Book Review: Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

Title: Queen
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2015
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.97
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

I Spoil Everything

queen aimee carter

Plot Description: The Blackcoat Rebellion continues with its characteristic incompetence and worthlessness. Boredom, predictability and frustration ensues.

Previously on “The Blackcoat Rebellion…”

We saw a seventeen year old girl co-opted into two different sets of conspiracy and forced to help maintain as well as overthrow the existing government. Kitty Doe is put through cosmetic surgery to turn her into the doppelganger of Lila Hart, niece to Prime Minister Daxton Hart and member of the ruling Hart family. The real Lila Hart, it would appear, has been murdered by the Prime Minister and his mother to keep her from spreading further treason. Kitty meets the leaders of this treasonous revolution, the “Blackcoats” Celia Hart and Knox Creed – and agrees to continue Lila’s treasonous speeches. She also attempts to assassinate Daxton and fails – in the process discovering that Daxton was long dead, and an imposter named Victor Mercer had taken his place. As a result, Kitty is stripped of her rank and thrown into the vast and brutal prison known as Elsewhere. She then helps the inhabitants of Elsewhere revolt, joining forces with part of the Blackcoat rebels’ army. Oh, and they realize the original Lila Hart was alive and well.

In my reviews of Pawn and Captive, I felt that the childish mentality of whiny teenagers felt completely out of place in a revolution, and Queen is no different. This might actually have been a great premise for a spoof novel – a bunch of brats trying to revolt – but unfortunately, The Blackcoat Rebellion takes itself very seriously.

For instance, this paragraph from Queen

“You know what would be great?” I snapped. “If you could stop treating me like a problem for five minutes. I’m not completely useless, you know. You never would’ve taken over Elsewhere if I hadn’t helped.”
“Debatable,” he said coolly.

…sounds remarkably similar to this paragraph from Captive.

“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”

“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”

“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”

Kitty and Knox are each very good at pointing out that the other is being a terrible brat, but neither can recognize it within themselves. That being said, Knox is actually quite good at strategy – for someone so young. Leaders like Celia and Kitty are the wildcards of the rebellion. They are constantly at the mercy of their own knee jerk reactions, which is a terrible thing when they have the power to command armies. The only difference between the two is that Kitty’s decisions mostly come out positive, whereas Celia’s mostly have negative consequences. For instance, Celia takes a decision that pretty much derails the entire rebellion and results with hundreds of rebels publicly executed. The book decides to make up for this by turning her into a martyr at the end, but the fact remains that it could have been avoided.

Something that does ring true is Kitty’s feeling of being adrift. In the first two books, she claimed that Benjy was her “home,” her sense of belonging. In this book, it’s clear that the Kitty-Benjy relationship is fast crumbling.

“Yeah, but—” I hesitated, not knowing how to put the knot of frustration in my throat into words. “It’s not just that. I don’t know where I belong anymore. I’m a Hart. I’m a former prisoner. I’m a Blackcoat. But I’m not really any of those things, either. And I’m not who I look like. I’m not anything except that speech. And even that wasn’t good enough for Knox, not really.”

Benjy wasn’t always a sweetheart – he shows irrational jealousy at the very beginning of the book when Kitty is planning to become a sex worker. Even insists she sleep with him first. In Queen, jealous Benjy is back – and this time he may have a point. It seems that everyone but Kitty realizes that she and Knox have feelings for each other. Fortunately, both Kitty and Benjy also start to wonder whether their relationship with each other is based on familiarity rather than strong emotion. Their decision to stay best friends is one of the more mature points in this book.

Another point of maturity is the development of the Knox-Kitty relationship. There is no YA-mandatory ship kiss. Just a promise that things are on track for the two of them by the end of the book. And while a lot of reviews I looked through are distraught at this fact, I think that a book that’s drowning in this level of immaturity needed a few points that weren’t taken play-by-play from the Big Book of Cliche.

That being said, Aimee Carter’s love for faked deaths and pointless plot twists continues to burn unabated. I personally suspect that Knox faking his own death was a plot device to get Kitty to realize that she loved him (and make a big declaration of love which I completely skipped over).

The derailed rebellion and Knox (and everyone in Elsewhere) being fake killed was possibly the weakest part of the whole book. Because the story was nowhere near over, there were tons of pages left, so it was quite obvious that Knox wasn’t dead, that the major part of the rebellion was still going strong. I don’t know what sort of fake-out Carter thought she was going for. Maybe she figured that Kitty, Lila and Greyson’s terrible attempts at assassinating fake Daxton would hold the answers for the reader. Seriously, I lost count of the number of times they tried to kill Victor Mercer (the man who’s impersonating Daxton) in this book. Just another transparent plot device and stalling tactic.

