Saturday, 28 May 2016

The V Girl by Mya Robarts

Goodreads 
363 pages, Kindle Edition, Published July 1st 2014

Goodreads synopsis:

In post-apocalyptic North America, rape and sexual slavery are legal. Lila Velez, desperately wants to lose her virginity before the troops visit her town and can take it away by force. She makes plans to seduce her only friend, Rey, the most attractive man in her town. Lila does not love him but he is the only man who has shown her true affection, an affection she is willing to take as a substitute of love.

Lila’s coping mechanism to her mother’s rape and kidnapping is her secret. A secret that will bring her closer to Aleksey, a foreign, broody man. Lila does not trust him because his links to the troops and his rough, yet irresistible appearance. Aleksey offers Lila an alternative to her plans, a possibility that terrifies her…and tempts her in spite of herself. 

All the while Lila will have to find a way to live in the constant company of death, slavery, starvation, sexual abuse and the danger of losing the people she loves the most.

Due to mature content, this book is intended for +18 readers.


 4 Stars

This book is brutal. I hardly know where to even begin because there's just so much I want to say and The V Girl brings to mind so many feelings and issues and heavy topics that deserve more than just a book review. I found this book perchance and bought it from Amazon, then read it in about 24 hours. I even stayed up past 4 AM reading. I don't do that very often for a book anymore.

Now, first off, why 4 stars instead of 5? There were a few things in the story that bugged me, a couple of things that felt a little "convenient" maybe, and one instance where I felt just a little messed with and confused, so I reserve that last star for those issues. To mention them in detail means spoilers, so I will bring them up at the very bottom of the review and you can read if you want but I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it yet.

Lila is 18 years old and lives in an incredibly volatile dystopian and fractured United States with her father, and 11 year old twin sister and brother. Her brother suffers from fibrosis, and her father is a doctor who develops pills and medical aids for the victims of sexual assault. Now I don't think I've explained that correctly because to do that I have to state that in this world, rape is something that happens frequently and is not punished. In fact, it's legal and encouraged. So Lila's father is doing a service to those who know they WILL be raped, to prevent pregnancy and ease physical pain. It's chilling just thinking about it. 

Lila is a virgin, a "V-girl." She wants to lose her virginity before it is taken from her, but she also wants to have a connection with the person she has sex with for the first time. She doesn't want just anyone, so at first she propositions her best male friend, Rey. Rey is religious, though he had a relationship with a girl named Angie, whom he loved very much. Angie is no longer in the picture, but Rey still pines for and loves her. Lila attempts to seduce Rey, but things don't work out as planned. 

Amidst Lila trying to figure out how to lose her virginity, she faces recruitment (and violent deflowering) by the soldiers that will invade her city in a short period of time, so a very real threat hangs over her while still trying to navigate this brutal world. Her home is bombed and she and her family relocated with the help of a towering former soldier, Aleksey. He's blond, older, strong as an ox, amazingly tall, muscular and sexy. And he wears a red cape.

                                                                                                                                       I'll just leave this right here.


He's also brutish, quiet, and looks like he hates everyone all the time. Lila's first meeting with Aleksey is actually a bit comical which took the edge off the decidedly sexual flavor of the encounter. Basically she falls on him, butt-first. Now that's funny. Once the shock wears off though, there is a definite attraction between them that we see play out through the story.

There are so many things I like about this book. It's really well knit together. There are only a few spots I felt strayed off kilter, and for the most part this world is well thought-out and actually makes sense. Mya Robarts is excellent at world building and I found almost everything in this dystopia believable. There are scenes of horrific torture and killing that she could have shied away from or used softer language to describe, but her technique here is key. You simply can not gloss over these acts or make them in any way less or easier to bear than they are. They're meant to make you sick, make you cringe, make you feel uneasy. And Mya does this in spades. The writing is raw and visceral and yes, you will feel disturbed and pretty icky. You may even wonder, "Why did she have to go there?" Then you answer with why, because you know why. It is the cold reality of Lila's world made that much more tangible as your stomach turns.

The balance between characters is excellent, and we get just enough of each to stay interested and invested, but we don't stray far from Lila and her mission, either. Everyone present in the book plays a part that could not be excised without feeling their absence. I like how deftly she's placed the characters just where they needed to be at all times. Aleksey's backstory is not revealed until just the right moment, so the conversation feels natural and unforced. 

