. Both novellas felt too short and quickly paced to me. I would have loved to see this developed into a novel with more quiet relationship-building moments. Also, Avi, Trishna and Sam fascinated me more than their counterparts .

This was the first contemporary I’ve read that is set in India, and I enjoyed the setting and the filmmaking milieu. Sunita and I reviewed Spice and Smoke together. Sunita’s grade was a C+/B- while mine was a C/C+.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

It’s World War I and Europe is divided by faction into two sections, Clankers (those who use machine technologies) and Darwinists (those who rely on genetic engineering). That’s the premise of Scott Westerfeld’s YA steampunk novel, Leviathan.

The story begins with Alek, in this novel the son of Austria-Hungary’s assassinated archduke, Franz Ferdinand. One night, Alek is spirited away by his fencing master and his father’s master of mechanics. As they travel in the huge machine known as the Stormwalker toward neutral Switzerland in order to protect Alek’s life, they encounter dangers and Alek changes from a sheltered boy to a kind of young soldier.

Meanwhile, a second story thread follows Deryn Sharp, who joins Britain’s air force in order to fly in one of its living zeppelin-like “beasties.” Deryn is a girl who must pass for a boy in order to achieve her aim. When Deryn’s ship is diverted to pick up a mysterious female passenger and an even more mysterious box, Deryn worries that her identity will be uncovered.

Leviathan is plot driven and takes a while to get to the character development. For that reason I wasn’t immediately engaged, especially in Alek’s storyline which isn’t as compelling as Deryn’s. Once the two meet up, though, the book becomes an exciting feel-good adventure story. C+. Review to come.

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Where We Belong
by Emily Giffin

Frankly, I don’t even know what to say about this book. I read it in early August, a couple of weeks before what I think of as the Giffin debacle of 2012.

My review speaks for itself, and conveys how much I enjoyed the book. But while I think there is something to be said for evaluating the art separately from the artist, sometimes, as in this case, that is easier said than done.

Giffin’s behavior was hugely disappointing and disturbing to me as a past fan of her books, and I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pick up one of her novels again. Which is a loss, because before this happened, a couple of them were books I had kept.

When I heard that the Israel Chamber Orchestra had made the controversial decision to perform the music of Wagner, an anti-Semite and a favorite composer of Hitler’s, in Germany, I had decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was awed because they were bigger people/artists than I, in their ability to honor an artwork whose purpose and creator they reviled. On the other hand, I also felt the orchestra players had, in some fashion, both disregarded and taken something away from my righteous anger at Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

Giffin isn’t Wagner, nor are her works equivalent to his, but there’s a parallel here because, since her behavior led to death threats against a reader (news of which she responded to in a callous manner), readers and reviewers everywhere are entitled to righteous anger over her actions.

So when it came time to do a “What Janine is Reading in August” column, I was torn about how to deal with Where We Belong. Should I act as though I hadn’t read it, and not give Giffin more publicity than I already had? Or should I, like the orchestra players, honor the art over the artist? Personally, I feel I cannot take either position. Instead I have decided to link to my review in this post, and leave it at that.

I would, however, love to hear from readers on this topic and/or about the other books mentioned in this post.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

8 Comments

  1. hapax
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 14:12:28

    In re the Giffen debacle, I think you threaded the ethical needle perfectly. You gave us your honest review of the art. You gave us your evaluation of the artist. You trusted us to be grown-ups and make our own decisions.

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  2. Janine
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 14:35:14

    Thanks, hapax. As I was just saying on Twitter, this post was tricky to write. It sounds like I pulled it off for you and I’m glad to know it.

    I’m curious to know where readers stand on the issue of separating the art from the artist. In theory it sounds like a worthy principle, but in practice it’s often difficult or even impossible to do.

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  3. KMont
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 14:47:45

    I really, really enjoyed Leviathan back in 2009 for its steampunk qualities but not so much its characters. I haven’t picked up the other two books in the series yet but need to check them out again now that you’ve brought the series up.

    I hear you on the Giffin deal. I’ve felt this way about authors who behave badly. There’s one author I had a small personal tussle (they totally misunderstood me) with and I haven’t been able to get back to reading her stuff because every time I see her work that disagreement comes to mind. I just lost all enthusiasm for her books, could not help it. And I looooved them prior. Giffin’s work, fortunately I hadn’t read it prior to her wince-worthy behavior and I sure won’t now.

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  4. Janine
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 14:55:18

    @KMont: I have a review of Leviathan in the works and basically I agree, the worldbuilding aspects were more compelling than the characters, at least initially. I was really rooting for Alek and Deryn by the time I reached the end of the book but it took a long time to get me there.

    Re. author behavior turn offs. Yes, that’s exactly it. Sometimes I just don’t want to support the author anymore, but at other times I wish I could read an author’s books again. But even on those occasions when I love the author’s books, it can be hard to recapture that love after an author has made me so conscious of them as a person in a negative way.

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  5. Sirius
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 15:13:55

    @Janine:

    Spice and smoke has mm couples? How did I miss you guys reviewing it? Definitely checking it out. Re: separating the book and the author’s crazy behavior. To me it is definitely on the case by case basis and I guess it mostly depends on two factors for me: 1) and most important – whether *I* would feel as a loser had I stop buying the books of the author who is behaving badly and 2) whether such behavior is something I can forgive at all.

    For example, as much as I despise authors’ going bat shit crazy over negative reviews, honestly I can forgive it more often than not, if it is a one time deal. Yes, authors should not be doing that, and no, nobody is obligated to still buy their books even if they did it once, but as far as I am concerned, anybody can have a bad day. Griffin though ignored death threats to reviewer and to me it went way overboard (I think you handled it well too actually), so I doubt that I will want to pick up her books any time soon if ever. But I have not been reading her books for years anyway, so it was easy enough.

    I am sure I mentioned before, but there is one writer in mm world whom I do not buy, because he abuses reviewers on very regular basis and with no apology ever, so that was also easy enough.

    There are however several writers whose public behavior I disliked and whose books I still buy – eh, unlikeable people can still write the books I love, but at the same time with one of them I finally decided I am done – dislike finally turned into despise after I read something of his latest.

    Anyway, what I am trying to say that to me it all depends, if behavior reaches the level which makes me want to throw up (like Orson Scott Card being a homophobe) right away, I may be done right away, if it does not, I may still stay and buy.

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  6. Janine
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 16:14:30

    @Sirius: Yeah, it works on a case by case basis for me too, and pretty much everything you said on author behavior applies to me as well. It does depend on severity and/or whether there’s a pattern of behavior.

    Hope you enjoy Spice and Smoke. I had a number of issues with it, but I wasn’t sorry I read it.

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  7. Susan
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 18:56:49

    When we were young, my brother was a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn’s films. I once asked him if he wanted to see a biography show about her and was surprised when he said no. But his reasoning was that he wanted to preserve the illusion. He didn’t want any of his perceptions of her as a real-life person to bleed over into his enjoyment of her screen personas. I totally get that.

    To make it worse, there’s so much oversharing these days. We have this frenzy to know everything about the singers, actors, authors, and various other artists/entertainers we enjoy, but that just adds to the opportunities for them to disillusion us.

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  8. Janine
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 19:08:12

    @Susan:

    To make it worse, there’s so much oversharing these days. We have this frenzy to know everything about the singers, actors, authors, and various other artists/entertainers we enjoy, but that just adds to the opportunities for them to disillusion us.

    Too true. I think it works both ways, though. It’s not just that we’re hungry to know more about or interact with public figures. It’s also that these days authors are expected to market their books via social media but not all of them are mature enough to handle it well.

    ReplyReply

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