I also wonder why Carter chose to keep calling this man “Daxton” even after it becomes clear to everyone that his name is something else entirely. Perhaps it was an effort to preserve the focal point of all the villainy under a single name. Daxton was certainly a ruthless dictator – he had Lila’s father executed in front of her and Celia after all – but he was also smarter and less blinded by arrogance, and might not have been as sadistic. In fact, certain characters in the book attempt to distinguish between Daxton and Victor by claiming that Daxton didn’t take pleasure in his cruelty. But there’s no need to make a child watch her father’s execution, and there’s certainly no need to go hunting human beings as if they were big game. Daxton was guilty of both. He was also Kitty’s father, and didn’t let her grow up in Elsewhere. (Yay?) It is important to note that he also never appears anywhere in the trilogy – he was dead by time Pawn began. The villains of this trilogy is – and always have been – Victor Mercer and Augusta Hart. In light of that, continuing to refer to Victor as Daxton seems silly.

As with so many other books, the heteronormativity is exhausting. Dumping heterosexual monogamous pairings by the truckload into your book is truly barf-worthy. If Benjy, Kitty and Knox had chosen a more polyamorous relationship, that might have been interesting. If any of them had been a different gender, that would have been great as well. A female version of Knox would have been awesome, I think. Much preferable to having a broody male order armies around and put the heroine down at every chance.

Which brings me to all the infantilization. Everyone, including the author and Kitty herself, treats Kitty like she’s a child. The Bella-syndrome is quite obvious here. You know the drill: plucky heroine dares to keep doing things that everyone tells her is foolish – like putting herself in danger without first receiving permission forms from Knox, Benjy, Sampson, Rivers and possibly Hannah, in triplicate. Plucky heroine gets into a teeny-weeny bit of trouble as a result, and everybody shouts at her. What’s worse is Kitty’s internal monologue, which is filled with guilt and shame for acting out. I want to shake Kitty and remind her that she’s the same age as the other idiots leading this rebellion, that they’re all being dumb, so she needs to stop beating herself up about it. None of the other characters do this. No other character infantilizes themselves. YA writers, please, stop convincing your protagonists that they’re in the wrong because they did something “plucky.” You’re sending a terrible message to teenage girls who identify with your protagonists. I know this because I used to be one of those teenage girls.

The over-protective boyfriend bullshit is an offshoot of this infantilization. The part where it’s so hot when a guy gets angry at you for putting yourself in danger. Because, you know, it would kill him if something happened to you. Newsflash, everybody. The girl doesn’t belong to the guy. She belongs to herself, and her right to put herself in danger is nobody’s business but hers. And as is par for the course for a YA novel, we’ve got this over-protective crap coming in from both Benjy and Knox.

Perhaps the most hilarious part of this novel is its take on socialism. While in Elsewhere, Kitty gets beaten up by two or three of its denizens because they’re resentful of her apparent comfort. After this incident, she starts wondering whether it’s fair that the leaders always get better amenities than the rest. But Benjy is having none of it. He is happy with his privilege, unwilling to go full socialist, and claims that leaders will always have privileges. Unfortunately, Kitty eventually accepts his perspective.

But here’s the thing. You guys are leaders because you were born with certain privileges, nitwits. Kitty – illegitimate daughter of a VII, only person to have escaped Elsewhere, brought into the Hart family because of her facial resemblance to Lila Hart (another VII, and her cousin), met the Blackcoats that way. Knox and Celia, leaders of the Blackcoats, VI and VII respectively. Benjy, a VI and enjoying the privileges of being Kitty’s boyfriend. You don’t get to deny those circumstances and then claim that you’re some sort of special snowflake who deserves privilege due to your leadership abilities.

The Blackcoat Rebellion could actually have been a good story if it weren’t quite so bloated. This is a one book story, or maximum two books. Perhaps YA writers like Carter can take a few pointers from that Jack Reacher author, you know, figure out how to pack the action tightly, keep it interesting.

Book Review: Shifters #5 – Shift

Title: Shift
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2010
Series: 5
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.23
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

shift

Plot Description: Whilst dealing with the aftermath of an attack by rival Alpha (and current head of the Council) Calvin Malone, the Sanders Pride finds itself attacked by a flock of Thunderbirds – supernatural creatures who are half human, half bird. Faythe finds herself taking a road trip with Kaci, Marc and Jace on a diplomatic mission to see if they can get the thunderbirds to stop trying to massacre their Pride.

In fact, the Thunderbirds are the only things Shift has going in its favour. It’s not, of course, the first time a new species has been introduced into the Shifters universe. Once the we, the readers, got over the shock of reading about werecats, the werewolves were mentioned. Briefly. Apparently they’re all extinct, but even a blessed mention is more than sufficient for the exhausted fantasy reader’s mind, which keeps trying to insist that we’re actually supposed to be reading about werewolves out of sheer habit.