The politics of the times are woven into the story well and don't become too heavy handed or muddled. Essentially this story is a romance, focusing on Lila's sexual relationships with Rey and Aleksey, and her virginity is a focal point of the book. There's a lot of sexual talk, a lot of detailed fantasies. A few points really stretch believability (was she more worried about the assault aspect or the fact that she wanted to be emotionally connected to the person she lost her virginity to? Sometimes it was hard to tell. She could have easily broken her own hymen and thus lost her virginity and made herself "sullied" so the witches (women who could supposedly tell if a girl was a virgin by touching her ARMS) would pass her by, but she doesn't even seriously consider this as a viable and logical option.) Yes, I just used parentheses inside of parentheses right there.

Now for the bits that bothered me, so you may want to skip this part if you're sensitive to SPOILERS

I thought at first that Rey had already consented to Lila's sex plan, and didn't realize that she hadn't actually let him in on it until she was about to "pounce." 

Azalea (love the name) is only 11 years old yet she speaks like an adult. I know that the circumstances for this are laid out, but still feel that an 11 yr old is still only 11. Azalea spoke at times as if she were at least 16 or older. Maybe she is more mature because of her surroundings, but she seems to lack innocence or a childlike sense to her. She seems more hardened than is believable, but again, this is a perception thing. It felt weird hearing a little child talk about sex and things the way she did. Lila also treated her as if she were an older teen rather than a child. 

I had a problem with Lila mentioning how Aleksey reminds her of her mother's attackers. I just feel she would not have pursued him at all if that were really the case. The description of her mother's attack was absolutely gut-wrenching and incredibly disturbing. I can't imagine that witnessing something like that and those who perpetrated it wouldn't leave an indelible mark in your mind against anyone even slightly resembling the attackers. I had someone hurt me when I was 12 and I could not even stand the sight of their initials because I was brought back to that painful place. Lila is somehow able to state over and over how Aleksey looks like one of the rapists/killers, but get past it easily enough to fall for him, anyway.

**BIG FAT SPOILER COMING**

When we finally witness Lila losing her virginity to Rey, we are given details that lead us to believe that this actually happened, but later find out it did not. On one hand I like that we get to experience Lila's first time with Rey, but we also experience her first time with Aleksey (maybe an excuse to add one more sex scene?) just to see how it would have played out with each character, but the only real first time was Lila with Aleksey. This threw me a little, and I felt manipulated and weird about it. 

The biggest problem I had with the story is that Aleksey has a kink he refers to as "C.N." Consensual non-consent. (Oncoming rant.) Lila understandably rails against this, feeling crushed when she finds out that the man she loves wants to have the experience of rape without the actual legal definition of it. This is very tricky territory and leads to examinations of what is right and wrong within sexual contexts. Is everything ok just because it brings you sexual pleasure? Should things be off limits? Which things? To which extent? Is Aleksey a rapist at heart, only unwilling to take the actual step into it because he doesn't want to align himself with those who have done it that way? How far off from a rapist is he if he wants to experience raping Lila, but just not ruin their relationship or feel guilty about it after?

 It seems too easy to say oh, it's a kink, that's all it is, harmless. Lila's first visceral reaction is honest, but later we see her in a long term relationship with Aleksey and she states, "I trust him so much that I'll try C.N. with him. Soon." Sorry, but no. 

       Lila's reaction to C.N. felt like this:                                                                            Instead of this:


I feel that rather than trusting him, she is acquiescing to him, putting his "kink" ahead of her actual feelings on the matter. Instead of saying, "Sorry, Aleksey, but that's not something I want or agree with and I can't reconcile rape with playing that you're raping someone, especially someone you love," Lila does what SO MANY women do, and that is they push aside their own feelings as not important or inaccurate or worse, hysterical. "Oh," Lila seems to say, "I was just freaking out over nothing. Of course play rape isn't rape and just because Aleksey wants to see me struggling against him and saying no and looking frightened doesn't mean he would want to REALLY rape me or anyone else." It's a "have your cake and eat it, too" situation that I felt pandered to the whole dynamic where women continually push aside their objections and allow men to use them to fulfill and enact fantasies and "kinks" because we all want to please men all the time. 

There's no really good reason (logically speaking) that Aleksey should EVER need to have his "C.N." This could remain a fantasy or be suppressed, even. But he's not asked to do that. I just wonder why not? Why can't a man be expected to leave a fantasy in his mind only and respect the human being in his life enough to not feel his orgasm has to override her feelings on the subject? Lila did not give a good enough reason for changing her mind on this subject, and I'm very disappointed that she seems to have allowed herself to agree to it just because Aleksey wants it. I love/trust him so much that all of a sudden my repulsion doesn't matter, I was just overreacting?




