Monday, May 28, 2012

Nymph by Francesca Lia Block

Nymph by Francesca Lia Block

Rating: R; 3 1/2 stars

Summary: Nymph was simultaneously similar two and completely different from the rest of Francesca Lia Block's work. This short book is a series of connected erotic short stories. These stories are definitely far more explicit than most of the rest of Block's work, but that doesn't mean they don't contain the spark that makes her writing so memorable. As in her other books, Nymph is rife with the rhythm and life of LA. The stories contain that mix of fantasy and reality that Block is known for.

Opinions: So somehow I missed that memo that this book was erotica. That's neither good nor bad, just an oversight on my part. Since most of what I review is suitable for a young adult audience, readers should be aware that this may not be. I say “may,” because I believe that there really isn't an age limit on books.

That being said, I was very pleasantly surprised with the priority that the actual story took in these pieces. In my (admittedly rather limited) experience with erotica, the story and characters often take a backseat to the sex. This definitely isn't the case here. These stories are woven as deftly as any work of Block's, and the language, characters, and plot are quite obviously one of her priorities.

My favorite story is the first one. I love the idea of it, and I think it was executed perfectly. Although I didn't like some of the stories as much as “Mer,” they all had something to them that I enjoyed. I wish they had been a little more connected, since they were advertised as connected, but sometimes the subtleties and unexpected connections were refreshing. I'm thinking specifically of the connection between “Mer” and “Spirit,” which is probably my second favorite story.

Obviously, I've rated this book R for being sexually explicit. There's no violence, as far as I can recall. I also don't recall any explicit language used outside of sex. I gave it a 3.5 because as interesting and well-written as these stories were, I didn't find a lot of reread value in them. I can't say why, but that's unfortunately the way I feel. I also think that in some ways some of the stories were limited by their erotic nature—the stories were all very short, and I think Block could have done some really wonderful things with them had there not been so much sex. However, as erotica, these are by far the best stories I've ever read—who said literature couldn't be sexy? I'm also aware that I may be biased because I didn't realize this book was erotic in the first place.

Readers of erotica will love the quality of writing in these stories. Readers of Block's other books may find their genre preference expanded after reading this book.

I purchased a physical copy of this book for my mother, and I was also given a complimentary ebook by the publisher for review.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Rating: PG-13; 5 stars

Summary: Bitterblue is a sequel to Graceling and a companion to Fire. Taking place eight years after Graceling, the story follows Queen Bitterblue in her journey to help her country recover after Leck's reign. The book is filled with political intrigue, romance, science, war, and much more. Although the book focuses on Bitterblue, familiar characters, such as Katsa, Po, and Fire, do make an appearance. The book is both a companion and a sequel in the truest sense: it directly continues events set forth in Graceling, and characters and events from Fire do return in a significant way. The book follows both the progress of the country of Monsea and development of individual characters.

Opinions: The first year that I started this blog, I named Graceling my top book for the year. Later, I raved about Fire. However, it is only with Bitterblue that I am fully appreciating what Cashore has managed to do with the written word. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Cashore is the next Dickens or Twaine. I'm not going to speak to that. Her first book is less than ten years old.

However, I think that what Cashore is writing is incredibly relevant today. Bitterblue alone discussed issues of homosexuality, parental pressure, self-injury, birth control, and pre-marital sex. And you know what? None of these were the focus of the story. While I'm all for the importance of books like Baby Be-Bop, by Francesca Lia Block, and Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson, I have to say that sometimes it's refreshing to read a book that opens and encourages a dialogue on these topics without making them the focus of the entire novel.

Besides these social issues that were present without being the focus, the novel did focus on issues of abuse and brainwashing. Cashore handles all issues deftly and sensitively. I think the choice of Queen Bitterblue as the protagonist works to the story's advantage: she discovers things along with the reader, which allows Cashore to really delve into the issues she is opening up a discourse on.

Before a friend of mine kindly loaned me her advanced copy of Bitterblue (thank you, Emily!), I read some reviews on Goodreads in anticipation of this book. I have to say, I was really upset by the amount of people who gave the book negative reviews because of the lack of focus on marriage. As much as I'm a romantic and enjoy a good happily-ever-after, the world isn't about marriage, and I think it's important that books show that there are other options. I won't say more on the matter, so as not to spoil anyone, but I was frustrated enough by these reviews to include it in mine.

I can't really say enough how much I enjoyed this book. Consistent with her two other books, Cashore manages to weave together many subtle themes and subplots into Bitterblue. To me, Bitterblue is part political novel, part psychological mystery, part mystery, part adventure, and all wonderful.

I'd recommend this book to any fans of Cashore's previous books, as well as anyone who enjoys high fantasy, and even historical fiction. The amount of psychology and politics in Bitterblue do make it rather similar to some historical fiction I've read. There is some violence and sexuality in this book, though I wouldn't call any of it explicit. There are also scenes which may be triggering to some people. In particular, I am thinking of scenes recounting abuse of both adults and children. Just a warning to folks. I enjoyed every page of this book, even when it frustrated me. It's definitely a worthwhile read, and it'll make a great summer read, too.