Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A rant on euphemisms, weaponry and sex scenes

There comes a time in a story when the characters will fall into bed with each other. Be it the Princess that has finally found her Prince and is ready for the Happily Ever After, the traumatic but necessary rape/plot device, or simply the Hero finally managing to convince the voluptuous Amazon warrior that he is worth a tumble in bed.

There are different ways to write a sex scene. From the succinct "They made love" to the long winded 3 page description of every move and feeling. I'm not saying one is better than the other, they fit their purposes.

With the first there is not much that can go wrong, except feeling that you wanted more. But you can always fill in the rest with your imagination.

With the more verbose kind it is easy to mess things up. The problem lies on trying to describe the body parts. With mouth, hands, neck, feet, legs or thighs everything is fine. Breasts are no problem at all. But as we reach the point where the intimate parts are involved things get confusing.

There seems to be no proper way to designate the bits involved. Even with the amount of names available to describe both male and female anatomy, there seems to never be a right one. They are either to clinical or too crude. Female parts are often referred to as mounds, folds, that place between her legs or the vague "inside". Male bits can have the very proper name of Phallus, manhood, member, or a string of euphemisms relying on long, thin objects for imagery. But lets face it, neither of the first three are very arousing. So many resort to euphemisms, which is not bad. It's just the choice of euphemism that will cause problems. And here is where my complaint lies.

I realize there is a reason someone might call it a spear. It's long, it's used in thrusting movements. But, specially in Fantasy, it does mean something else (you know, the actual weapon). In my first encounter with this particular euphemism I didn't realize there was sex involved. I literally thought the poor girl was being speared to death. When she simply went mad after that I thought it wasn't that bad, after all she was alive. Maybe that's why I cringe every time someone calls it a spear. Or a sword.

So please, I ask, keep away from weapon euphemisms when writing sex scenes, specially if said weapon is used for something else (i.e. Killing people). Or if you do, please make sure the reader is aware there is going to be sex involved, lest they be scared for life.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Reading Challenge - 6 to 10

6 - Puppet Master by Joanne Owen

Puppet MasterI got this book because a review suggested that if I loved Tim Burton, I would love this book. I can see why they said that. But I did not love it, just liked it a bit. I loved the presentation of the book, with a sort of worn look, with illustrations resembling old newspaper clippings. I also liked the structure, with short stories and fairy tales in the middle of the main story. I even liked the premise, with an evil puppet master kidnapping children and using them as slaves and puppets. I loved that it was set in Prague, as I really love that city.

So why did I not love this book? I think it is one of those cases that I am too old to enjoy it. I needed something more elaborate, more adult and this book wasn't it. But probably the faults lies in me.


7 - Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

Lud-in-the-MistLud-in-the-Mist has been recommended as an obscure and pre-Tolkien fantasy book, although it is more of a fairy tale sort of book (it does deal with fairies). The world of Lud-in-the-Mist is fascinating. Everything is beautifully described, the places and its colours, its history and traditions, the characters and their relationships. I loved the writing style, specially the character descriptions, like this one:
"Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, the actual head of the family, was a typical Dorimarite in appearance; rotund, rubicund, red-haired, with hazel eyes in which the jokes, before he uttered them, twinkled like a trout in a burn."

A very enjoyable read, with humorous and poignant moments, full of adventure and mystery. Recommended for all fantasy fans!


8 - Birdwing by Rafe Martin

BirdwingI found this book as a recommendation to Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, as it is based on the same fairy tale. It is a continuation of the story, telling what happen to Ardwin, the brother that was left with a swan wing instead of an arm.

It is an enjoyable young adult read, dealing with issues of prejudice, being different and friendship.

Full review


9 - Odalisque by Fiona McIntosh

Odalisque: Book One of The Percheron SagaAfter reading Royal Exile and Tyrant's Blood (and loving it), I had to read more of Fiona McIntosh, so I picked up Odalisque. Heavily inspired by the Ottoman Empire, it follows the story of Ana, chosen as an Odalisque for the new Zar. At first it seems to follow a political storyline, with a bit of romance in the mix. But soon there is the introduction of a new mystery, a struggle between gods and a prophetic message warning about a demon coming to destroy the Goddess.

I really liked this book, and will soon read the rest of the series. I enjoyed the world building, and the promise of more regarding the story of the Goddess. There are amazing characters, both good and evil, and the changes in point of view help to fully understand all of them.


10 - Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

LaviniaFirst and foremost I have to say that Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favourite authors (if not THE favourite). I bought this book without knowing what it was about. Her name on the cover was enough. And it didn't disappoint.

Different from her other works, Lavinia is based on the Aeneid, telling the story of Lavinia, to whom Virgil devoted little space. Would I like it better had I read the masterpiece? Maybe, but I enjoyed discovering bit by bit the story of Lavinia and Aeneas.

Lavinia is a love story in essence, but it is also much more than that. It's about family and tradition, war and betrayal, and about giving voice to a character that had none. What did I like about this book? I loved the slight non-linearity of it. I loved the metafiction aspect of it. I loved that despite knowing what was going to happen in the end, I still wanted to know how it happened. I truly recommend this book.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Reading Challenge - 1 to 5

Last August I decided to keep a reading log, writing down when I started and finished a book, and how many pages it had. This was done mostly so I could know how many books I read in a year. My answer usually was "a lot", but I had no figure to go with that.

