Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu

This book was literally the only book I could finish during my vacation in Ireland. I guess that’s a positive thing, right? Anyway, while I enjoyed parts of it, particularly the romance, the overall package didn’t work as well for me.

Artur, a member of Dirke and Steel introduced in the previous book, can access the memories and emotions of any object or person he touches. Elena can heal broken bones and cure cancer, an ability she has no idea why she even has, but one she is willing to use for the benefit of others. Their paths intersect when they are both kidnapped by a powerful, sinister organization called the Consortium, which is dedicated to studying humans with psychic and magical abilities and using their powers for their own benefit. Their first meeting largely takes place within each other’s minds, which creates a mutual connection whose reach and strength allows them to look after each other whilst getting to know each other on a very personal level. Artur and Elena’s romance continues to develop against the backdrop of their effort to prevent the Consortium from potentially gaining the control of one of the largest crime syndicates in the world.

Marjorie M. Liu is quickly becoming the master of writing romances that occur over absolutely unrealistic spans of time that I somehow manage to believe in nonetheless. In this book, the majority of the romance takes place over the course of one to two days! This should be completely ridiculous! But because of the nature of the romance – the fact that most of their original communication occurs in each other’s minds, combined with both of their abilities to touch and learn about each other on a psychic level due to their individual powers, means that the shortness of time it takes for them to make a move on each other gains a lot more plausibility than seems possible.

Another thing Marjorie M. Liu is becoming exceedingly good at is writing heroes who are physically powerful, skilled in violence, and are vested with protecting their love interest, but who aren’t muscle-bound stupids constantly reveling in their own masculinity. Artur has a particularly dark history, what with his former employment with the Russian Mafia as hired muscle, and so he never lets his guard down even for a minute due to his violent past. Furthermore, his psychic ability makes him extremely vulnerable to touch, since everything he comes into contact with carries the history and memories of the person handling them, and in his line of work, that includes a lot of horrific and obscene memories. Despite all his physical strength and multiple capabilities, he keeps his past and his emotions locked away so as not to harm himself or anyone else with the memories of all that he’s done. However, when he starts falling for Elena, he doesn’t go, “FEELINGS? What foreign concept is THIS? I am a MANLY MAN and I don’t need FEELINGS!” Instead, like Hari in Tiger Eye, Artur becomes a giant sweetheart whose interactions with Elena are tender and lovely to read about. Really, it’s less a battle about what he feels as opposed to if he’s able to let Elena into his mind to judge for herself what kind of man he is.

I won’t deny, it was a little strange reading about Artur because I kept picturing him as a Russian version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, but he’s actually a huge teddy bear who needs and deserves one million hugs and kittens and rainbows. Also, he’s not a sex god and the first time he and Elena have sex isn’t perfect! I love him even more for it. Again, like in Tiger Eye, this relationship is based more on emotional intimacy, openness, and trust than it is on lust and physical attraction, though the latter is still there.

Elena was decent, but her back-story was paper thin, especially compared to Artur’s. She has a vaguely described bad history with her mother, she grew up on a fruit farm that she now owns, and has an ability to heal people that she doesn’t really understand how it works. That’s it. As a result, it was difficult for me to fully understand the person Elena was at the time of the book because I couldn’t put together what made her who she is. She was suitably brave, heroic, and capable, which was good. Still, when placed next to Artur, Elena was not as well-drawn a character, and it did make it difficult for me to understand what Artur saw in her, whereas I fully got why Elena was interested in Artur.

The plot of this book was, to me, a lot weaker than the first book. The entire captivity sequence didn’t come together fully, I think because the stakes weren’t made as clear. There was too much disconnect between Beatrix Weaving, the head of the Consortium, and her lackeys, who are supposed to do her bidding. Really, the lackeys felt like they each had their own agenda that never matched up with anyone else’s, and so it was impossible to figure out why Elena and Artur had been captured and what the hell was going on. Which might have been the point, but it mean that I had little vested interest in approximately half of the book. Things pick up in the second half and the plot and action tightens considerably. And while the events in this book lay the ground for what looks like a series arc, it’s still too open-ended right now. As it stands, it looks as though Dirke and Steel’s enemies are doing evil and attempting to take over the world because they want “power”. Whatever that means.

This series really is becoming addicting. The books aren’t weighty, thinky-thought types of books, but they’re fun, engaging, and easy to read. One could say that they’re “light” reads, but I think it’s more that what you see is what you get. You get awesome action scenes, cool psychic abilities, and a romance that makes you go “aww” (well, it makes me go “aww” at any rate). Still, Shadow Touch was definitely a step down in terms of plotting and pace, and I hope those problems are rectified in the next book.

Published in: on July 30, 2011 at 1:10 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 13

13) Your favorite asexual website.