 NO. If he loved her like he says he does, he would not ask her to do C.N. because 1) she despised the concept of it and 2) it is not necessary. How many women have decided they do not want to do something or don't enjoy it and end up doing it because the guy wants it and won't let up about it? Like a whiny toddler, they have a tantrum until they get their toy. This is not how grown men should act, and women should not allow them to do it by handing them the toy just to shut them up or keep them around. This part of the book can be extremely triggering, so proceed with caution. /rant



END SPOILERS

Overall this was a fast read, gripping and brutal and at times stomach churning. I keep using the word brutal because there is no better description for the world in which Lila survives and the actions taken against the good people of that world. The level of barbarism is on par with ancient ways of torture and punishment,and arbitrary and hypocritical rule. 

Warnings for language, triggers, sexual assault against men and women, voyeurism, violence including barbaric torture, mutilation and murder, and heaps of explicit consensual sex. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

NANOWRIMO 2015, Next YA book review coming this week

I've been "doing" NANOWRIMO since November 6th. I had a late start, not sure if I wanted to tackle it this year. I'd been aware of NANO since at least 2000 as I knew a lady who was friends with NANO's creator, Chris Baty. That was back when NANO was a wee tiny babe of a thing.

I "won" NANO in 2008 and I "won" it this year as well, though it's not actually over yet. I reached 50,000 words and now I'm just plowing on, writing as much as I can to get back into the swing and feel of writing. It's been difficult because I lost my writing mojo and my vocabulary seems to have evaporated in the face of internet grammerz [sic]. Seriously, I believe that reading stuff online dumbs us down. I had a way better grasp of English when I was reading proper books. I even learned new words! (Fancy that.)

I'll be back to book reviewing this week. I put down The Martian because I just couldn't handle the endless pages about growing potatoes and other mundane things he was up to. I didn't even make it to the exciting parts. I'm assuming there must be exciting parts because the trailer for the film makes it look that way.

I STILL need to finish Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart.

My next review will be of Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, which I can say right now I very much enjoyed. 

And with that, I'm off to work on my novel and at the same time hunt down another YA read!


Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: Supervision by Alison Stine

Goodreads 
400 pages, Published April 9th 2015 by HarperVoyager

Goodreads synopsis:

Something is wrong with Esmé. 

Kicked out of school in New York, she's sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn't seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag. Something is wrong with her grandmother's house, a decrepit mansion full of stray cats, stairs that lead to nowhere, beds that unmake themselves. Something is wrong in the town where a kid disappears every year, where a whistle sounds at night but no train arrives.

And something is wrong with the friendly neighbor Ez's age with black curls and blue eyes: He's dead.
 

(I was given an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

3 Stars

This book is a bit difficult to describe as so many parts are quite original but just a little confusing, as well. Esme Wong has gotten into a mess of trouble and is banished to live with her grandmother in a large house in a small town. Everything seems pretty normal, until Esme notices that not only has no one spoken to her, but people have tried to sit on her a couple of times. Now that just isn't right.

She is able to call her sister back home, but here in town is another story. Even her grandmother doesn't seem to ever see or hear her. As things get creepier, Esme meets a couple of teens, Tom and Clara, who turn out to be long dead and haunting the area. There are a few other ghosts as well, some not as nice as others.

The story has a little bit of a "Secret Garden" feel at times with the large house and the maid named Martha. A scene featuring an apple in the school cafeteria is reminiscent of a scene in Twilight, and I also got a strong Winchester Mystery House feeling with the stairs that lead to ceilings and the Builder who keeps on building. I've been to the Winchester Mystery House a couple of times and there's a fountain outside it that reminded me of the pond in the story. 

The atmosphere is sufficiently creepy and the story carries a good level of suspense. I do most of my reading late at night, and actually felt uneasy while reading Supervision, so if you like a little creepy-factor, this one hits the mark.

Esme eventually has to deal with some very strange goings on concerning her place in the world. At first, Tom and Clara tell her she's dead like they are. How else could they see and talk to each other? But no, that isn't exactly the case because Esme's family are quite gifted in diverse ways when it comes to the supernatural. Her grandmother can hear spirits, and her sister can sort of see them (well, at least parts of them at times.) What's happened is that Esme has received her gift early, and because of its strength, it's just not working properly.