The bruins – or rather, one Bruin (singular) – made their first appearance in Pride. Half bear, half human, solitary and rather given to hibernation, and yet the bruins are portrayed as far more human than the werecats who greatly outnumber them and are far more sociable to boot (in as far as ‘sociable’ refers to not attempting to kill everything that moves on impulse).

The Thunderbirds fall on the end of the spectrum directly opposite to that which is occupied by the bruins. They’re more fluid in their morphing abilities, not requiring time to shift from one form to another, and fully capable of going from human to bird (or vice versa) at an altitude of approximately Top-of-a-huge-freakin-mountain meters.

This means they’re far more removed from human civilization than are the other shifter species, possibly because there’s no way you can integrate when your young spend most of their time navigating that peculiar niche of life reserved for those sporting a wing and an arm each at any given point of time. That is to say, young thunderbirds spend all their time in a constant state of flux which they haven’t learned to control yet. Bit of a dead giveaway, that.

I found the careful construction of Thunderbirds as a species and a society far more interesting and far less annoying than I did the werecats. It’s not every day that you encounter a group that retains its status as The Other so perfectly, even after all the shades of grey have been pencilled in.

Faythe demonstrates some qualities in Shift that are supposed to be diplomatic in nature, and she doesn’t do too badly. This step forward in the character development department is, however, largely obscured by the dynamics of her botched relationships with both Marc and Jace and by the ugly rearing head of patriarchal oppression that isn’t bothering to conceal its views behind an insincere smile anymore.

The ugliness of the truths upon which werecat Prides have been built are hammered into the mind of the reader in Shift with about as much subtlety as is demonstrated by a blunt axe. This trend carries forward into Alpha and makes you want to keep quoting Faythe all the time:

“Don’t you bad guys ever get tired of the same old routine? You threaten rape, I kick your ass, and evil is defeated again. Couldn’t we shake things up? How ’bout you try to smother me with my fluffy pink pillow instead?”
– 
Faythe Sanders, Alpha, Shifters #6

As this self aware quote illustrates, the heavy handed, black and white misogyny – a total contrast from the benevolent misogyny depicted in Books 1 and 2, and to a certain extent Book 3 as well – turns the Sanders Pride’s enemies into cartoonish rapist villains. This has the simultaneous effect of also white washing Faythe’s Pride. The Pride under Greg Sanders’ leadership, it is suggested, has always been a place where women are respected and revered. Examples put forward in favour of this argument include Greg grooming his daughter for the post of Alpha and the fact that Faythe’s mother used to sit on the council next to her husband.

Good points, both. Except it’s hard to see how exactly Greg groomed his daughter for command, apart from giving her a job as an enforcer (a job she landed after much negotiation and by threatening to run away from home multiple times) and allowing her to take over the planning of a couple of attacks in the previous books. Nowhere does Greg consider it important that he teach his daughter how to be a female Alpha. Unlike, say, Marc Ramos, who is his second choice for Alpha, Faythe cannot beat every challenger by dint of sheer physical strength. It was important for Greg to show her that being Alpha isn’t – contrary to popular belief – about your abilities to pound everyone else into the ground, but to be the master of every situation.

As for her mother’s seat on the council, Karen Sanders did take a seat at the head of the Council – by her husband’s side. That is to say, after her marriage and motherhood had deemed her respectable enough to be tolerated on the council. And then she stopped doing that once she had Faythe, who was a handful and needed all her time and attention.

On the other hand, a notable example against this argument is the fact that Greg and Karen tried everything in their power to get their daughter married by the time she’d barely hit eighteen, including locking her up in a cage. Another notable example is the rampant slut shaming that goes on amongst Sanders’ enforcers (such as Faythe’s brothers) and the fact that Marc’s abusive behaviour is accepted by everybody (including Faythe) as fairly normal.

Speaking of Marc and abusive behaviour brings me to what I was talking about in my review of Prey – namely Jace Hammond and his approach to relationships and prospective Alpha material. Unlike Marc, Jace doesn’t go around trying to mark his territory. When he wants to make out with Faythe, it’s not to prove a point, but because he genuinely wants to be with her. And when he’s aggressive towards Marc, it’s not because he thinks Marc needs to get off his porch, so to speak, but because he’s concerned that Marc’s short temper might result in him hurting Faythe.

In short, Jace is the only one who seems to even register the fact that Marc is an abusive piece of s**t. Sadly enough, he only realized this after he got together with Faythe.

“This isn’t about you….” “Well, it should be!” he shouted, and I flinched. “Everything I do is about you, and I want the reverse to be true, too.”
I wiped more tears, my throat aching with words that would only make this worse. “What, you need a reminder? That’s what he was doing, right? And now you smell like him. You probably taste like him. You should taste like me.…”
He was on me before I could even catch my breath, his mouth bruising mine, and after that, breathing didn’t seem so important. 