My favorite ace website is Writing From Factor X. Sciatrix’s blog posts are always thought-provoking and carefully constructed without being overly long (my ability to read blog posts longer than a certain length is pretty bad, sadly). Also, I love her Wednesday Linkspam posts (and are where I found this meme!)

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 9:58 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 12

12) Your favorite asexual Tumblr site

I barely hang out on Tumblr. The closest I get is when I stumble upon a link that happens to lead to Tumblr, or someone sends me something that’s posted there. I know there are quite a few asexual Tumblr sites, but I almost never read them.

In short, I got nothin’.

EDIT: My favorite  asexual tumblr is Attempted Danger. The author writes about so many things I think about and have tried to write about, except she does it 200% better than me.

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 10:04 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 11

11) If you’re out, talk about the most accepting person you’ve come out to. If you’re not out, talk about what you would hope a coming out experience would be like.

I could do the easy answer and say the most accepting person I’ve come out to is my ace friend from college, due to the fact that… ya know… she’s ace. But that answer is also pretty boring.

So instead I’ll say that the most accepting, non-ace person that I’ve come out to is my friend Michael. Most people I’ve told intellectually understand that I’m not sexually attracted to other people, but tend not to take that next step into understanding how that affects a lot of aspects of my life, and that it’s more complicated than just “I don’t want to have sex”. What I appreciate most though is that he gives me the space to be confused and uncertain about how I feel or what I want. In other words, he takes me at my word for what I said yesterday about me being ace and he’ll do the same thing a month from now as well. Not only that, but he’s encouraged me as I’ve started writing about asexuality online, and we’ve had some conversations about things I want to write about because I want to see how our perspectives differ and/or coincide. Essentially, he lets me be me while giving me the space to change and grow. He’s a pretty awesome dude.

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 10:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 10 (long overdue)

Ugh, I really did not mean to put off continuing with this meme for as long as I did. For the past week that I was on a family vacation in Ireland, my ability to do anything besides be a tourist or be tired was practically nil. I didn’t even read very much, and I had brought a lot of books with me. But now I’m back and will finish what I started.

10) What have other people said about your asexuality?

Most responses have consisted of “Um, ok. Cool.” Some have been more positive, others have been neutral. One person did play the “you can’t be ace because it’s not evolutionary viable” card, but in the end, he accepted and believed the fact that I identified as I did, regardless of how he saw it.

My favorite response is this one –

Me: “I’ve never really been able to identify as straight, gay, or bisexual…”

My Friend: “So, you’re asexual?”

Me: “…How did you know about asexuality???”

My Friend: “Doesn’t everyone know about asexuality?”

She said all this with the utmost sincerity, without any hint of humor or sarcasm.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 12:48 PM  Leave a Comment  

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

“The Duff” is what Wesley labels Bianca one night while she’s sitting by herself in the club, sipping cherry coke as her friends are out dancing. “Duff” stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Bianca is insulted enough to throw her coke in his face and resolves to stay far away from Wesley, who is notorious for sleeping with every and any girl who asks. However, she later happens to kiss him rather enthusiastically and realizes she very much enjoyed it. Combined with a home situation quickly going to hell, sleeping with Wesley seems like just the thing to help her forget her life for a little while, even if she still thinks he’s a despicable person. But, as it turns out, Wesley actually gets where Bianca is coming from, and the two of them actually might be compatible in ways outside of a good sexual chemistry.

I kind of want this book to be required reading for every sex-ed class taught in every single school in the United States. It has so much that is right with it in terms of portraying sexual relationships in all their confusing, complicated, awesome glory. One of the best things about all the sex was that the authorial voice never indicated that any of the characters were wrong in their actions. Sure, Bianca sleeping with Wesley in order to ignore all the problems in her life is probably not the best decision she could have made in terms of her emotional health, considering she’s convinced she wants Wesley to die a horrible death. Same thing with when she had sex with her first boyfriend – he was a lot older than she was and their entire relationship was a sham. But Bianca is never cast as doing something wrong because she has all this sex. The sex isn’t the problem – the reasons why she has it might not be completely A. OK, but sex itself is not to blame.

This is absolutely amazing. I can’t remember reading another YA book where a girl has this much sex and isn’t called a slut or a whore. Bianca does wrestle with that problem a bit herself. Does sleeping with Wesley so much outside of the context of a relationship make her a whore? After all, she makes it completely obvious Wesley that she’s screwing him only because he helps her forget about all the things going badly in her life. However, Wesley puts the kibosh on her doubts when he tells her, “What you are is an intelligent, sassy, sarcastic, cynical, neurotic, loyal, compassionate girl.” I can’t describe Bianca any better than Wesley just did right there.

Another thing that was a pleasant surprise – I’ve only read one or two YA books that included oral sex, but I definitely have not read a book before this one that has a guy going down on a girl rather than the other way around. THIS. YES. MORE OF THIS PLEASE. There are not enough positive, happy examples of cunnilingus in mainstream media, and that includes YA fiction. Also, as a side note, there’s a lot of sex that occurs over the course of this book and they are all written well. Since sex scenes are ridiculously hard to Get Right, kudos to the author on that.

The concept of the Duff was a really good one, and I loved how it was a comparative word, rather than a definition. A person is only a Duff in relation to who their friends are or who they’re seen with at any given time. Bianca thinks she’s the Duff because she’s not as tall or thin as her friends Jessica and Casey, but as far as Casey’s concerned, she’s the Duff because she towers over everyone, including most of the guys. And it’s probably true as well that every person has felt like the Duff of their group of friends at least once in their life.

I did wish Wesley’s problems with his parents had been given more attention and detail. All we have is that they’re away most of the time so Wesley never sees them and feels lonely. Which is understandable and sympathy inducing, but compared to the depth that Bianca’s family problems are given, it feels weak. Similarly lacking depth was Toby, Bianca’s long-time crush, whom she starts dating. He pretty much has no flaws, which makes his perfection a flaw, and I hate characters that I like that. They’re not flawed, they’re boring.

Also, for the time that Bianca’s trying to convince herself that she hates Wesley, she’s particularly one-note in her hatred and her thoughts about him. It’s sort of repetitive in that she has to keep thinking about how he sleeps with every girl ever and he’s so slimy and icky and she hates every fiber of his person. With regards to this, the writing did feel simplistic and a little forced.

I am really glad that this book currently exists and is being sold in bookstores and read by teenagers. It is, without a doubt, one of the most sex-positive YA books I’ve read, and that alone makes it worth reading. There are some elements lacking needed detail or emotional fortitude, rendering them more simplistic than they should be, but they’re made up for by two relatable, flawed, fucked-up characters who actually manage to bang out a decent, working relationship in the end. All in all, I am pleased with this book.

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 9

9) What does being asexual mean to you?

For me, being asexual means I’m not sexually attracted to other people. That is ALL that it means. It does NOT mean that I don’t appreciate or desire any sort of intimacy and it does NOT mean that I dislike physical closeness. In fact, I very much like physical intimacy and really want to experience more of it in my life. I think intimacy in general is one of the best things ever to exist and to be shared among all human beings. Sexual activity is one form of intimacy. It is neither the best, nor the be-all, end-all of all possible ways to express and share intimacy. My ability and capacity to love other people, in whatever way I do, is in no way dampened or hindered because I am not sexually attracted to them. Just as sex doesn’t equal love, the latter, even romantic love, doesn’t equal sex. Similarly, intimacy of any kind, be it emotional or physical, does not equal sex. That’s all there is to it.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 11:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 8

8 ) Do you believe there should be asexual pride? What do you imagine it being like?

Yes, I do there think there should be ace pride. Right now, simply promoting visibility and awareness is an example of pride because of its lack of presence and acceptance in the mainstream conscious. To be openly ace in whatever way, be it a pin, a black ring, or a label on your forehead is, to me, an example of showing one’s pride about being asexual. In whatever way someone stands up and says, as a matter of fact and with confidence and self-acceptance, “I am what I am”, they are showing pride.

That being said, I currently lack an obvious asexual symbol with which to express pride. I know I said earlier I don’t want symbols to do the work of advertising my orientation for me, but I still like the idea of symbols as an expression of self-pride. I’m not really a pin or badge type of person, but I do like the idea of the black rings. I need to look more into getting one.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 10:37 PM  Comments (2)  

The 30 Day Asexuality Post – Day 7

7) Who’s your favorite Doctor? (Or, do you have a favorite asexual character?)

If I felt like being contrary just for the hell of it, I’d say my favorite Doctor is the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager because he’s the first Doctor I saw and his name is “the Doctor”.

However, I don’t feel like doing that that (and even if the Doctor mentioned above counted, he still wouldn’t be my favorite). So the answer to this question is that Ten has always been, and will always be, my Doctor.

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 8:37 PM  Leave a Comment  

The 30 Day Asexuality Challenge – Day 6

6) Have you faced oppression because of your asexuality, whether institutional or societal?

Very little direct oppression. The closest instance that ever occurred was before a Vagina Monologues rehearsal when we were doing a group sharing activity and I decided to go for it and say, as part of what I was sharing, that I was asexual. This statement was met with complete awkward silence by everyone until one girl pretty much said, “OK, next person!”

I’d say that the fact that I don’t feel comfortable telling people in general that I’m ace, mostly because I don’t feel like explaining what asexuality is every single time I tell someone and open myself to the risk of people not believing me or refuting me in some way, is a sign of general oppression, even if it’s not consciously being administered. If I was sure that everyone I told would legitimately believe me, I’d tell them. Since I’m not… that says something.

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 8:32 PM  Leave a Comment