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What Janine is Reading, October 2011

October was a month for reading material with fantastical elements. All three of the works I read were promising, but only one ended up satisfying me.

White Cat by Holly Black

My husband and I started reading this contemporary YA paranormal, which Jia reviewed favorably awhile back, after it was recommended by a friend. We started reading it, but it went back to the library unfinished. I can see why other people enjoyed it – it’s got a twisty plot, solid prose, complex yet consistent worldbuilding, and an intriguing premise. But neither of us connected with Cassel, the main character – a teenager from a family of con artists.

The other problem (for me anyway) was that it was clear from the beginning that things weren’t what they appeared but it was so difficult to know what was actually going on in the story. I mean, when every significant character in the book is a con artist or criminal of some kind, and even the narrator may be under a spell that makes it hard for him to know what is real or unreal – whether he’s playing a con or being played himself — well, as clever and cool as all that sounds, it also makes it hard to know what we readers can believe, and when I can’t believe or trust anything, I can’t make myself care about it, either. DNF.

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Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

This was another Jia recommendation, and one that worked better for both of us. We picked this up because I was intrigued by the setting, a fantastical place modeled on China in a historical era I couldn’t identify. Silver Pheonix turnedout to be as much about its milieu as anything.

After a leering merchant tries to force her to become his fourth wife, our intrepid heroine, Ai Ling, embarks on the journey to the emperor’s palace, in order to retrieve her missing father. Along the way she makes some friends, including the serious and brave Chen Yong, whose history is connected to hers, unbeknownst to either of them. As they battle various threats, Chen Yong remains steadfastly at Ai Ling’s side, and she falls for him, but it’s unclear what his own feelings are.

Although the romance was subtle and the characterization wasn’t that deep, this story was very enjoyable at the level of an adventure story. Based on Jia’s review of the sequel, I’m not sure whether to continue with the series, but this book had a great setting and was fun to read. B-.

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Witches’ Blood (Installment #4 of The Rifter) by Ginn Hale

Back in August, Sunita and I reviewed the early installments of Ginn Hale’s ten-part fantasy serial, The Rifter. Sunita reviewed installments 1-5, and I reviewed 1-3. The Rifter excited me not only because of its intriguing premise, its detailed worldbuilding , and its appealing main characters, Kyle and John, but also because of its structure.

The early segments contained shifts not only in POV and setting, but also in time. What I mean by this is that as we switched back and forth from John to Kyle and back, we learned that although they no longer occupied the same point in time. This device allowed the author to show not only events as they unfolded, but also their consequences years later, and not always in that order.

Right or wrong, this set up an expectation in me that the book would continue in this fashion, and we would shift back and forth in time and POV in each installment. Installment #4, though, was set completely in the same time and place that we had already visited in #3, the Rahtal’pesha monastery. This made Witches’ Blood feel static to me, and it didn’t help that event-wise, not much that was pivotal happened in this installment.

Rathal’pesha is an austere setting, and John finds himself persecuted at times, so Witches’ Blood felt oppressively dark to me. Since I didn’t anticipate having to wait to wait so long to return to Kyle’s POV and time frame, I felt frustrated by the slow pacing of Witches’ Blood, especially when it came to things like descriptions of food. Despite the consistently good chararacterization, language and worldbuilding, my main thought was that I wanted the story to move forward more.

I really wanted to love Witches’ Blood, especially after waxing enthusiastic about the first three installments of The Rifter. Instead, it took me a couple of months to read this installment, which was only 100 or so pages long. C+.

The Rifter at Blind Eye Books

What about you? What did you read in October? And if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think of them?

Janine

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.

11 Comments

  1. Janine
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 14:04:31

    October wasn’t the greatest reading month for me but I’m reading what looks to be an awesome book now, if it stays as good as it’s been so far — Divergent by Veronica Roth.

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  2. Darlynne
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:34:34

    Janine, I loved Divergent, even though I had a difficult time initially connecting with the main character. It was all worth it in the end, however, and I am eager for the second book to appear. The questions of loyalty and our place within our “group,” whichever way we define that group, were quite powerful.

    Currently, I’m almost finished with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which also took awhile to grab me, but now I’m hooked. Lovely writing, outstanding descriptions and creativity, this is a case of the hype being true, imo.

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  3. Janine
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:58:31

    @Darlynne: I am connecting with Tris easily, but then I have a soft spot for flawed characters, especially when they face moral dilemmas.

    I’ve been hearing great things about The Night Circus, but I’m a little afraid of a depressing ending. Can you spoil me for how it ends? Is it tragic or bleak?

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  4. Darlynne
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 20:40:46

    I don’t know yet, as I have about 60 pages to go. The signs aren’t optimistic, but I will reply when I’ve finished.