This quote (and the ensuing sex scene) [from Alpha, Book #6] was put up as the sexiest scene in literary history by someone. Personally, I don’t know how the words ‘flinched’ and ‘sexiest’ can even exist in the same plane.

Shift could have represented a great leap in character development for the young female protagonist of this series, but unfortunately, all one ends up seeing is a heroine who is severely disadvantaged both by patriarchal forces and notions, as well as by her own bad taste in men. The weak facade of an Alpha growing in strength and wisdom falls away almost as soon as a discerning eye is turned on it.

Next: Shifters #6 – Alpha

Book Review: Shifters #4 – Prey

Title: Prey
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2009
Series: 4
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

prey

Plot Description: Faythe, Marc and a couple of other characters are attacked by a group of strays while on neutral territory, and Marc goes missing soon after that. Prey chronicles the ensuing manhunt and the list of never-ending problems that rival Alpha Calvin Malone manages to lay at their door, both directly and indirectly.

Prey provides a very good set up for the next two books, complete with a high stakes finale. It also proves a turning point for Jace Hammond, who is the Adrian Ivashkov of the Shifters universe.

We need to talk about Jace. My reviews of the first three books in this series were too taken up with Faythe’s complex personality, and how it fits into this incredibly contradictory and patriarchal universe, and with Marc Rants. But now it’s time.

Jace Hammond is introduced in Stray via some mild sexual harassment. Well, it’s not technically harassment because Faythe didn’t really mind that this guy had suddenly turned up and put his arms around her, but I object to the fact that he expects she won’t mind. Standard of enthusiastic consent and all that.

Jace is promptly pulled away by two of Faythe’s brothers – Ethan (everybody’s favourite brother) and someone else. Jace protests that had it been Marc, they wouldn’t have done that, and they counter it by saying that Faythe would have taken care of Marc herself. It’s notable that Faythe’s agency only comes into play when there’s a dude they don’t approve of in the picture.

Jace, it soon turns out, is the anti-Marc. In fact, his persistence is the only thing he has in common with Marc in the romance department. Jace is respectful. Jace gives the fact that Faythe is someone with real opinions a lot of importance. Jace doesn’t walk around beating people up just because they’re encroaching on what he sees as his territory. This is because Jace recognizes the fact that Faythe is a woman and not actually territory, and that she has the right to take her own decisions.

Jace also has every bone in his body broken (more than once) simply because he dared speak to Faythe. Thanks a lot, Marc. You’re clearly ideal Literary Boyfriend material, right up there with Christian freaking Grey.

When Faythe and Marc resumed their abusive relationship, Jace was understandably bummed, but didn’t really do anything that would make him stand out in the ranks of ‘Good’ Literary Boyfriends – like inflict grievous body harm on Marc because he thinks she ought to belong to her. The points in his favour just seem to keep piling up, but that’s actually because the standard’s pretty freakin’ low.

In Prey, with Marc exiled and therefore not around to protect his territory, Faythe and Jace end up getting drunk and hooking up. I’m honestly not a fan of the ‘Guy gets his s**t together for a girl’ trope, but that’s basically what happened here, (and with Adrian Ivashkov) and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, Jace-wise. Suddenly, Jace is exploring a possible future he’d never imagined before – one that involves being Alpha-like enough to be able to marry Faythe. He changes. He’s suddenly more mature and responsible. Sadly, this also means he’s slightly more territorial – as is purported to befit an Alpha werecat. The difference is that Jace, unlike Marc, never lets his territorial instincts get in the way of Faythe’s agency.

This plot also allows Vincent to explore a subject close to my heart, albeit on a superficial level. With Faythe’s realization that she’s in love with both Marc and Jace comes the radical notion that it’s perfectly normal to love more than one person, and that that’s okay. In a society obsessed with monoamory, poly-amorous relationships rarely get the credit they deserve. And books 5 and 6 in this series take a look at some of the dynamics that would presumably be involved in a romance involving more than two people. While said study is admittedly more of a guide on what not to do, it still takes their relationship one step beyond the classic love triangle, and that’s something.

The pros of Prey are that it provides an action filled mystery and a thickening of the political plot, the better to explain the alliances formed in future books. The cons of this book are that the action is often slowed down by what can only be described as sheer stupidity on the part of the protagonists forming the hunting party for Marc. Oh, and that it features what can only be termed child abuse.

Kaci, the young werecat found in the previous book, is now living under the protection of the Sanders Pride. She’s extremely attached to Faythe, and follows her around all the time, hanging onto her every word and being extremely perceptive as to the dynamics of Faythe’s love triangle. But the one thing Kaci will not do is shift into cat form, and it has been repeatedly impressed on the reader that it’s important for the cats to shift regularly, lest they sicken and eventually die.