This year I decided that I would make a challenge out of it. I will read 75 books in 2010. Call it a New Year's resolution. Of course it won't be purely 75 books. Graphic novels will not be taken into account, very small books might not be either.

Here are the first five books, with a very small review on each (the first book was started still on 2009, but I will put it on this list anyway).

1 - Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor.

Shadowmancer This book seemed to drag on, and on. I thought I would never finish it. Overall I didn't like it. It felt too much cliché, and had too many religious undertones. To tell the truth, I thought I was being preached the entire time. And I don't like that. I never related to the characters or with their quest, most of the time I thought they were running around aimlessly.


2- Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Alphabet Of ThornThis book was bought mostly because of its cover. It is simply stunning.

What is most fascinating about it is the scenery. A city built on the top of the cliffs, with only a small staircase carved onto the rock to reach the sea; a beautiful forest, everchanging, that houses a magic school.

The story is also very good, discovered bit by bit as Nepenthe decipherers the book written in thorns, a secret language. The story told on this book eventually crosses with Nepenthe's own story and the story of the kingdom she calls home.

So, why is this not a great read? Because I couldn't care less about the protagonists. I never identified with any of them, and they were not very likeable either. If not for that this book could easily become a favourite.


3 -  Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's ChosenThe second book in the Kushiel Series, and it doesn't disappoint. There is intrigue and romance like in the first book, and very good characters.

But the issues I had with the first book continue in this one (and will probably continue throughout the series): the writing style does not convince me. Maybe I'm too picky, or just prefer things simpler, but most of the time I have the feeling that the author wrote with a thesaurus right next to her. Changing the name of real places (and people) only slightly was much more of a deal to me on the first book than on this one. Maybe I got used to it.

But all in all, it is a good story that left me wanting to read the next in the series.


4 - The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

The Phoenix I found this book to be average, and in some parts didn't fully convince me that it could be true. This is a gay romance, and one of the man involved is very religious, which bring the whole feeling guilty and committing a sin drama. But he still goes to bed with another man without a second thought.

It was an amusing read, not too graphical when describing sex scenes, which is a bonus, because I wasn't looking for smut, but character development. But it failed short on that.


5 - The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy TravelThis is more of an encyclopaedia than a book. It is funny in most passages, and does catalogue most of the fantasy clichés. But it still feels like reading a dictionary.


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle is one of those classics that I only discovered when the movie came along. Pity, really, because I could (should) have read it sooner. It's a brilliant story, full of adventure and humour. It is also a love story, but you don't realize it till the end.

Howl's Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, the eldest sister, who is destined to be the least accomplished of all, and to have a (very) dull life. So she believes. After being cursed by the Witch of the Waste, turned into an old woman, she sets off from her home and finds herself seeking shelter in the castle of the “evil” wizard Howl, known for stealing girls' hearts. And then the adventures begin.

Although the story of Howl's Moving Castle is very good, what I really love about it are the characters, that are truly wonderful.

Howl, with all his vanity and drama queen behaviour, seems quite shallow at first, but, deep inside, is a very good person and quite intriguing. And his temper tantrums are the best, with green slime oozing out of him just to spite Sophie off.

Sophie, suddenly transformed into an old lady is very vocal and nosey. It's amazing how she acted as being 90 years old, like she had lived enough to be able to complain about everything, and be entitled to boss all the “youngsters” around, yet still shows some adolescent traits, like the way she thinks that it's not fair that she looks 90 being so young, and that the Witch of the Waste which is an old hag looks young and elegant.

Calcifer, my favourite, is a fire demon, bound by a contract with Howl, in charge of moving the castle (besides providing, begrudgingly, hot water and fire for cooking). He is the one that convinces Sophie to stay, enlisting her to break his contract with Howl, while he promises to break her curse.

I read Howl's Moving Castle after seeing Miyazaki's versionof the story. And although I truly love that movie, the book is indubitably better (as it always is). But as such, most of the plot was known to me, and I already knew which characters would be important. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. If at first the story seems to be exactly the same in the book and in the anime, soon there are little details in the story that enrich it, give depth to the characters (for example, the inclusion of Wales in Howl's world. Usually the appearance of “real” places into an otherwise fantasy world makes me cringe, look at the book with distaste and ponder never to pick it up again; in Howl's Moving Castle I found it fitting).

So, Howl's Moving Castle is going to be one of those books that I will never part with, reread until the pages are worn, and recommend to everyone I know.


Friday, 9 April 2010

Instructions by Neil Gaiman

Instructions By Neil Gaiman, Illustrations by Charles Vess

I first read Instructions in Fragile Things, a collection of short stories and poems by Neil Gaiman. I really loved this poem. It beautifully simple, and true, and what fairy tales are made of. It is also a classic Neil Gaiman story.

Now it's going to be released as a picture book. And there is a book trailer, with the poem read by the author himself, and some of the illustrations by Charles Vess.

It's magical. That's all I can say. It needs no more words. Go watch it. Go rewatch it. I will.