Showcase Sunday #5

Showcase Sunday is a feature on Vicki's blog, Books, Biscuits and Tea, which shows off the books which one has acquired in the past week, from any and all sources. Whether purchased online as an ebook or in hardback from a brick and mortar store, received for review or as a gift, it's just another way to make all your blogging acquaintances jelly.

I went to England for two weeks, and despite my best intentions, I acquired more books than were reasonable. I knew I'd be bringing back one, because the Harry Potter Alliance was debuting their Apparating Library at LeakyCon London, and I brought The Assault with me to trade. (I hope whoever got it enjoys it as much as I did) But there was no reason for me to visit Waterstones or that roadside bargin bin. Yet it happened anyway. And there were free books at the convention. Who does that?

There was a Waterstones in the convention itself, in the East Wing of the Fourth Floor--which we were forbidden from entering under pain of death--and this is where that guy from the Oxford street store twitter was hanging. He was as cool in person as he is on twitter.

Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Bought because my non-shy alter ego chatted to everyone and butted into conversations and heard twice that Code Name Veracity was a good book. 'Nuff said.
Fearsome Dream by Laure Eve
A gorgeous cover which cannot be done justice, the author was at the convention, and it sounded fantastic.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
A random pick up, near the front of the Oxford street store, which was odd to get into, then proceeded to be worth reading. Review coming soon. Review here.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
The paperback is out! So I got it.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I've heard rumors that this one is good, since it was eligible for a deal, I took it with me as well.

The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
These were the free books I got from You know as much as I do.

The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock
The book I had my eye on since I handed The Assault in on Thursday. Yes.
Charm School by Anne Fine
While lingering by the library, I spoke with a girl who hoped someone would take the book she brought, but as it looked very young, and was a little silly, she was afraid no one would. She said it was one of her favorites as a child. When there were a handful of books left Sunday afternoon, this was among them.
The Christian's Guide to Harry Potter by Leslie Barnhart
Leslie Barnhart did a talk on what your wand means, as well as one on alchemy. She's put together an impressive tome that I can't wait to read. 

The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh
I went to see this play with a new friend of mine, stupidly, I didn't get my program signed and stood in the corner like a hipster. The play was good, though.
Gabriel by Samuel Adamson
The non-Shakespeare play at the globe, and possibly my favorite.
The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forster
While headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I passed close to an antiquarian bookstore. Books for £1 and I found E.M. Forster. Proved useful while in line at the Baker street museum.

Head to Vicki's Showcase to see what books other folks have acquired in the last week!

Review: City of Ashes - Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare.

Spoilers: This review assumes you have read the previous book.

In City of Ashes we pick up with Valentine being his evil, egocentric self, calling greater demons as a warm up act rather then an encore; Sacrificing people, hurting his children with only a few words, creating days rife with mis-communication - in other words - the usual. Simon and Clary are dating, sort of, since Clary and Jace really shouldn't be dating each other, yet cannot seem to stop wishing they could. Their mother, meanwhile, still won't wake up from her coma, Luke is being a good pack leader and saving Jace from killing himself often. Simon meanwhile, has a strange preoccupation with blood...

But what is Valentine up to, for chrissakes? He's setting up the vampires for murder, gleefully dashing away in the last second, but for all this evil planning he's doing, it's been rather quiet for the Shadowhunters. The accords have been signed, everyone is happy, except Clary and Jace, and there isn't much going on except Magnus has comes to the junior Shadowhunters every beck and call, and would like them to stop calling about every scratch.

All in all, plot wise, the book is very much between major events, but we get enough tidbits about the major hooplah that will be happening at the end of the book that, the angst and drama between first page and last is more than enough. The perspective shifts often enough to keep it lively and keep us guessing, and great job on that, Clare, since we really should know better by now and we still don't know what anyone is going to do next!

My squabbles with this sequel were with lines here or there that could have been better, been more succinct. When someone serving Valentine guesses his plan he actually tells them they guess correctly, instead of smirking saying, 'perhaps' enigmatically. I'm starting to think that Count Olaf* is scarier than this guy. For the record, Count Olaf remains one of the scariest book villains I have ever read. He still really terrifies me. Even being played by Jim Carrey. Here's part of a dream sequence from relatively early in the book:
As she approached, the figure became suddenly clear, as if Clary had focused the lens of a camera. It was her mother, kneeling in the ruins of a half-built sand-castle. She wore the same white dress Valentine had put her in at Renwick's. In her hand was a twisted bit of driftwood, silvery from long exposure to salt and wind.
“Have you come to help me?” Her mother said, raising her head. Jocelyn's hair was undone and it blew free in the wind, making her look younger than she was. “There's so much to do and so little time.”
Clary swallowed against the hard lump in her throat, “Mom-- I've missed you, Mom.”
Jocelyn smiled. “I've missed you, too, honey. But I'm not gone, you know. I'm only sleeping.”
“Then how do I wake you up?” Clary cried, but her other was looking out to see, her face troubled. The sky had turned a twilight iron grey and the black clouds looked like heavy stones.
“Come here,” said Jocelyn, and when Clary came to her, she said, “Hold out your arm.”
Clary did. Jocelyn moved the driftwood over her skin. The touch stung like the burning of a stele, and left the same thick black line behind. The rune Jocelyn drew was a shape that Clary had never seen before, but he found it instinctively soothing to her eye. “What does this do?”
“It should protect you.” Clary's mother released her.
“Against what?”
Jocelyn didn't answer, just looked out toward the sea. Clary turned and saw that the ocean had drawn far out, leaving brackish piles of garbage, heaps of seaweed and flopping, desperate fish in its wake.
Now you might not see any beauty or a problem here, but they're almost the same thing. Clare's books are filled to the brim with beautiful details, even Kirkus says so, but that can easily become a hindrance. If you begin to over-tell your story, you risk leading your reader by the hand, throw them a curve ball and it goes from unrealistic to implausible.