Traumatized by the fact that she had ended up killing several people while in cat form for the first time, Kaci refuses to shift. This does not, to put it delicately, have a good impact on her health.

As her de facto mentor, it’s Faythe’s job to talk Kaci into shifting. There’s also the option of medically inducing a shift, but Faythe refuses to allow this, citing a potential loss of Kaci’s trust. One would expect then, under the circumstances, that Faythe would put every effort into giving Kaci the therapy she needs and thereby getting her to shift.

This is precisely what Faythe does not do because she’s busy with enforcer work, and with missing Marc. And this is the point at which I stop making excuses for Faythe and call her an irresponsible idiot.

The mounting tension in this sub plot is meant to eventually pay off when Faythe talks Kaci into finally shifting, but this is honestly not the kind of plot that absorbs such a plot device. Being careless about the health and well being of minors under your care is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is it an easily forgivable offence.

As far as the plot is concerned, Prey provides a good set up for the final act of the story, but by itself, it’s bogged down by slow moving action sequences and slow thinking protagonists. Like with all the books in this series, it’s just interesting enough to make you wonder what happens next.

Next: Shifters #5 – Shift

Book Review: Shifters #1 – Stray

Title: Stray
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2007
Series: Shifters
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.81
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

stray
I find this cover disturbing rather than alluring. If you have a strong female protagonist, the least you can do is show her face.

SPOILERS

Plot Description: Faythe Sanders is a female werecat and a rebel. Her happy go lucky days at college come to an end when it becomes known that there’s a rogue werecat out there kidnapping tabbies – female werecats. Faythe’s family bring her home to keep her safe, but she ends up running into the kidnappers anyway, leaving it up to her to save herself and her cousin.

Despite my Goodreads rating of 2/5, this will not be a Negative Review. There will, however, be a lot of ranting. Brace yourselves, please.

Stray had me extremely conflicted. I think it had something to do with the combination of an extremely repressive and patriarchal environment, a spirited, rebellious and irrepressible female protagonist, and the fact that I tend to react very violently even towards depictions of paternalism. This last is due to my personal experiences, which have acted as a trigger for me more than once in the course of reading and reviewing novels in the Young Adult fiction category.

So it should come as no surprise that I spent the first half of this novel swearing loudly at it.

At first I thought Stray was one of those novels that you reject out of hand and warn other readers away from. But then I couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished Alpha, book six in this series. Stray – and the Shifters series – is a mixed bag. It has its good points. And it has bad points as well. And not in a salvageable, let’s close our eyes and we can forget all about it kind of way. It’s actually so bad that the bad aspects of it tend to thoroughly negate any good the book might have done.

But let’s start at the beginning. Faythe Sanders is the coolest kind of rebel – she fought her family for her right to attend college, instead of staying home like a good little tabby and fulfilling her life’s objective – marry a competent Alpha-in-training and start makin’ babies.

This hard won right, sadly enough, is taken away right at the beginning of Stray, when Faythe is ordered to come home because there seems to be a kidnapper who’s targeting tabbies on the loose. Now, girl-nappers would be a problem in any scenario you could imagine, but the reason they’re such a problem is that there are only eight – EIGHT! – tabbies of baby making age in all of North America at the moment. This fact is drilled into our heads time and time again, until you’re just about ready to smash a screwdriver into the head of the next person to mention the 4:1 tom to tabby ratio. The low frequency of female werecats being born gives the werecat population the perfect reason to turn their society into an ultra patriarchal hellhole. The women are over-protected and severely sheltered because the Prides are matrilineal yet patriarchal. That is to say, control of a Pride can only pass through the Pride’s (sole) daughter, but that actual control goes to the guy who marries her to become the Alpha. Losing your daughter – or not having one – means losing control of your territory and seeing it pass to another Alpha or Alphas after your death (or deposition). This is turn means the women only marry Alphas, and that they keep having babies until they produce a female heir. The whole thing is so f#$%d up that I’d be shocked, except for the fact that I have seen similar (patriarchal and patrilineal) systems up close.

Here marks the start of the paternalism rant. Faythe’s dad is the Alpha of her Pride, and she’s the heir. Her father’s concern for her is doubly the function of his role as a dad, as well as his role as the Alpha of his Pride. Now, even if someone’s daughter was in actual danger, I wouldn’t be very comfortable with her parents using actual force to bring her home. And yet that’s exactly what happens right in the second chapter.

Faythe is attacked by one of the kidnappers before she even realizes there’s a kidnapping plot afoot. She breaks the guy’s nose and sends him on his way. It is just as she’s done with the rogue werecat that Marc appears on the scene. Marc Ramos is Faythe’s father’s second in command – and her ex. Seriously, she left him at the altar – and this was BEFORE she went to college. Now you know I haven’t been exaggerating the stay home, get married, have kids rigmarole.