The Stationmaster is the villain of the novel, an angry entity who goes around trying to kill (and re-kill) children, just for kicks. I think he is the most confusing of all the characters, especially in the denouement. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it's hard to wrap your head around. The title of the book comes into play in an incredibly weird way, and I'm still trying to make sense of it. I feel unsatisfied with the way the Stationmaster's story plays out, and we really need more information on who he is and why he does what he does. The action scenes involving him with his ever present and ominous lantern are solid, and he is a menacing figure who presents constant danger. 

There's a little side romance between Esme and Tom that never overpowers the book and is nicely paced. A couple of the minor ghosts also get a suitably minor love story as well. 

Stine's writing is fairly strong, but there are problems with the plot and character development. Everyone could have used just a little more fleshing out, and the overall tension builds and builds, only to leave you scratching your head at the way the Stationmaster is dealt with. He keeps insisting that Esme needs "manners" for half the book, but his reasoning isn't sufficiently explained. 

Some of the mechanics of the world were difficult as well, like how the "work of the dead" undoes itself. This can work on a small level, but at one point we watch as entire buildings un-build themselves even in the presence of the living. And the ghosts tend to re-live their deaths but also seem to have a choice whether to "participate". 

I must say I definitely don't often find books like this with Chinese heroines, so that was a plus for diversity. I don't know if Stine wanted to keep it on the down low, but Esme's race and ancestry is just mentioned a few times and doesn't really factor in with the plot. 

This is a first book and I have high hopes that Stine will grow in her craft. Supervision is an entertaining read but definitely has some plot holes (some of which can be overlooked) and could use a little polishing up. 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

ASMR: A New Addiction

I recently discovered ASMR quite by chance, although I'd been feeling it for years without knowing it had a name and was "a thing." Now there are folks on You Tube who create videos featuring all sorts of trigger sounds, and I tend to fall asleep listening to them. So each night when I'm done reading a novel or some fanfic, I put one of my favorite ASMR videos on.

Here's my playlist of late:

Brittany ASMR
ASMR. Binaural Ear Cleaning, Massage, Cupping, Brushing, and Gentle Ear Blowing w/ Countdown

Fairy Char ASMR
3D Ear Cleaning with your Audiologist

WhisperingRose ASMR
Facial, Ear Cleaning & Pampering

ASMRrequests
Raw Tingles: 1 Hour of Mineral Mining - Binaural ASMR
DonnaASMR
Brushing the Microphone without a Windshield

There are so many ASMR artists online and so many triggers, you just have to try as many as you can to find the best ones for you. ASMR works differently for everyone, and for some it may not work at all, but if you listen to some of these triggers and find yourself feeling a lovely tingling sensation in your body, you've experienced ASMR.

I'm going to create some myself as there are triggers I've noticed not many people use, and some videos don't spend enough time on triggers that work for me so I have to keep rewinding them. For example in the link above for Fairy Char ASMR, if you skip to about 10:00 in the video, there's a fantastic trigger but Charlotte only spends about a minute on it before moving to something else.

Have you experienced ASMR? What are some of your favorite ASMR videos or triggers?

Currently Seeking New Book To Read

I DNF'd Steelheart but I'll get back to it. I'm looking at a book called Supervision by Alison Stine, but trying to see if I will get hooked.

I'm on the lookout for something fresh, maybe a dystopian YA or another romance.

Comment with recs or rec on my Twitter. :)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Review: Alone (The Girl in the Box #1) by Robert J. Cline


Goodreads 
Amazon

182 pages, April 16th 2012

Goodreads synopsis:

Sienna Nealon was a 17 year-old girl who had been held prisoner in her own house by her mother for twelve years. Then one day her mother vanished, and Sienna woke up to find two strange men in her home. On the run, unsure of who to turn to and discovering she possesses mysterious powers, Sienna finds herself pursued by a shadowy agency known as the Directorate and hunted by a vicious, bloodthirsty psychopath named Wolfe, each of which is determined to capture her for their own purposes...

2.75  stars 


I enjoy reading self-published novels and though sometimes there are grammatical errors (it's not like I never see those in professional published novels), I find them to be fresh and free of the marketing department's interference.

Robert J. Cline is offering his series The Girl in the Box for free online and I have some issues with offering works for free, but I'll get to that later. You can check out the first book in the series, Alone, by following the links above.

I found this book in my travels and read a chapter of it before becoming distracted and moving on to something else. The cool thing about this book is that it stuck with me and I found myself wondering what happened next in the story. That doesn't happen too often once I've moved on from a book I DNF'd. 