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  5. Sunita
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 22:18:59

    Hi Janine, I’m sorry Rifter #4 didn’t work for you! I think a number of readers found some of the installments to be kind of slow (I don’t remember which ones, but I know I’ve seen that comment before) so you’re not alone.

    As I said when we were talking on Twitter, I actually liked some of the slow-paced sections, because they gave me a respite from the intensity. But it does create an up-and-down aspect and I can see how that wouldn’t work for others.

    The time shifts are interesting. In the first few installments they are more frequent and more disorienting, and then they settle down into a pattern. I’m almost done (waiting on #10) and I really want to map out the whole sequence of shifts and see what is going on.

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  6. Angela
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 08:59:35

    I’ve been wanting to read White Cat and Divergent for a while now. I think I may have to break down and get Divergent.

    I’m so leary of trying the Ginn Hale series. I’ve never really read a story like that before. I was meaning to check it out when it was finished, but I’ve not really been keeping track of it and don’t know if it is. Can someone tell me how the sections work? Does it feel like it just drops off and ends at some random point? Is it just like getting a couple of chapters at a time?

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  7. Janine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:38:32

    @Darlynne: Thanks, do let me know!

    @Sunita: It probably has to do with all the Holocaust stories I heard as a child, but I’ve noticed that I have a hard time reading about oppression and characters having to hide something to escape death. For that reason, the slow Rathal’pesha monastery section in installment four didn’t feel like a respite to me. For me the story was as dark and intense as ever, just slow moving in addition to the darkness. I would much rather have more happening, not just because it entertains me more, but also because the sense of something being about to change might give me hope.

    A separate issue from that is that writers are often taught to establish a POV shift pattern early in their book that will follow throughout the rest of the novel. That is a literary convention that allows readers to know that to expect. My philosophy on writing rules is that they are made to be broken, if the author can pull it off. Here though, Hale did not pull it off for me. I was geared to expect more exciting shifts between John and Kyle from The Rifter, and when they didn’t happen, it was disappointing.

    @Angela: I plan to post about Divergent more after finishing it. I’m now past the halfway mark and it’s still excellent.

    Re. White Cat — I’ve heard that the sequel is better.

    Re. the Ginn Hale series. Installment #8 is currently on sale, and I think #9 should be coming out very soon. I’m not sure if by sections you mean the sections in each POV/time frame, or if you mean the installments, so I’ll answer for both.

    The POV and time shifts happen at dramatic moments, and sometimes just when you know what happens next in one timeline, you shift to another. I was liking this a lot until I reached this relatively slow installment.

    As for the installments, they usually end in places that feel fairly natural to me, but with some things still unresolved. I’m trying to think of a good comparison and can’t at the moment, but maybe someone else will suggest one.

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  8. Darlynne
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:06:03

    @Janine: Read it and enjoy. The end is neither tragic nor bleak, unless I completely missed something. My favorite aspect of the book has to be the descriptions of the circus in all its white, gray and black glory; I swear I could hear calliope music as I read. I hope you like it.

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  9. Sunita
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 11:19:25

    @Janine: Thanks for the explanation, that makes total sense. And I see what you mean about the POV. I need to go back and read 1-3 again. I’ve gotten used to the rhythm in the later ones, but I want to think about your point more.

    @Angela: Each section is relatively self-contained in that it has a specific focus. There is, as Janine says, more time- and POV-shifting in the earlier installments. By 4 they’ve settled into a pattern than has continued through installment 9 (someone correct me if I’m wrong because I’m just doing this from memory).

    There are cliffhangers ending some of the installments, which makes it very difficult for some readers. At this point, though, you’re less than 6 weeks away from the final installment, so you can read it as one really long epic fantasy.

    I’m trying to think of what to compare it to and I can’t come up with anything either. I think Nicole Kimberling described her intention as providing something that is similar to the arc of a TV series with a plot that unfolds over a season (like The Wire). The difference from, say, Buffy or Angel’s seasonal arcs is that there are no stand-alone episodes. Every installment is necessary to the overall storyline.

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  10. Angela
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 12:22:35

    Thank you @Janine and @Sunita for more information on the Rifter serial. With only 6 weeks until it’s finished I think I’ll finally give it a try. I actually don’t mind cliff-hanger endings, so I’m not sure why reading something this way worried me so much, but I think I was more concerned that each installment was going to be worth it and not like I was just buying a chapter – if that makes sense.

    Anyways, Thank you!!

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  11. Janine
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 13:16:09

    @Darlynne: Thanks, that’s great to hear!

    @Sunita: I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts that, and also, on the whole thing, once you’ve finished The Rifter.

    @Angela: You’re welcome!

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