Faythe’s college education was something she fought tooth and nail for, and it doesn’t come without strings attached. Her father has always ensured that there’s at least one of his enforcers – mostly one of her many brothers or their friends – skulking around her college campus, ensuring her safety. Which makes sense, I guess, in light of the kidnappings. But he’s always been careful to keep Marc out of the way, knowing how she feels about Marc.

How does she feel about Marc?

Faythe – and eventually the reader – has a love-hate relationship with Marc. He was her high school boyfriend and prom date. He was her fiance, once upon a time. Clearly, she must have had strong feelings for him. And she does. I cannot, however, for the world of me, fathom why.

Marc Ramos is hypermasculine and uber-aggressive. He has a jealous streak five miles wide, and is extremely possessive of her. Since their break up, Marc hasn’t dated anyone else. He hasn’t even tried to move on. He’s, in my opinion, WEIRD.

AND CREEPY.

Seriously, I get that your ex boyfriend being able to smell the fact that you had sex with your current boyfriend just from being around your bed is one of the occupational hazards of a story about werecats. But if your ex is going to get so angry that you’re borderline afraid of what would happen if he were to sniff your secrets out…

Run, girl. Run.

Because that’s not one of the occupational hazards of a story about werecats, although the author does try to present it that way. Faythe believes that Marc’s ugly possessiveness and jealousy stem from his feline nature. Cats are territorial, after all. Male cats would fight each other for control over the females. In fact, male cats in the wild have been known to starve females in their territory in an effort to get the females to mate with them. One documentary I once watched showed a starving female cat (I think it was a leopard) unwilling to mate with the aggressor males because she already had a litter – cubs who would be killed by those males in order to ensure their own progeny a fighting chance.

So yes, cats are wild. But a werecat isn’t just feline – he’s also human. He has a brain, doesn’t he? Use it, Marc. USE YOUR F****G BRAIN! She’s not your f****g property.

Despite the frequency with which I shouted this message at Marc Ramos throughout the series, he refused to get it. And this is the big failure in the Shifters series. This guy – Marc Ramos.

The books are never completely able to explain Faythe’s love for Marc. I mean, sure, he’s a stand up guy as long as he’s secure in his relationship with Faythe. He doesn’t suffer from Christian Grey Syndrome (aside from the emotional abuse) – he doesn’t see her as weak or pathetic or responsible for the bad things that happen to her. He respects her abilities as a fighter and a leader. He respects her as alpha. Good. Good for him. But he’s an obnoxious ass, and nothing can change that.

It’s weird and f-d up, because Marc is crazy chivalrous. He’d never hit a woman. However, he has no issues whatsoever with breaking every bone in the body of any tomcat that dares touch her.  If something bad happens to her, he finds someone to blame, and punishes them in brutal fashion.

So here’s the deal with good boyfriends. If they’re sweet and loving and caring and affectionate AS LONG AS they’re getting what they want, but they’re COMPLETE assholes the minute they’re denied their ‘rightful possession’ – i.e. you – then they’re not the one, honey. THEY’RE SO NOT THE ONE.

So why does Faythe love him? Is it because her father and her brothers and her mother and MARC narrowed her horizons for her? Because they convinced her that the Pride was her whole life and Marc was her only plausible future?

Faythe herself isn’t perfect. A lot of GR reviewers have pointed out her penchant for ill timed ‘tantrums’. When people around you – and you yourself – are in danger, that is not the time to affirm your independence, they say. Survive first, then be independent. The same people also point out that despite her repeated demands for freedom, she’s had no problem living on her dad’s money for five years.
[There was also that one reviewer who was appalled that Faythe was rebelling against “Family and Responsibility” and called Faythe a ‘cheating whore’, but I’ll discount her.]

Here’s the thing about those reviewers: I don’t think any of them have ever experienced actual loss of freedom. I doubt they know what it means to be emotionally brainwashed from birth, to be financially hobbled, and actually, physically restrained from leaving your house. I don’t think they know how that feels.

It feels like dying. It feels like being smothered to death or buried alive. For those people calling Faythe ‘daddy’s spoilt little princess’, please allow me to remind you that her Daddy locked her in A CAGE. For wanting to go to college. For not wanting to be a teen bride.

A CAGE.

She’s not a brat, she’s a survivor of abuse. She’s not throwing a ‘tantrum’, she’s desperately and instinctively reacting to remembered – and potential – trauma. To someone like that, independence is paramount. Yes, even above her life.

Stray is definitely a conflicting read. I get the feeling that the wildcats are super patriarchal because maybe Rachel Vincent wanted to stage her own version of a feminist revolution. I get that tabbies are rare and thus all those idiotic toms tend to treat them like an endangered resource – locking them up. I get that Faythe has to fight the system and prove herself the best – which she actually (eventually) does. But having her date someone like Marc ruins all of that, which I deeply regret.