The story is quite action-packed as we meet Sienna Nealon, a 17 year old girl who hasn't left her house in 12 years. She's not agoraphobic, she's a "meta" human and has super special powers (but doesn't really know it.) Her mother has oddly abandoned her and she's awakened to find two strangers in the house. What a way to start the day. Sienna gets into it with some serious ass kicking and doesn't even have time for a cup of Joe. 

She meets a mysterious man who tries to help her, but she doesn't know who to trust. Eventually she makes it to the Directorate and the main villain of the book is revealed to be a bazillion year old monster called Wolfe. This thing seems like a cross between the Hulk and the Predator with the mind of sadistic and homicidal fourth grader. Yikes. 

I got a real kick out of the way he talked. He was obsessed with "playing" (torturing, killing) with his "doll" (Sienna) and sometimes I wondered if his origin might have come about when his parents took their then toddler vacationing around some toxic ooze. 

Wolfe is a great character and he basically kicked the tar out of Sienna and anyone else who came near him. Crane constructed an impervious wall of destruction in this monster and I was left wondering how on Earth anyone was going to stop him. 

Back to Sienna. Oh, Sienna. I like her and I don't at the same time. There's so much to really comment on but I'm trying to keep this succinct (not my forte). Sienna is socially awkward which is to be expected. She's also on the selfish side, getting agents killed so she can go back to her house and confront Wolfe, who is waiting for her there. The others at the Directorate look on her angrily and she just doesn't seem to really feel bad about what she has done. This could be because she just has not had enough exposure in the world and lacks empathy to a degree, or it could be because she's a bit of a self centered jerk. The problem is, I'm not sure which one is correct. 

As the main character, of course I want Sienna to be a "good guy" and for the most part I think she is, but it's also a bit hard to really like her. 

Now with comparisons to X-Men. I am not a reader of the comics so I'm going off the movies here (I know, for shame) but I kept thinking of the Juggernaut when Wolfe was on the scene and also thought of Sienna being somewhat similar to Rogue. The Directorate felt a bit like Xavier's school. In the end I'm not super concerned with the comparisons or whether Cline was inspired by the comics or movies. The book is quite good and an enjoyable read and I'm only seeing maybe one thing that REALLY stands out as being lifted from X-Men but it's unfair to say that it could not or should not exist anywhere else just because it was in X-Men. And I'm being vague because I really don't want to give it away. 

The most disappointing part of the book for me was the ending wherein Sienna's major power is revealed and she finds out "what she is." I was really kind of taken aback and left going, "Whaa? Come on!" 

I was on the fence whether or not to start the next book in the series, Untouched, but I did begin it the other night. I'm not sure if it will keep my interest, so we'll see. I'm seriously still feeling let down by the big power reveal...

Alone is an OK book in general. There's nothing horrifyingly bad about it and nothing spectacularly great about it, either. It's well paced with lots of action, does NOT have a drippy romance (for those yearning to get away from love triangles, this is a great choice), and the writing is decent. 

Now I must mention that Cline is giving away this entire series for free. I get that some authors choose to give away a book as a "teaser" to get people's interest piqued. I am not super happy with that strategy, but don't feel overly upset by it. But giving away an entire series? Ouch. Especially a book that's as decently written as Alone. I just feel he's shortchanging himself and the publishing industry already expects books to be free. Writers make pitiful amounts of money especially when just starting out. Not everyone gets the hundreds of thousands of bucks for their first book like Stephen King did. Most romance authors will get about $5000 for a first novel. Compare that with the time it takes to write a book (try it sometime, you'll see) and I just think we need to show some respect and compensate authors fairly.

I brought this up to Cline on Twitter and he basically said not to worry, he's making money off it anyway and I get that, I do. I want him to make money off this, it's a good work and he should get paid. But I'm just looking at it from the perspective of the industry as a whole because this industry has been broken for decades. At least we have a lot more control now with self publishing and e-books, but authors have to not only be creative, and adept at writing, but they have to become editors, designers and marketers, too. That's a massive amount of work. While Cline may be comfortable with his strategy, I just want to see the expectation change across the board for writers in all markets so they don't have to be all things just to make a living. /soapbox

Read Alone, you've got nothing to lose. The first one's free. And the second one. And the third one...

Monday, 5 January 2015

Holidays Over, Reading Steelheart

I picked up Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson a few months ago and read the sample chapters that were offered, then put it down in favor of some other books. It kept niggling at me, though. I'd remember it and think, "I really should finish that book, it was kind of fun."

And so I am now. I am almost halfway through the book and it's quite enjoyable. I like the author's voice and pacing and the idea and premise are different from things I've read lately.

Review to come...