Clary's mother for instance, looks out to sea, and in a grey sky atmosphere of coney island, a ruined sand-castle at her feet, we don't need to be told she's troubled. A tremble in her hand, a tremor in her voice, perhaps even a word or two to make clear her mother is actually working on that ruined sand-castle. I could get really particular and speak about the meaning of the words brackish and half-built, I could have given you more of the pages and said something about how there weren't clouds before, so that should actually be 'with clouds that looked like', and that this would probably all look much better and work better on screen.

Cassandra Clare has a fantastic eye for detail, practically cinematic in scope which she lets us see, but less is more, and she can end up bogging us down with the specific details of clothes and landscape. The whole point, I think, of using Coney Island is that we know its a derelict from the past, beautiful still, but so much is gone of its former glory.

And so we're clear, I don't want to re-write Clare's book, and I will continue reading the series because I cannot stop being entertained by the way her characters interact. I'm either sitting on the couch in mock-agony over Jace and Clary or I'm laughing about something Magnus has said. I do have a bone to pick about the fact that Magnus and Alec don't seem to have been doing more than holding hands while alone together. Possible, yes, but in this story it's a bit unlikely. Readers are justified in disliking her, but she's just too damn entertaining for me to stop and smell the problems.

How about you? Do you find the books aggravating? Is Clare's internalized misogyny so bad that you can't get into the story? Did her origins in Fan Fiction turn you off so much that you've never considered reading the Mortal Instruments? Or are you in love with Jace, Clary &co. and raring at the bit to tear me a new one? While I dislike the latter, I would like to hear your opinions. Also, does anyone else see Kristen Holden-Ried as Luke? I'm also a huge Dyson fan, so...

*Olaf is my favorite villain of all time. So I'm biased, of course.

NOTE: This review was written with awareness of Clare's past, because I made myself knowledgeable on that front before I read this. However, I did not make any comparisons using this book, and am not interested in going back to see if my favorite lines were in fact original. I am debating whether I will review or even read the next four books that I own.

411p. Walker Books. 2008.

Review: City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

Clarissa “Clary” Fray's mother has finally cracked, at least that's what Clary thinks when Jocelyn tells her daughter to abandon their Brooklyn brownstone and live in Williamsburg for a while. Clary thinks it's a fate worse than death, and escaping into the arms of a mysterious boy only she can see, Jace introduces her to a whole other world. One that she has been missing out on for years, brought back to reality only when her mother calls her begging to stay away from home. When she gets there, the world Jace has introduced her to reveals its uglier side, and nothing will ever be the same for Clary again.

As far as debut novels and first installments in series, City of Bones blows plenty of books out of the water. Cassandra Clare, hate her or love her, has written a remarkable story, keeps the characters in motion for almost the entire length of the story, writes the type of character interaction that makes a girl salivate. Jace is almost too cool to touch, filled with idiosyncrasies that make him charming yet searingly annoying. Clary has it a bit too perfect, falling into a rabbit hole that is almost too good to be true, and she gets away with her life, but realistic battle wounds, every time. Aside from her mother missing and her substitute father saying mean things to her, life isn't going too bad.

But City of Bones introduces us to a love story, or rather, the blurb on the back says that this is a tale of forbidden romance. Simon, Clary's best friend since Kindergarten, is funny, friendly and seems to really like Clary despite how air-headed she can be – his words, although not verbatim. Jace finds her magnetic and beautiful, and she thinks he's got a nice exterior, too, but they end up arguing just as often as they end up flirting. But as a member of the new – to Clary – shadow world, she can't be with a mundane, which Simon is, making any future of theirs unfavorable to the powers that be, then, when more about her past is revealed, her budding romance with Jace is extinguished. What is a poor demon hunter to do?

The story kept spinning, and I enjoyed it's shifting dynamics immensely. I could really appreciate the effort Clare made to move along once she had made something clear, in fact there were times I wished she would go over something again. Clare is no master wordsmith, however, her weakness lying in adjectives and similes overlapping and crowding each other out in a deluge of colorful details. It wasn't overwritten, but at times I was reminded that this is clearly the first published work. Seeing the sequel – already on my shelf, thank you – which is longer still, I know there isn't likely to be a change on that front. I am hopeful however that the small hiccups will be go smoother as we go along, hoping as well that the mortal instruments aren't merely "plot coupons".

Being a love story first and foremost though, do you find that seemingly insurmountable hurdles at the end of a book are a good way to go? If you've read it, or seen the movie, do you think that it ruins all the previous buildup in City of Bones? What are or what were your hopes for the sequels? Let me know in the comments.

NOTE: This review was written in early summer, and since then Clare's past has been brought to much media attention. As this review addresses none of the issues now being discussed quite openly, please keep civil, even if we are discussing originality. That being said, I will be publishing my review of the second book shortly.

442pp. Walker Books. 2007.