Next: Shifters #2 – Rogue

Book Review: Bibliophile Mystery #2 – If Books Could Kill

Book Title: If Books Could Kill
Author: Kate Carlisle
Year of Publication: 2010
Series: Bibliophile Mystery
#: 2
DNF? Yes
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.9
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 1

ifbookscouldkill

Note: This is the first Negative Review I’m writing for this blog. ‘Negative Review’ is a label I will be reserving for DNF (Did Not Finish) books, and other books that receive a Goodreads rating of 1 or 2 from me. For such books, I also plan on maintaining a Sin Count, because just as some books deserve to be held up as examples and recommended to everybody, so are there books that the reading public deserves to be warned away from. 

Plot Description: Brooklyn Wainwright is a professional book restorer who tends to get mixed up in mysteries involving books. Derek Stone is the charming and handsome detective who tries to solve those mysteries. In If Books Could Kill, Brooklyn is given a very rare book that could potentially anger the British Royal Family and asked to authenticate it. Shortly after she receives the book, the guy who gave it to her – Kyle, an ex of hers – ends up dead. She wonders whether the book is responsible for Kyle’s death.

So I didn’t finish this book. Which might be perceived as strange, because it has a great opening paragraph:

If my life were a book, I would have masking tape holding my hinges together. My pages would be loose, my edges tattered and my boards exposed, the front flyleaf torn and the leather mottled and moth-eaten. I’d have to take myself apart and put myself back together, as any good book restoration expert would do.

I haven’t gotten very far in the book, which must be why I don’t know what happened to Brooklyn – can I call her BW? – to make her feel this way about herself. She’s a successful young woman, one of the topmost experts in her field, and she’s recently come into a lot of money. While it’s true that she’s grieving, has her mentor’s death affected her so badly that her ‘pages are loose, edges tattered and boards exposed &c. &c.’?

Ridiculous rhetorical questions aside, let’s move onto the story. Not having read the previous book in this series, I have to take other GR reviewers at their word on the fact that the cast of the previous book have simply been imported into this one. On purportedly lazy pretexts. Since I don’t have this on my own authority, I’m going to give this potential Sin a pass.

“Aye, you do, love. And for that, the [Indian Pale Ale’s] on the house.” 

She nodded judiciously. “Of course it’s jet lag if you say so.” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me. “But my woman’s intuition thinks ’tis a man you’re mulling over.”

Her eyes twinkled gaily. “Aye, I knew it.” She tapped the side of her head. “Can’t another woman tell when one of her ilk is suffering, then? And isn’t it always about a man. Damn their skins!”

“Haud yer wheesht!” she yelled over her shoulder, then smiled sweetly at me. “Enjoy your luncheon and take good care.” She turned and marched to the bar, where she bared her teeth at the burly bartender as she collected a tray of drinks.
I wasn’t an expert in the Scottish dialect, but I believed she’d just suggested to her boss that he shove a sock in his piehole.

Do the Scottish actually talk like that? I don’t know. Can’t comment.

The first character we meet is Helen Chin, one of BW’s friends.

Helen Chin grinned as she glided confidently through the bar, her glossy black hair cut in a short, sassy bob. She’d always been demure and soft-spoken, a brilliant, petite Asian woman with lustrous long hair and a shy smile. The haircut and the confidence were major changes since the last time I saw her.

Having to tell your readers that a character is doing something ‘confidently’ gives, in my opinion, the opposite impression. (Sins: 1)

I took a closer look at her, checking out the new hairstyle, her pretty red jacket, black pants and shiny black shoes. “You look amazing, and you’ve lost weight. Are you moonlighting as a supermodel?”

Commenting on someone’s weight gain or loss is not as much of a compliment as people would have you believe. (2)

[Yes, I know I’m being nitpicky, but these things didn’t actually bother me until I began to sense a pattern.]

Helen was right. I’d never liked Martin Warrington, and I wasn’t the only one. When she’d announced her engagement in Lyon, I hadn’t understood how such a smart woman could marry such an annoying man. Then I figured, with my own stellar record of bad choices and broken engagements, I was hardly one to criticize. 
At the time, I was more sorry for myself than for her, because I knew we wouldn’t be able to be friends once she married Martin. He didn’t like me any more than I liked him, probably because I’d tried to talk Helen out of marrying him and he’d caught wind of it.

Neither of these ladies are endearing themselves to me. Helen goes ahead and marries an ass, and BW feels bad for selfish reasons. Okay.

“Martin didn’t like me attending the book fairs.” She shook her head in irritation. “He said I flirted too much.”

Why would anyone put up with this? (3)

[Martin’s] smile disappeared as he confronted Helen. “I told you I’d meet you on the conference level.”
“And I told you I’d try to make it but probably wouldn’t be able to,” Helen said defiantly. (emphasis mine)
“We have to talk now.” He pushed up the sleeves of his linen jacket.
“I’m off to meet a client,” she said as she glanced at her wristwatch. “I can try to see you at two thirty.”

