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Thursday, September 1, 2011

DNF: Exposure & Stravaganza: City of Masks

The following are DNFs (Did Not Finish).

Every now and then, I have books that for one reason or another, I just can't bring myself to finish.  It might be that I just can't connect to it, or that it's not what I'm in the mood for, or I just plain don't like it.  Whatever the reason, I long ago gave up the idea of "forcing" myself to read a book just to have finished it.  There are just too many books out there to become stalled and miserable over one of the not-so-great ones.

The following two books just didn't work for me.  I'm not going to call this a "review" because it's not.  This is just a little overview of what made me finally decide to set these aside and move on.

Exposure by Therese Fowler
Contemporary, 384 pages
Ballantine Books

Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.

Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.

As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.

I thought this one sounded really interesting, like an episode of Law and Order: SVU.  (Note: there was an underage sexting episode, so I'm not off base with this.)  But I was worried right from the beginning because the author, Therese Fowler, wrote the book based on an experience she went through with her own son.  I was afraid that the book was going to get bogged down in a personal crusade and come off very one-sided: and that's exactly what happened.  

I can't call this a straight DNF because technically I did finish it.  But I found myself skimming huge portions of it.  I was constantly scanning for something to happen that was going to make me connect, but nothing ever did.  Fowler went for a very clear black and white story, with the underage-sexters being the picture of youthful love and harmless indiscretion, and the prosecution side thoroughly vilified and heartless.  Along the way, some really crazy things happen to bring about the resolution (and I mean Really. Crazy. Things.) and together, it just never gelled for me.  Add to that the fact that the writing itself and Fowler's characterization (which, given the basis you'd expect to be pretty on-point) never drew me in, and I just couldn't do it anymore.

This has gotten good reviews from other bloggers, I know, but unfortunately for me: DNF.

Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
Fantasy, 352 pages
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books

Lucien is seriously ill but his life is transformed when an old Italian notebook gives him the power to become a stravagante, a time traveller with access to 16th century Italy. He wakes up in Bellezza (Venice) during carnival time and meets Arianna, a girl his own age who is disguised as a boy in the hope of being selected as one of the Duchessa's mandoliers. Arianna gives Lucien her boy's clothing and he is selected as a mandolier himself, becoming a friend of fellow-stravagante Rodolfo, the Duchessa's lover, and saving the Duchessa's life when she is threatened by an assassin hired by the powerful di Chimici family. For state occasions the Duchessa uses her maid Giuliana as a body-double but Guiliana commits the fatal mistake of revealing the secret to her fiance Enrico and a sequence of devastating consequences unravels. Meanwhile Lucien has met the original stravagante, the Elizabethan alchemist William Dethridge, and he begins to understand that he may be called to follow in his footsteps.

I read this one for the YA Book Battle (it was up against StarCrossed), and it came highly recommended from prior judges and the Battle organizer.  I think, at a different time in my life, I may have been able to enjoy this one.  And part of me did enjoy it.  It's an intriguing premise, and I've said before, I have a fondness for stories where a female character has to dress as a boy to pursue a life otherwise denied to her.  It seemed to have a lot of elements in its favor.

What made me set this aside was a number of things working against it.
#1: it was up against StarCrossed.  The two have very similar themes to them, similar period-feel, etc, so a side-by-side comparison was natural: StarCrossed kept coming out the winner, and the entire time I kept thinking, "StarCrossed did it better."  This wasn't fair to Stravaganza, I know.  But it still made me feel like I was reading a bad imitation the entire time.  And where I adored the characters (or loathed them, where appropriate) in StarCrossed, I didn't feel much of anything one way or the other for those in Stravaganza.

#2: What the frak happens?  1/2 into the book, I still had no idea what was really going on.  I mean, there's some time-traveliness going on (built on a very thin foundation of science/magic that seemed to really just be the desire to use the word "Stravagante").  There was a lot of heavy hinting at something dark and mysterious going on, but that was all that really happened - heavy handed hinting.  I wanted to just get to the meat of it, already, and it just wasn't happening.

#3:  What really put the nail in the coffin, though, was that I kept thinking "This reminds me of The da Vinci Code, this reminds me of The da Vinci Code..."  AND I HATE THE DA VINCI CODE.  Don't get me wrong, the plot of TDC was really interesting.  But Dan Brown.  Oh, Dan Brown.  Master of the bad habits and my personal pet peeves.  Above all, he has this ridiculous tendency to write a bajillion tiny chapters that give you a bit of info before shifting to another character in this irritating bid to keep the mystery alive and keep the reader in suspense.  You can almost hear the ominous duhn duhn duhhhhhhnnnn music at the end of each minuscule chapter.  It's such an obvious gimmick and it pisses me off in the way few literary things do.  I mean, actually makes me physically angry.  Stravaganza does not use this technique to quite the level of TDC, but as soon as I drew the comparison, it was a slow slide into oh-hell-no territory.

So I had to give it up.  And though I think I could have liked it when I was younger and more patient, I don't regret it; I picked up The Near Witch instead and was treated to one of the best debuts I've read.

So there you have it.  You don't have to agree with me, and if you like these books, speak out!  I'm sure there are others out there who will like or even love them.
Just not me.

Life is short; long live good books.


  1. Always a bummer when a book is disappointing enough to put down. Exposure is a title that interested me, but now... I'll probably pass. I'll read Going Underground instead, which is about the same thing, but sounds more... balanced.

  2. I've been looking at Exposure thinking it sounds good. That's too bad you couldn't finish :(

  3. You really articulated your thoughts well on why these two didn't work for you. When I find myself skimming a book, I know it's not a good sign.


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