If you still need to be ‘defiant’ towards your soon-to-be-ex husband, that just implies that I was right with my comment earlier about the fake confidence. (4)
BW then has a run in with another figure from the industry – a Perry McDougal – who’s rude and pompous and has no issues with cutting ahead of a queue. He also doesn’t seem to have any problem with calling random women “silly wench” and “crazed bitch” when they call him out on his rudeness. Now, I know people like this exist out here in the real world. Yes, they can be terribly sexist, arrogant and entitled. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that a woman like BW, who is probably capable of recognizing said sexist entitlement, fails to call him out on it. (5) Indeed, I’m not even sure she does recognize the sexism, because she explains his behaviour as being a function of his narcissism and self importance. (6) And she’s constantly apologetic about her rather weak attempts at standing up for herself. (7)
Protagonist frightens herself with idea of turning into crazy-old-spinster trope. (8)
Protagonist tells herself standing up for herself isn’t such a bad thing. (8-0.5=7.5)

Without warning I was grabbed from behind, lifted off the ground and twirled around.
I screamed and swore loudly at my assailant. Then I realized who it was and swore even more.
“Despite that mouth of yours, you’re more beautiful than ever,” he said.
“Kyle McVee, you idiot!” I cried, and hugged him hard.
“Ah, you’ve missed me,” he crowed as he held me snugly in his arms.
“No, I didn’t miss you,” I said, burying my face in the crook of his delicious-smelling neck. “You’re a cad and a rat fink, remember? The Bad Boy Bookseller of Belgravia. I curse your name every morning.”
“I love you, too, my sweet,” he said with a laugh. “Besides, I’ve mellowed.”

Overkill much? (8.5) And whoa. Why would you be on friendly terms with someone with such little regard for personal space? (9.5)
Guy seems to think being foul mouthed should detract from a woman’s beauty. (10.5)

“Oh, stop it.” I stood back and looked at the man who’d broken my heart three-or was it four?-years ago. My breath almost caught as I stared.

This breath-catching business comes up a lot – usually every time BW looks at a good looking guy. It’s an annoying stereotype. Can I offer you an inhaler, Brooklyn darling? (11.5)

I straightened my shirt and jacket and tried to find some trace of decorum, but it was useless. My cheeks heated up at his blatant perusal. I tried to remind myself that if I’d been so darling, why had he felt so compelled to cheat on me more than once during the six months we dated while I lived in London? A simple question.
I knew the answer: He couldn’t help himself.

Female protagonist who feels extremely self conscious and gets flustered every time a good looking guy checks her out. I know this is supposed to convey the power in the guy’s stare, but honestly, she seems to respond to every attractive guy the same way (case in point: Derek Stone later in the novel). (12.5)
(Rich) boys will be (rich) boys stereotype. That’s just plain lazy, BW. (13.5)
Protagonist blames self for feeling hurt by the cheating ways of the cheater. (14.5)
Charming Cheater (CC) condescendingly encourages protagonist to consume more alcohol when she’s clearly not in the mood. (15.5) Protagonist consumes alcohol even though she’s not in the mood because it’s what she thinks she’s supposed to do. (16.5)
CC is condescendingly impressed when BW proves to be good at her job, even though he purportedly came to her because of her expertise. (17.5) CC reveals that BW wasn’t his first choice for the job, thus making his condescending approval from a moment ago self explanatory. (18.5)
Usage of crude terms that rob the female party of her agency to describe a consensual sexual relationship (“scottish bad boy diddling the english rose”). (19.5)
Giant plot hole if the reason people are getting killed is because either the British royal family or Robert Burns fans don’t want bad PR. (20.5)
Rampant fatphobia. (21.5)

Okay, I’m going to stop now. There’s no point, really.

Derek Stone seems to suffer from Christian Grey Syndrome, and BW is a veritable Anastasia Steele – except Ana wasn’t prone to fainting fits. I have an uncontrollable urge to slap Brooklyn Wainwright, and I’ve been swearing non stop at the book for a couple of hours now. The protagonist and her female friends are childish, immature and downright pathetic. They show an alarming proclivity for bitchiness, shrill screaming, and fainting. I’m glad I didn’t invent a drinking game based on every time one of these idiots faints. None of the ridiculously hot men in the book cry, or otherwise show emotion or vulnerability. Derek keeps assuming that every time Brooklyn gets hurt or is otherwise in danger, it’s somehow her fault. (And this happens a lot.) Now where have I heard that before?

Oh that’s right. Twilight.

A terrible book, and if this one’s anything to go by, the preceding book in the series is bound to be awful as well.

Sin Count: 21.5 (and counting)

Next: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli