I don't think I've read such a hilarious, mean-spirited satire since Christopher Buckley's THANK YOU FOR SMOKING.
I'll admit, when I found out that the writer was a producer for Family Guy, I was kind of like, "Uhhh..." Because Family Guy has become pretty tasteless lately, especially in its treatment of Meg Griffin, but also with rape, misogyny, and insensitivity. (In fact, I actually wrote a blog post about the show's terrible treatment of Meg called "The Dregs--I Mean, Megs, of Society: The Not So 'Family' Aspects of Family Guy.")
But I loved the concept. Because it's so relevant. I think most of us know about Toddlers and Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. It's sickening to do that to a child, and part of me was really, really curious to see what Kirker Butler would do with that subject. And d'you know what? I was pleasantly surprised.
Miranda, the mother in this book, has always had a hankering for fame. When she's a runner-up as a young girl, she thinks that the gateway to this elusive holy grail might be pageants. But not her, no; she grows up and has kids -- and puts the kids through pageants instead. Specifically, her daughter: nine-year-old Bailey. Her two sons, she doesn't care about, because they can't be entered in pageants...not unless she's willing to let them catch the gay (and as a Southern Christian mom, she isn't willing to see them prance through hellfire in Abercrombie and Fitch jeans).
Ray, her husband, has had it up to here with pageants. He's seen them taking over his life and he doesn't like it. Once a doctor who got barred for malpractice, Ray is now a hospice nurse, which is okay, because now it's his job to kill people. For fun, he takes random pills he finds in sample packets and tries to guess what they are based on the side-effects. Hey, everyone needs a hobby. Although Ray's recently decided to branch out and have sex with the underage granddaughter of one of his hospice patients. Oh no. And the hospice patient actually sees him. Oh no.
Oh, and let's not forget Miranda's mother, Joan, who talks to Jesus daily. And he talks back...
I think my thoughts & feelings about this book can eloquently be summed up as such:
I think the best way to describe PRETTY UGLY is Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) meets Toddlers and Tiaras. PRETTY UGLY had me snickering well into the night, but it's definitely not a book for everyone. I'm from California, you see. Urban California (there is a difference, you see. Rural California isn't all that different from the Midwest or, in some cases, the South). And one of the things we Urban Californians do is laugh at Rednecks. It's pretty much the worst thing you can be.
I mean, what else are we going to do? We can't fire guns at endangered creatures, and after a while smoking pot and having orgies on top of our hybrid cars and living the gay lifestyle (read: raising teacup yorkies and watching lots of musicals) and doing lines of free trade organic coffee gets boring.
So we make fun of rednecks.
And get high off the fumes of our own sense of smug self-importance, of course.
But PRETTY UGLY has a really great cast of characters, and it's full of dark, twisted humor (which, incidentally, happens to be my favorite kind of humor). Some authors don't do the whole "wry aside" schtick too well, but Kirker Butler does, which makes me happy, because when it's done right, it makes a book 10x more fun, like making eye contact with a comedian while he's telling an inappropriate joke and the comedian also happens to be really cute.
I could easily see PRETTY UGLY being turned into a movie. I think it would transition to the big screen well, especially with a good cast.
Do you like your books dark? Really, really dark? Like, so dark that even light can't escape? Then BORING GIRLS is the book for you.
***WARNING: SPOILERS & TRIGGERS (OH MY)***
BORING GIRLS triggered a lot of things for me, as it probably will for you. It touches upon many subjects that most people won't touch, or don't approach very well -- misogyny, sexism, rape culture, bullying, tolerance for violence, revenge.
The most striking, and terrifying, aspect of BORING GIRLS is Rachel's transformation. She started out as someone who was very much like me: an unhappy girl with a loving family who was bullied by her peers for being different, and didn't find solace until she met a group of like-minded individuals in a counter-culture. But by the end of the book, she was...well, almost unrecognizable.
It's scary, seeing someone like you turn into a monster. It makes you wonder what kind of monsters might be lurking inside you.
Rachel is an ordinary loner girl, and I thought the way she was bullied was very realistically done. Her fear, her anger, her helplessness; these were all things that resonated very strongly with me. It's clear from the beginning that Rachel has a fascination with things that are dark and morbid. Her favorite painting is Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes.
Artemisia Gentileschi happens to be one of my favorite painters, and the parallels between her and Rachel are not coincidental. Artemisia was a female in an occupation dominated by men, in an environment where women were still considered pretty much worthless. She was raped by another painter, Agostino Tassi, who was actually hired to be her tutor. Her paintings often depicted women being abused or repressed by men, or strong women rising up against their oppressors.
In the same vein, Rachel becomes fascinated with metal. (The ex-metalhead in me would just like to take a moment to point out that what Rachel is actually listening to -- the screaming and shouting kind of metal, with the dramatic costumes and gory imagery, is more like nu-metal. Slipknot was the first band that came immediately to mind, although there are other bands like that -- like Cannibal Corpse (they have a song called "Stripped, Raped, and Strangled") , Lord Gore ("Rape Camp"), and Dying Fetus ("Kill Your Mother / Rape Your Dog").
A lot of metalheads don't like bands like these. As with many music genres, there are purists, and a lot of the die-hard metal fans don't consider "nu metal" real metal, preferring instead the epic sorts of metal bands that tend to be based in Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway have excellent metal bands), with Nightwish, Stratovarius, Epica, Sonata Arctica, and November's Doom being some notable examples. I knew some people who wouldn't even consider listening to an American or British band, because they didn't have the same roots as the traditional stuff.
One of the things that put me off nu-metal was the violence. Especially the sexual violence. I found the music achromatic and dissonant and couldn't stand to listen to it, not when I had symphonic metal power ballads at the ready with singers who were actually trained in classical opera (I love you Tarja Turunen). But this is exactly why Rachel adores these bands: they provide an outlet for her impotent rage and frustration about being bullied and not fitting in at school.
Rachel ends up meeting another girl through a friend, Josephine, because the two girls went to Catholic school together. Josephine's ex-classmate is named Fern and she and Rachel form an almost instant rapport when they realize that they're interested in the same music and subculture. Pretty soon, they decide to form a metal band of their own.
One of the best things about this book is the way that the author portrays what it's like being a female in a career that is dominated by men. I find this is especially true in geek culture. People think of geeks as being adorable and awkward, but a lot of them are quite nasty towards women, with a lot of inherent sexism being directed towards female gamers, female cosplayers, and female geeks. She captures that "rape- and misogyny-culture" really well, and I loved some of the messages Sara Taylor had to send about sticking up for yourself and not buying into rape culture.
Then, about 3/4 of the way through the book, things take a turn for the worse. The band is starting to go pretty well, and there's a concert, and I'm thinking, "Oh, they're about to be a success..."
And then Rachel and Fern are both raped, just as Artemisia Gentileschi was, and, like Artemisia, it changes the way they approach their art. Unlike Artemisia, however, they plan to exact revenge on their rapist...and it will change everything. EVERYTHING. AND THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
Since I'm the first person to write a full-length review for this book, I feel obligated to go into detail because this is a very explicit book, with a lot of topics that will upset people. Yes, there is some very vivid and graphic imagery in this book that people will find upsetting. There is rape. There is murder (and it's descriptive murder, too -- no clean and pristine "fade to black" here).
It's interesting, because when I looked up the lyrics to the nu metal bands some of my friends at the time sent me, I couldn't image what kind of a person you would have to be to write that kind of thing. "These men must be fucked in the head," I thought to myself. In the here and now, that seems a little hypocritical, because I'm sure some of the people who read my books take one look at some of those fucked up passages and think to themselves, "Nenia Campbell must be a total psycho in real life." (I am, actually, but that's a secret...shhh.)
In BORING GIRLS, Sara Taylor shows that sometimes this is true -- sometimes the people who write psychotic stuff are psychos. And sometimes they're psychos who hide in sheep's clothing and pretend to be nice. And sometimes they're nice people who dress up like wolves as catharsis for the stressors in their lives. What an incredibly disturbing book this was. I think I loved it.
I think my fascination with twins started with the Sweet Valley Twins series (which probably gives you a rough idea of how old I am, even though it isn't exactly a secret). What if someone else shared your face, your body, and sometimes, even your thoughts? I can't even fathom that. I'm such a weirdo -- I don't think the world would be ready for two of me (thank goodness that's not the case). Sweet Valley was pretty innocent, although once in a while, Jessica (the selfish, bitchy, "pretty" one) would impersonate her sister in order to get her way. Identity theft!!
Since then I've read a couple other books about twins, and they pursue the whole, I'm-not-me-I'm-you concept in spookier detail. A few years ago, I won a book by Jennifer Warman in a giveaway called BEAUTIFUL LIES (it was amazing, and creepy, and amazing -- like THE LOVELY BONES with twins). When I saw THE SECRETS WE KEEP on Netgalley, and read in the summary that it was about two of my favorite subjects -- secrets and twins -- I was clicking the "apply" button. Books about secrets are my weakness. Twins fascinate me, but secrets: I am a secret miser; I hoard secrets. GIVE THEM TO ME NAO, KTHX.
THE SECRETS WE KEEP is about two twins named Ella and Maddy Lawton. Maddy is the "pretty" popular one, and Ella is the weird artsy loner kid nobody likes for some reason. It could possibly be that she's a judgmental bitch. Anyway, one day Maddy calls her sister from a party in tears demanding to be picked up. It's pretty clear that something horrible has happened, but Maddy won't give her any details, which pisses Ella off. They fight in the car, it swerves, and then blackness. When Ella wakes up, she's all alone in a hospital, with no Maddy, and when she's asking for her sister, the hospital orderlies think she's saying her own name. When Ella realizes how relieved and happy everyone is that "Maddy" lived and "Ella" died, she decides to take on her sister's identity.
First off, this is really weird. I couldn't really understand Ella's motivations for doing this -- she hated her sister, and her sister's life, and she's not enough of a people pleaser that I bought the whole "I am selflessly doing this to make everyone happy" thing. I guess she could have been doing it out of morbid curiosity -- both to find out what people really thought of Ella, who her parents liked best, and what all of Maddy's secrets are, and that makes me feel a little icky. What the hell, Ella?
So Ella becomes Ms. Cheerleader Popular and plays the temporary amnesia card up to hide anything "Maddy" should know but "Ella" wouldn't. And it's pretty clear that people are suspicious. She catches her mother looking for "Ella"'s telltale birthmark, which is no longer visible because her face got slashed up from the car wreck. And it's pretty clear as well that Maddy was not as wholesome as she pretended to be: her boyfriend spends all his time doing coverups and protecting her image which seems to suggest that he's got something to lose. And Maddy's creepy friend Jenna is always cornering Maddy in hallways and bathrooms, leaving cryptic threats that Bad Things Will Happen unless she gets to be Prom Queen. New Maddy can't help but feel that she's in over her head.
THE SECRETS WE KEEP kept me turning the pages, but it wasn't the story I was hoping it would be. Part of me was hoping for murder and a darker storyline, or even something more innovative, like the awesome SIX MONTHS LATER by Natalie D. Richards (even though her follow up story tanked). There's nothing too memorable about THE SECRETS WE KEEP, and I'll probably forget most of the details in a week from now, but it isn't a bad book, either. I think middle school girls would probably get a kick out of it, because it's just dark enough to seem edgy to someone who probably still secretly plays with their Barbies, and it's got plenty of TEH DRAMAZ.
Okay, seriously? Once again, Manga Classics has published their manga backwards on Netgalley, with the last page being the first page. LES MISERABLES had this, and so did PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. You would think by now that the publisher would have figured out how to correctly format their book...
And yes, I know how to read manga (R to L, instead of L to R). I know the book was published backwards because that condescending "STOP! You're reading this book wrong!" warning that's on pretty much all manga was on page 1. (For more on how to read books wrong, check out this video.)
So, THE SCARLET LETTER.
I'll be honest with you; I was never a fan. A lot of people call THE SCARLET LETTER a book with feminist principles, but I'm not all that sure that it is, because it still endorses all the tenets that continue to suppress women: (1) women should suffer in silence, (2) you should be kind to people who treat you badly because it is the Right thing to do, (3) women are responsible for negative consequences of sexual affairs. Hester is treated badly by her Puritan community after cheating on her absent husband with an unnamed man and then becoming pregnant with his child. The man turns out to be the young priest who the town holds in the highest regard. Hypocrisy, much?
Hester's husband, presumed by many to be dead at sea, arrives in the middle of her trial, and she recognizes him -- but he tells her not to identify him, and ends up shunning her along with the rest of the community, leaving Hester to go through her ordeal alone. She decides to start sewing and embroidering, and doing a shit ton of work with no recognition, and after years of abuse and an intervention where the religious members of town try to take away Hester's daughter, the townspeople decide, "Hey, Hester's a good little slavewimp. Let's forgive her sins!"
(Whatever happened to "Judge not, lest ye be judged?")
Meanwhile, the priest who slept with Hester has been growing sickly with guilt. Hester's husband suspects he is the adulterer and has been doing a number of small cruelties designed to hasten his illness, all under the guise of friendship. Hester eventually tells the priest the name of her husband, and the priest realizes he's been fucked and cuts off the friendship -- but too late. He dies, eventually, and leaves all of his money to Hester and Pearl, who then move away and end up marrying a rich nobleman. It's like a Horatio Alger story for promiscuous women. Put out, but act as passive as the men around you want you to act, and then one day your prince will come.
No, I can't say that I'm a fan.
The upside to this edition is that it is highly condensed and many of the tedious descriptions and painful dialogue have been omitted for expediency's sake.
A friend lent the omnibus edition of the first three Soul Drinkers books to me. I guess it's based off a video game series -- which I haven't played, although I do love me some science fiction. The Warhammer universe is space opera meets military science fiction. If you haven't played the games, there is a wiki for it (what isn't there a wiki for these days?), although it isn't very helpful.
In SOUL DRINKER, the first book in the series, we are introduced to the Space Marines. The Soul Drinkers are a faction of these marines, among the most powerful of their kind. They're genetically engineered soldiers whose stock came from more genetically engineered soldiers, whose DNA was taken from the Emperor of Humankind himself.
The friend who lent me this book gave me the back story on the universe. So apparently, humans have made contact with aliens, and like the bad-asses we are, we fly around the galaxy conquering other solar systems -- and this is called The Golden Age of Expansion. Humans conquered so much that they ended up losing contact with each other, and this became known as The Age of Darkness. Then the Emperor came along and was like, "This won't do." He created the aforementioned genetically engineered soldiers, who were the Primarchs, with his own DNA, to lead his armies and, I guess, rally mankind. But that didn't work. So he created the Space Marines, who were given the DNA of the Primarchs. The Space Marines were supposed to hunt down and find the Primarchs so that the Primarchs could lead. And that worked, but there was a rebellion where Horus pulled a Lucifer and rebelled against the Emperor (God). Horus was killed and the Emperor was put on a special magic throne to keep him alive, although he doesn't do much.
Most of the Primarchs are dead now, and the Space Marines try to carry out the will of their Emperor, but humanity is so scattered and pretty much everyone and everything want us dead. There's something called Chaos, which is like, evil stuff that comes out of something called the warp and turns people into pus- and maggot-filled demons. And then there's mutants. And there's aliens who want us dead. And there's humans who want us dead because they disagree on Important Issues. Which ties into the major point of conflict of this book in the first half.
Our main character is Sarpedon, who is the leader of the Soul Drinkers. He's kind of an idiot. No, he is an idiot. But he's also brave and tries to do right by his men. But man, is he thick. He and his soldiers are hunting down heretics called the Van Skorvolds. There isn't really anything about them in the Warhammer wiki, but according to my friend they are enemies of the Space Marines that the Emperor called them in to defeat. (From what I gathered, they're like mercenaries cum soldiers.) He manages to kill most of the family, although he loses some good men in the process. And while they are doing this, a bunch of cyborgs called the Adeptus Mechanicus, who were allies of the Space Marines, swoop in and steal a holy relic to the Soul Drinkers: the Soulspear that was bequeathed to them by their founding primarch. WHICH IS A HUGE OFFENSE.
Sarpedon and his men are PISSED OFF, and go down to fuck shit up. They don't get the Spear back, but they do end up enraging their commanding officers and getting charged for treason. Sarpedon fights the Hereticus and wins, so he and his men aren't court-marshalled (i.e. murdered), and he marvels at how easy it was. A little too easy, if you know what I mean. (DUN DUN DUN.) In fact, later on, when his Chapter Master calls him in and yells at him for bringing shame and dishonor to what was once a prestigious and uncorrupted branch of the Space Marines, Sarpedon ends up fighting him (his name is Gargoleon) in an honor duel. And halfway through, he sprouts a bunch of legs and becomes a mutant. And mutants, as I have said before, are bad. But Sarpedon doesn't realize what's going on. He thinks he has been blessed by the Emperor with strength. (Uh huh...)
After this, Sarpedon and his now mutated crew go to a planet that's been overrun with Chaos. Its demon ruler Ve'Meth has poisoned the entire planet, and this is honestly one of the best parts of the book because it's so fucking disgusting. What they think is a ship comes out of the ocean, but it's actually a giant ZOMBIE SHARK, and a bunch of demons are riding in the hollowed cavities of its flesh. When they blast a whole through it, maggots pour out. Its covered with mold, and absolutely disgusting, and oh my God, it's just kind of amazing how disgusting and horrific it is.
Obviously, Sarps and his men win the battle (although, again, at a cost) and end up meeting the thing that has the Soulspear now: something called The Engineer of Time, or Abraxes. I'm not sure exactly what he is...I got the impression that he was, like, a false deity meant to lure away Sarps from the straight and narrow. He offers Sarps the chance to join him, by turning away from the Emperor (who treated him like crap anyway -- and things will only get worse because now he's a mutant) and fighting back against those who have wronged him and his men. Sarpedon almost gives in, but then he kills Abraxes with the Soulspear and he and his men ride off into the galaxy to fight for the will of the Emperor, whether he will have them or not. I'm actually kind of wondering now whether Abraxes was an embodiment of Chaos, because my friend says that humans are the preferred meat and potatoes of the evil forces in this book since they are so hard to corrupt but so so worth it in the end.
Overall, I liked SOUL DRINKER. Which is weird, because it's much more hardcore than the science-fiction I normally read. I love post-apocalyptic sci-fi and cyberpunk and space opera. And while this is, technically, space opera, it's more military in nature because of the sheer amount of text space devoted to the battles and the gore and the sweet, sweet victory. I definitely think playing the games gives you the advantage when it comes to understanding what the hell is going on, because this is basically licensed fanfiction, and it's very cannon. But I liked it. On to book two!
I need to make a new shelf - 'M. Night Shyamalan twists.' So many books have been springing them on me lately, and it's kind of funny, because Shyamalan hasn't really been popular for about ten years, so I'm feeling all nostalgic, and also really amused.
Nova Ren Suma has become a household name in YA for what I call "quirky girl lit." Bloggers are forever praising her for these M. Night Shyamalan twists and her beautiful (it's in the eye of the beholder) prose. THE WALLS AROUND US is the first book of Ms. Suma's that I've ever read, and while both these things are true, she seems rather...overrated. Basically, she's the Francesca Lia Block of the 21st century. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter or preference. Do you like quirky girl lit?
THE WALLS is about three girls: two of them are narrators but one of them is not, and you have to read between the lines of the other two POVs to get her story. Is this dragged out? Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeeeessss, it iiiiiiiiiis. It took forever to get closure- the author dropped hints, but everything was surreal and vague, which can be fun if you like that sort of thing, like wearing beer goggles.
Violet is an eighteen-year-old ballerina on the road to Great Things. She loves being the center of attention, and seeing people praise the way she looks and dances on stage. She comes from money, she has a nuclear family- she's the epitome of upper class entitlement. But she's haunted by the incarceration and death of her best friend, another ballerina: Orianna.
Amber, the other narrator, is a prisoner at the same correctional facility as Orianna. She is being held for a murder she didn't commit, although she may as well have done it. When her old cellmate leaves and Orianna takes her place, Amber isn't sure what to make of the media-dubbed "Bloody Ballerina." She doesn't seem like a killer- but then again, very often, none of them do.
The interwoven stories each have a key that unlock the secrets of the next girl, so you have to keep reading in order to find out what happened. I'm not sure what to make of THE WALLS; the writing was great, but it didn't flow naturally, and sometimes it was so lyrical as to seem calculated and actually distracted me from the narration.
Likewise, the surreality could be disorienting. In one of my status updates, I said it was like Salvador Dali had decided to write a YA (and Francesa Lia Block decided to join the party). I stand by that. I could easily see M. Night Shyamalan making this into a movie... and as a movie, it might actually work better than it did as a book...maybe.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK is a novel told in negative space. Sophie Stark is an indie filmmaker who is rising to fame because of how well her movies capture what it means to be human. We never once hear Sophie's narration; instead, we get an idea of what she is like through the narratives of those around her -- movie critics, directors, her girlfriend, her husband, her brother -- and as the portrait of Sophie is painstakingly colored in, we see a young woman who is painfully alone, and possibly depressed, and has no idea how to relate to others, because outside of her movies (and not always in them, either), nobody is interested in what she sees as the clear truth.
"I used to feel kind of isolated a lot of the time...like I was in a box and the rest of the world was outside the box. After I started taking pictures, I felt less like that. But I started getting really interested in how people move, and you can't really show that in photos -- or you can, but it's difficult, and you can only get little pieces of it. So I decided I wanted to make movies" (174).
One of Sophie's key tenets is something I also happen to strongly agree with: a good story is not always a happy story. Sometimes in order to make something good, you have to end it in a way that most people would see as devastating. And there will always be people who will not like your work just for that, because in a culture of false optimism, nobody likes the Debbie Downer. Sophie has trouble lying, even in her movies. She's willing to manipulate people, and upset people, just to make them good. This is reflected in her personal relationships, where she can fall in love with someone for the smallest of reasons, and then out again when she realizes that they're no longer interesting.
While reading THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK, I couldn't help but think about THE NIGHT FILM, which I also reviewed (and adored). It's also a book that tells the story of people -- well, one person, anyway, who's also a filmmaker -- through movies: and Stanislaus Cordova is also doomed from the start. And while the plots, and the tone, and the purpose of these books are totally different, they both conclude, I think, that sometimes trying to get to know an artist through their work can be like chasing a phantom.
Reading THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK also made me think of, well, me, which made this a difficult read, because certain parts of this story really resonated with me on a personal level. Throughout my whole life, I've always felt like an outsider looking in, and while I feel like this has given me certain insights about people, it's also made me very lonely, and like Sophie, I think my works suffer when I try to write about relationships because I have never been very good at those. I think being an artist does inherently make you a selfish person, because in order to be good, you have to pour your whole heart into your work, and that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for anyone else. Sometimes not even the artist. I once made myself really sick while working on one of my books because I was so obsessed with finishing, and I stopped sleeping for several days. My mother actually told me that if I did not curb myself I would have to stop, because I was destroying myself.
"I thought making movies would make me more like other people....But sometimes I think it just makes me even more like me" (188).
I've always believed that artists are like conduits for their work, and sometimes the channel just isn't strong enough to withstand the creative energies pouring through. It's like possession -- and if you're not careful and don't work in moderation, it is possession -- and the results can be beautiful or frightening or, in Sophie's case, both. Being an artist also means looking at the world in a different way, and while this can be beautiful too, it can also be terribly lonely if nobody else sees or understands the world in the same way as you.
Whether Sophie Stark is a strong person or not is up for debate, but she is definitely a memorable one, and I feel like she would have approved of the ending Anna North chose. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK is a very meta work of fiction that both captures the pain of an artist, and the problems of living with one. It's certainly given me a lot to think about.
Growing up, the one night I was allowed to stay up past my usual bedtime was Wednesday Night. Because that was the night that Star Trek was on. I'm not going to lie; I watched it pretty much every week with my dad for several years. Voyager was my favorite (female captain!!!), but DS9 and TNG followed pretty closely behind. Maybe Warp 4 to Voyager's awesome Warp 5.
Star Trek is amazing because, in addition to being one of the few imaginative, kick-ass, sci-fi based shows out there, it has so many different emotional tones. There were episodes that made me laugh, episodes that made me cry, and episodes that scared the shit out of me. You never knew what you were going to get.
When I saw THE Q GAMBIT on Netgalley, I was excited because Q is probably one of my favorite characters of all time from the show. I love morally ambiguous characters and Q, as an extra-dimensional being whose powers make him almost like a god, takes the cake. It's not that he's evil, necessarily; he operates in a way that transcends normal human morality because it's so inconsequential when it comes to the Big Picture. Pretty cool, huh?
The book starts out with Jean-Luc Picard mourning Spock's death and sacrifice as he drinks his Earl Grey. Of course, Q pops up to tell him that Spock actually isn't dead -- when he got sucked into the worm hole, it spat him out 100 years in the past in an alternate timeline. And while his sacrifice saved this universe, it might have just doomed the other. Picard says he doesn't want to know, because alternate timelines should remain disparate, less they be fucked up by Q-ish meddling. (Ooh, burn.)
But since meddling is pretty much Q's middle name, the story then flashes to the crew of the Enterprise as they appeared in that new movie that just came out, all baby-faced and young. Q mocks Kirk and does a bunch of mean-spirited tricks to prove his superior powers, including bringing Kirk outside the spaceship, saying, "I'm the only thing keeping you from being a block of ice with boots." Nice, Q. Real nice. After all this, Q then tells Kirk he is going to show him the ultimate no-win game.
After showing Kirk an image of his own death -- the game you can't beat -- Q takes the crew to another timeline in which the Federation has fallen. Parts of the universe are ruled by the Klingons (Earth) and most are ruled by the Cardassians. Captain Sisko (SQUEE!) is the leader of a resistance movement which Kirk and co. end up joining. All the while, Q watches and mocks their efforts, but it soon becomes clear that he, too, has something at stake...
My inner fangirl was pretty much screaming internally throughout this crossover. It was so cool (SO COOL, DAMMIT) to see all my favorite characters cropping up in one volume. Yes, the storyline was a little cheesy, but no more so than some of the episodes from the actual TV series, and I could see this being an actual episode...even if it was fan service. It was good fan service and had a compelling storyline and a really good twist at the end. (But I'm not telling you what it is, obv.)
My one complaint is that Janeway didn't get a cameo. For some reason, many people consider Voyager to be one of the worst incarnations of Star Trek and it doesn't really have a big following. I'm not quite sure why; it explored so many great topics, and had such a wonderful cast. Plus, I don't know if I said this already but--IT HAS A FEMALE CAPTAIN! (Maybe that's why people don't like it. As much as I wish otherwise, science-fiction has a lot of hidden and not-so-hidden misogyny.) If Janeway had appeared, I would have given this book 5 stars just because of that. But as it stands, THE Q GAMBIT was pretty decent. I do love Q.
When was the last time I read a chunky fantasy novel? I can't even remember, it's been so long.
Chunky fantasy novels and I tend not to get along. A lot of them seem to be based on Dungeons & Dragons or Tolkien or Magic: The Gathering, populated with stock characters in a token faux medieval Europe setting, rife with misogyny and RPG woodenness.
So many people told me that Brandon Sanderson was different. That I couldn't be a geek and not read Brandon Sanderson because don't you know that he's cannon? And while I wanted to believe that he was, in fact, different, I'd been burned so many times before. I had ELANTRIS and MISTBORN waiting for me patiently, vying for my attention, but I just couldn't open myself up to that kind of hurt. And then I was cleaning my room, and ELANTRIS all but leaped out at me. "Give me a chance," it cried. "Love meee."
Well, I don't know, book. I just don't know.
The summary on the back is certainly promising. Yes, ELANTRIS is set in a medieval setting (why) but Sanderson puts more effort into building this world than most. I loved the idea of Elantris -- a fallen city where men were once gods and are now tortured monsters because the magic that kept their world alive has completely drained away.
One of the best aspects of ELANTRIS, however, is the court intrigue. I loved the plots and subplots, and how every action had consequence. The author is Mormon, and it isn't surprising that religion plays a key role in the book, but I thought it was done very well and Sanderson had some interesting things to say about faith and god(s) and magic. I liked how spiritualism tied into magic, and vice versa, as well as philosophy and theology. The way religious fanaticism was portrayed was also quite good, and I liked the distinction between faith and fervor.
His female characters are also surprisingly good. Well, mostly. Sarene is a bit of a Mary Sue--the sci-fi-fantasy equivalent of the male dream girl: beautiful, likes to eat a lot but doesn't spoil her figure, falls in love with the guy even when he's ugly, feminine but interested in masculine pastimes, good at these pastimes but not so great that she overshadows the man... To be honest, she got most annoying in the middle of the book, where she started being a bitch to the Elantrians just because she could. Before that, I had liked her despite her Sue-isms, but that ruined her character for me; I couldn't root for someone who was being so petty.
My favorite characters were probably Raoden -- he was a strong character, but he had weaknesses as well, and there was a time where I really wondered if he was going to fail. Galladon was a cool character, too, and so was Katara (another awesome female character). The Arelish court was also very interesting -- especially the battle of the sexes thing that was going on. The problem with fantasy books is that the characters often come across as flat in the wake of a heavily plot-driven story, but Sanderson did a fairly decent (but not perfect) job of breathing life into his creations.
As a final note, let me just say that I loved the twist, and the complex character that was Hrathen (in fact, I kind of wish he had been the main character -- he was so much more interesting than anyone else). This was my first book by Sanderson and I was pleasantly surprised. It was not great, but it was good, and I would happily read more by him -- especially STEELHEART, which sounds awesome.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, to be one of those women who always agrees with the majority. Sobbing along to The Notebook, calling Christian Grey your book boyfriend, believing in love at first sight...it must be nice. I'm not one of those women. In fact, the only thing that keeps me from being a total raving bitch is that I know (sometimes) when to keep my unpopular opinions to myself.
This is not one of those times.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware of John Green's incredible success with THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Not that he was lacking in success before. And as he continues to break the bank, lesser authors are falling over themselves in attempt to ride his coattails and scoop up any dropped cash. Jennifer Niven, with her terrible attempt at FAULT IN OUR STARS PART II: BIPOLAR EDITION is one of these.
It's hard to say, exactly, why this book pisses me off. There are so many reasons. One is that, as someone who has had problems with depression in the past and who knows many other people with depression and bipolar who struggle with their disorders daily, this book is really fucking insulting. Niven attempts to glamorize bipolar and suicidal ideation, and in doing so marginalizes everyone afflicted with the disorder. Finch, who has what is probably Bipolar II, is a pretentious ass-hatter. He's nasty to everyone except Violet, reckless, pretentious, and fascinated with suicide. But the way it's written, he turns suicide into a game. "Hmm, this might be fun," he goes. "Will I, or won't I?"
Violet is also depressed because of her sister's death. They were close and now she's gone, and she thinks she might like to die, too. So she climbs up to the school's bell tower with the intent of jumping and -- surprise, surprise -- Finch is already there, and persuades her not to jump. (Which made me think of Jack and Rose from the Titanic, and yes, it is just as contrived.) After this, they form a relationship. And really, what kind of a message is that to send to teens? It's basically the same thing that New Moon got so much criticism for: "put your life in danger, and hot men will save you!"
Another thing that bothered me about the book is its complete lack of authenticity. The teens in this book do not sound like teens. A good percentage of their romantic exchanges consists of quoting Virginia Woolf (and does the fact that Virginia Woolf committed suicide foreshadow something, perhaps suicidal ideation? Oh look, someone read the Wikipedia page about depression and suicide! Good job! Here's your gold star) at each other and paragraphs of navel gazing a la John Green that really made me want to exfoliate because at least when John Green does it, you expect that from John Green; it's far more painful to see someone do it in conscious imitation. I mean, for fuck's sake.
Oh, -- and even at my darkest points, I still thought Virginia Woolf had a giant stick up her ass.
The way suicide and depression are treated in this book is also sickening. When Violet's parents find out that he was thinking about killing himself, they treat him as if he's got leprosy -- like his suicidal nature might rub off on their daughter (literally) and cause a gun to magically appear in her hand and blow her head off. The entire school calls Finch (whose full name is Theodore Finch) Theodore Freak. The school paper publishes a list of the top 10 suicidal students, and the faculty allows this (never mind that no school in their right mind would do this because of the potential lawsuits and psychological trauma). In fact, the principal actually interrogates Finch (who is number one on the list), giving him a hard time about whether he is going to kill himself because, after all, the idiotic assholes on the school paper said it, so it must be fucking true!
I am honestly blown away by the fact that this book has been optioned for a movie already because it is pretty much a carbon copy of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS -- worse, it brings nothing new to the table, somehow managing to be both pretentious and ignorant, while also insulting the very people it claims to be bringing attention to. I didn't cry while reading this book. I said, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW, and deducted another star for predictability.
This was quite possibly the most over-hyped book I have come across in years. I can't believe they're making a movie out of something that's so unpolished. It is awful, offensive, and ignorant, and I am honestly shocked that it doesn't have more negative reviews because HOLY SHIT.
THE DEAD HAMLETS is the perfect example of a great idea that falls short. Initially, I was in love with the premise--the reincarnation of Jesus hunts angels for a living to steal their "grace" while trying to save his daughter from the realm of the faerie--but it had some flaws that were too big to ignore.
Cross is an interesting character but doesn't have a lot of depth. He reminded me of Harry Dresden, a bit--the same sort of plucky male protagonist in a book written by a dude for another dude. Kind of like the dude equivalent of chicklit. He's not really relatable, but he's a guy you might want to be like.
Since he's Jesus, resurrection is pretty much his thing, and he doesn't ever really die. He kills angels because...they aren't very nice, and because their "grace" or angelic powers act as deus ex machinas that get him out of pretty much every situation possible.
While this is going on in the background, Cross is trying to contend with his major hard on--in every sense of the word--for the faerie queen, Morgana. She's pissed off at him because he fucked her and then fucked her over by bringing her to Arthur in Camelot, who then tried to kill her. Even though he saved her at the last minute, Morgana has never forgiven him, and so stole his daughter from his pregnant wife to birth her herself and then spirit her away to faerie land, never to be seen again.
So Cross is more surprised than anyone when he comes across an all-fae production of Hamlet, in which his daughter, Amelia, is playing Ophelia herself. Except the play is cursed, for some reason: every time the fae act out the play, people die, mortal and fae alike. Morgana doesn't like this, and makes one of those fae deals you know won't end well, saying that she will release Amelia if Cross figures out why her people keep dying during this play. (You'd think they could just do a different play--like Midsummer Night's Dream, say, but I guess not.)
It's a pretty cool plot, and one that is definitely unique. That, more than anything, makes me want to like this book because it had cohesion and showed definite effort. However, as endearing as Roman's enthusiasm for his world-building was, it was just too much. Alice from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance, and so does Christopher Marlowe, a supernatural Will Shakespeare, the monster from Frankenstein (who, oddly enough, calls himself "Frankenstein"), and so does Anubis, who lives in the UK for some reason, guarding Christopher Marlowe's corpse...
I think for me there was just too much mythology crammed into a very short volume. It suffered from Thursday Next syndrome, where the author's desire to be erudite overwhelmed the plot, rendering the subject overly precious and twee. Had Roman taken the Neil Gaiman approach, and made the mythology a little more subtle (and gave himself more room to roam), it might have worked better. As it was, I could not entirely suspend my disbelief.
I thought for sure that THE DEAD HAMLETS was a debut effort, but apparently it's book #2 in a series (The Book of Cross). I'm a little curious what his actual debut looked like, because Roman shows talent, but it's largely unpolished at this juncture. If he is actually improving, he could very well become a fan favorite once he's grown into his storytelling abilities. As it stands now...meh.
I'm always so excited when My Little Pony graphic novels surface on Netgalley. The original TV show was a regular staple of my childhood, along with Care Bears, Sailor Moon, and Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders. One of the things I like best about the new MLP is that it serves as both tribute to the original but also manages to stand on its own two hooves in its present incarnation. That is hard to do, and should be lauded.
This volume doesn't have the edgy themes of the first two graphic novels I've read, but it isn't saccharine sweet, either. Four short stories are contained in this book.
The first is about the Apple family, with Granny Smith reuniting the Flim Flam brothers at an Apple Convention (Apple Con!). It is surprisingly deep, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
The next story is about Fluttershy and a minotaur named Iron Will. His wife kicked him out of the house and told him to go find his inner pony, so he goes to Fluttershy for help. The other ponies are suspicious of his desire for change and provoke him at every turn as Fluttershy tries (rather unsuccessfully) to teach the menace of the maze how to be dainty.
After this is a story about Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, where it turns out that Spitfire has a rather surprising phobia that Rainbow Dash has to help her work through. This was probably the weakest story in the bunch, but all those baby ponies were pretty cute. :3
The last story is about Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle. A bunch of food carts have come to Equestria and Pinkie Pie has enlisted Twilight to help her resist a pastry called a Phenomnomenon that she just can't say no to. Obviously, any story involving Pinkie Pie promises some very hilariously drawn facial expressions, and on this quarter the graphic novel does not disappoint.
Resist temptation, Pinkie Pie.
Overall, this was a great addition to my favorite series. Not too memorable, but fun and entertaining with some solid core values. I've been in a bit of a funk today, so reading about cute little ponies really lightened my mood and made me remember that happiness is what we make of it.
The comparison to Cheryl Strayed's memoir, WILD, is such an obvious marketing ploy, and when compared to the lackluster content of the actual memoir itself, it makes the "murder" hook look as cheap and tawdry as a carnival show. Not that I'm claiming total moral superiority, mind--it lured me in.
Now that I've finished VISITING HOURS, I have to say that I feel disappointed and disgusted.
I'm disappointed because, as someone who studied psychology in school and still finds the subject both relevant and fascinating, I was hoping for an in-depth look at the effect that murder has on the psyche of the survivors, and what an actual murderer is like. The stereotype goes that nobody ever sees it coming, that everyone is always like, "But s/he was so nice." Are there warning signs? Or do we, as human beings, just...well, snap?
This book was not about that. This book is about the murderer's childhood friend, Amy, and her middle-class navel-gazing. In the beginning of the memoir, she is preparing to visit her friend, the murderer, Kevin, in jail for the first time, and is going through her own insecurities about it, and the many rules mandated by prisons when it comes to visitations (which were, admittedly, interesting).
Then the book switches to childhood anecdotes with Kevin, the murder's impact on her college relationship (spoiler alert: it ended), Amy whining about having to work at a Hollister while waiting on her grad school applications (spoiler alert: she gets in). Very little of the book is actually about Kevin and what he did, and the poor girl he murdered. Most of the book is about Amy and her life, and how great and wise and profound she is, and how much she Learned from this incident.
I'm disgusted because this reads to me as a blatant attempt to capitalize on tragedy--both on her friend's incarceration and the murder of his victim. Since Amy never goes into any detail on the incident, I'm withholding judgment on that quarter, but the things Amy says just made me feel kind of sick. For example, she talks about how she wrote really long letters to victims of national tragedies before this happened, like survivors of the Columbine shootings, for example. When one of the mothers of the victims wrote her back, Amy said that she tacked the letter to the wall as an accomplishment (or an achievement---I can't remember which word she used).
Reading that made me feel dirty, because, to me, tragedy seems like a very private matter. I think it's important to have a support group, but there comes a point where the comfort you can receive from such things reaches critical mass, and anything anyone says after that just feels like a) salt in the wound, or b) an attempt from an outsider to pry for additional details.
I do realize the hypocrisy of being condemnatory about prying when I'm the one reading a memoir about the childhood friend of a convicted murderer.... But I think there's a difference when the details being provided are done so in such an exhibitionist way. I had hoped to learn something profound, and I'm sorry to say that I have left this book empty-handed.
TRASH is one of the most disturbing memoirs in a while, and is a perfect example of how reading memoirs -- especially personal ones -- can sometimes feel voyeuristic. One Goodreads user, whose name I cannot remember at the moment sadly, refers to these types of books as "misery memoirs." They are memoirs of abuse or squalor, and the sole purpose of the books seems to be to shock (even if that isn't the actual purpose). In TRASH, Britney Fuller describes what her life was like living with a semi-abusive hoarder.
Having finished the book, all I can say is: holy fucking shit.
The hoarding that went on in the Fuller household is truly disgusting. What makes it even more disgusting is that Britney's mother was a chef -- considering her mother's personal habits, she shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near food being prepared for the public's consumption.
What, exactly, happened in this book? Welllllll...
Britney's mother was obese and had a lot of sores from the unsanitary conditions of the house. She got naked the moment she got home from work and sat around and wandered around in the nude. Even when she was on her period (and no, she didn't use pads or tampons). When Britney was "bad", Britney's mother made her scrub her period blood from the floor and the bathroom.
Britney's mother also didn't feel the need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. She would pee her bed, rather than get up. She did this so often that the sheets were soaked with urine every day, which she then made her daughter wash. Her mattress actually had an indent from all the peeing. When Britney fractured her hip at one point, the pee-divot was deep enough that when Britney lay on her mother's bed, it actually elevated her leg. (Shudder.)
Rats and mice lived in the house, and also birds at one point. There was so much mold that Britney had bacterial bronchitis six times while living with her mother, coughing up bloody phlegm and actually throwing up and passing out several times.
Britney's mother also filled her car with trash. She volunteered at a church, and fed the kids in the church snacks which she kept in this same car. Ew! At one point, Britney has to borrow the car for work, and cleans it out with the help of her boyfriend. They find rotting food and fruit flies that have been living in the car for so long, in the darkness, that they have become albino. (Fruit flies have short lifespans and breed quickly, so genetic mutations so up quickly, making them ideal for study.)
It was Britney's job to clean up after her mother, and if she didn't do a satisfactory job, she was punished. I think her mother had a lot of issues that weren't really touched upon in this book. I would guess she had OCD (hoarding is a type of OCD -- it's also the hardest variety to treat), and at least one type of mood disorder, just based on the symptoms, but it's hard to tell because this is only Britney's side of the story and she's obviously (and understandably) not unbiased.
I devoured this book in just under a day. Britney's life was so awful that it was like a train wreck, I couldn't look away -- I had to find out what was going to happen next, and how she was going to get out of this mess (would she get out of this mess?). The squalor was awful, and so was her mother's abuse, but Britney was also having a lot of trouble fitting in at school, and as someone who was bullied, I could really relate to her sense of loneliness and isolation.
One thing that did upset me was how much pressure Britney put on her boyfriend, Adam. She decided that he was going to be her knight in shining armor, to the point where she wouldn't let him go to Utah to pursue his dreams because it was his job to spirit her away from her mother. They had a big fight, with Britney pressuring him to call off his trip and stay with her. I hate to say it, but this really made me angry. Considering how fucked up her family was, it's pretty amazing that Adam didn't just turn and run. Boxing him into a corner like that seemed really wrong. I mean, I get that she was desperate and didn't have a lot of options, and I can't even put myself into her shoes and imagine what it would be like to be afraid to come home, but I could understand what it would be like to have someone decide that you're meant to be their saving grace (because this has happened to me), and I just cringed all over. Because love cannot be one's salvation, contrary to what the new adult books these days would have you believe. Only you can fix your problems. Sometimes you need the help of others, but you have to take the initiative to get the help, however possible. Other people can't make you feel whole if you're broken inside, and using love -- or attraction -- as a cure is tantamount to sticking a broken vase back together with Scotch tape.
Apart with this one issue, I really enjoyed this book. Well...enjoyed is probably the wrong word. I found this book fascinating. Even if it was a misery memoir, and even if my main reaction after reading it was, "Thank God I don't have to put up with this shit -- literally!" (No, seriously, literally.)
A year ago, I was approved for HYPERBOLE AND A HALF on Netgalley. It was one of the best, most honest memoirs that I have ever read. There was so much I could relate to. Allie Brosh has such a raw and honest style of writing, made better by her simple yet hilarious cartoons, and to this date, I think that her famous depression comic is the most accurate portrayal of the disorder.
When I saw Bruce Kaplan's memoir, I WAS A CHILD, on Netgalley, almost a year later, my first thought was, "Oh, here it comes, the copycats begin." Because I WAS A CHILD looked like a blatant attempt to piggyback on the success of Allie Brosh's memoir. But sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised by books, and HYPERBOLE was so good that I was left in a book funk for a while after finishing it, so I read this with hope.
I WAS A CHILD was a terrible book. The cover is misleading; it makes you think that this is going to be a graphic novel. It isn't. Kaplan opens each section with a few sentences and then has one doodle accompanying it. The doodles are about as elaborate as what you would see in a Shel Silverstein poem except considerably less charming and detailed. I really didn't care for them.
Kaplan's memoir itself reads like a guy on a first date trying to make his mundane and trivial life sound epic and interesting. He's eloquent, I guess, but that's the only thing he has going for him. Towards the end, when Kaplan writes about growing up in the fifties, the memoir gets a little better, but I wasn't won over. Even at the end, when he talks about his parents both succumbing to cancer, Kaplan sounded so detached. Maybe that was grief, but even so, he wasn't someone I could relate to. Everything about this just seemed so calculated and impersonal.
Plus, I hate to say it, but he seems like a strange and not very nice person.
Here are some quotes:
We had a hamster who we named Hampy. One day, she somehow gave birth to baby hamsters and we clamored around her tank, looking at them. Then we watched in horror as Hampy ate all her babies. My mother told us it was because we scared Hampy.
I felt we were too much for Hampy, just as we were too much for her (20).
That is literally the exact same thing, only restated. I think he meant to say, "just as she was too much for us."
Everything in our house was repaired with Scotch tape. If a paint chip was coming off, it was taped down. If there was a tear in the lamp shade, a piece of tape was put on it.I felt held together by Scotch tape, and still do (33).
Oh, please. What is this, 2005? Go listen to some Smile Empty Soul.
I loved crawlspaces under people's houses, and still do. I wish I could crawl under your house right now (96).
That's very creepy.
I just read this quote to my dad, and he said, "We have a slab. Good luck with that."
There was an annual school fair at Tuscan. Every year, I won a goldfish. It was always very exciting to carry it home in its bag and then very sad when you flushed it down the toilet a few weeks later (156).
How many times do you have to kill something before you realize you're not fit to take care of it?
I tend to be leery of women's fiction. They always seem to be marketed as the book equivalent of Lifetime movies. In Megan Hart's case, this is a pretty apt comparison -- there is nothing particularly intellectually stimulating about Hart's books; they are the literary equivalent of snarfing down a bag of chocolates. Unlike 99.9% of the crap out there, however, Megan Hart is actually a good writer. I received a copy of one of her newer books, FLYING, from Netgalley, and quite enjoyed it! The character depth and cracktastic storyline made a very tired cliche exciting. When another Megan Hart book appeared on Netgalley, I applied for it immediately. Surely, this one would be even better!
Now, I understood from the get-go that the books were going to be totally different in tone. FLYING was erotica with drama. LOVELY WILD is -- *shudder* -- women's fiction; fiction with pseudo-literary aspirations, but too chick-litty to be mainstream, basically. Think Jodi Picoult on her period.
LOVELY WILD is about the Calder family. Ryan is a psychologist. Mari is a stay-at-home mom. They have two children, Kendra and Ethan. Just your typical, run-of-the-mill perfect family. Except not really. Because Mari was a feral child who suffered extreme abuse and neglect; for a while, she couldn't even speak, and she fought dogs for food. Calder's father adopted Mari into his household, which made it really awk when he and Mari started hooking up. Calder's (now-ex)-wife never forgave Mari for tearing the family apart, and thinks there's something ungodly about hooking up with your step-sister-slash-father's-patient, and on this, I think that she is probably not wrong.
Anyway, lots of unethical things happen in this book. Because Ryan sleeps with one of his patients, and then she commits suicide. Now he's facing a huge malpractice suit, and will probably lose his license. But it's okay, because he has an idea of how to make big bucks -- by selling his wife's story without her knowledge. Ryan thinks that this is totally okay, because silence, to him, is the same thing as tacit agreement, even if he fails to enlighten her on the subject. And while he does tell her that he's facing a malpractice suit and money is tight, he doesn't bother educating her on the severity of their financial situation, nor does he tell her that he's losing his job because he couldn't keep his ween in his pants. Ryan also takes money from his wife's accounts (ladies, this is why you shouldn't tell the hubs your pin) because he figures she'd totally be cool with it, after all, what is money?
I spent 90% of the book wanting something terrible to happen to Ryan. He is a terrible excuse for a human being and I don't really understand why the author made him so horrible, because he doesn't suffer any real consequences for his actions. I mean, Good God! When he buys and then moves the family into the house where his wife was abused as a child, he is surprised and annoyed when his wife starts suffering trigger attacks. No wonder the yutz is losing his medical license. FFS.
There is a mystery about Mari's origins, and it's a total mindfuck...sort of. The thing is, it takes so long to get to the grand reveal that I'm not entirely sure that it's worth it. Most of the book is Ryan being a douche, Mari hoarding and eating Hostess snack cakes, Kendra having teen drama, and constant hinting on Megan Hart's part that Something is going to happen Soon...but she never really shows when it's going to happen. I don't really like the carrot and the stick trick. It seems cheap.
The feral child angle really made this book unique. I learned about feral children in my developmental psychology classes (Jeannie is the most famous, I think. There's also the boy who was raised as a dog, and the wild boy of Aveyron). It's fascinating and terrible what happens when the normal process of psychological development in children is disrupted by a lack of nuturance. Hart obviously did her research because this part of the book could have been extremely painful, but I thought it was executed rather well.
Ironically, it's the emotional stuff and the relationships that really made me dislike LOVELY WILD. I didn't care for Mari, or her kids, or Ryan. I mean, I despised Ryan, but Mari annoyed me enough in her own way that I found it hard to feel sorry for her, she just wasn't an empathetic character. The ending was pretty anticlimactic, too. So after all that, you're just going to pretend to be Joe Normal? Really? That doesn't seem like a very realistic reaction to what they learned about their family...
THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER is an imperfect book. Bree is not a compelling character. She is a device employed by the author to shed more light on the established canon characters, in the guise of new material.
Bree was introduced briefly at the end of ECLIPSE. After the big vampire/werewolf/evil vampire battle, one of Victoria's vampires surrendered and the Cullens briefly entertained the idea of taking her under their wing, and introducing her to their ways.
But then the Volturi came along, and did their rule enforcement thing, and killed the vampire. And that vampire was Bree.
In TSSLoBT, Meyer gives Bree her own book. Well, novella. Basically, Bree is in vampire boot camp, with Riley being as vague as possible, lying to the vampire trainees about everything under the sun (including the sun itself). Bree suspects that Riley is maybe not as shit-free as he claims, but as a fledgling she's pretty dependent on him, and it's a little terrifying to think that your maker might have Sinister Plans for you. Bree also has a sort-of romance with co-trainee-vampire, Diego. Their romance is poorly done and one of the worse parts of the book. BFFs, are you serious? Their banter was painful.
The best part of the book is probably the last thirty pages, which makes me think that this would have worked better as a thirty-page short story that she could have put up for free on her website or something, instead of bloating it out, and trying to make a(n ill-fated) love story out of it.
THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER, as others have said, really highlights a lot of the issues with the TWILIGHTverse world-building.
For example, vampires apparently sparkle because the sun reflects off their skin. (But why?)
Vampires have venom instead of blood/saliva/semen. (But then how are babies made?)
Vampire gifts are really rare -- 1/50. Since there are seven Cullens, plus Bella, the probability of them all having special talents is 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 x 1/50 (+ Bella = x 1/50).
Do you know what the possibility of that is?
One in seven-hundred and eighty-one billion, two-hundred and fifty million.
Talk about your special snowflakes.
I also found it weird, how vampire "taste" is explained. So Bree and co. feed off "dregs", which are basically prostitutes, pimps, and the homeless (or teen runaways). Apparently, they are all on drugs, so humans who don't do drugs taste better. Which I guess would make sense. But then, Bella apparently smells excellent to all the vampires, which puzzled me. Does that mean that there's something else added to the mix? Because I thought she was supposed to be irresistible only to Edward. What makes her smell so sweet? Is it the fact that she's a virgin? But surely there would be some virgin teenage runaways who don't do drugs.... It's all very confusing, and really says a lot about how Meyer views the lower classes (drug-addled sluts, clearly).
It was weird in general reading a Stephenie Meyer book that was under 500 pages. I actually like her style of writing, and it was nice to revisit the book series. It's sad that she doesn't write anymore. Maybe she's happy she no longer needs to. Maybe she's pissed off that people keep publishing (and cashing in on) fanfiction based on her work -- I know I would find that upsetting, as well.
Overall, THE SHORT SECOND LIFE was a disappointment. Definitely one of her worst books (although a sight better than the monstrosity that was BREAKING DAWN). It passed the evening, and now I think I'll pass the buck (I mean book) along to my sister. See what she thinks.
SOPPY definitely lives up to its name. Done entirely in black, white, and red colors, SOPPY is a graphic novel about love in its simplest and most rudimentary form: comfort and kindness.
Reading this graphic novel actually reminded me of the "Weird Things Couples Do" series from Buzzfeed, with Justin Abarca and Elizabeth Triplett. Seriously, they have to be the cutest couple ever (and yes, they really are married).
With abusive pseudo-BDSM relationships being the current vogue, a lot about what really constitutes love gets lost in translation. The sheer number of women claiming that they want these abusive men as boyfriends boggles my mind, because I have never wanted that.
This is what I want. Someone who is always there, rain or shine -- but especially in the rain. Holding the umbrella. And my hand.
I would call myself a girl gamer, but I'm afraid I'm pretty stereotypical -- I like the cutesy sim and platformer games. Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, the Mario games, Yoshi Story, Chibi Robo, Pokemon...these are all games I own and love. I suspect a lot of people would probably laugh and sneer and say, "Of course, typical girl games." But whatevs. They're cute, and fun, and I like them. I like more "male"-targeted games, too, like shooter games, RPGs, and I'm just getting into the Zelda (fucking Ocarina, y u so hard?!) series, but sims and cutesy platformers have always been my favorites.
I stopped buying handheld consoles with the Gameboy Color, so I'm pretty limited in terms of the games I own. But I've been thinking about getting a DS for a couple years now, and THE ART OF 5TH CELL has given me a push in that direction. The games it features--Drawn to Life, and, of course, Scribblenauts--look right up my alley.
I like behind the scenes concepts, and the artist has a really great voice when he discusses his art and the process behind his work. He doesn't come across as pretentious at all; instead, he seems like a really cool, geeky guy who loves what he does and is lucky enough to be able to do it for a living. His art is great, and quite versatile, and a couple endearing typos on his blueprints (like 'guages' instead of 'gauges') made me warm to him that much more.
It's kind of surprising, the different kinds of games 5th Cell put out. For example, there's a phone game called Run Roo Run that looks an awful lot like Angry Birds. Then there's a first-person shooter game with futuristic guys in space suits and high-tech guns called Hybrid. And then there's the puzzle adventure games, DtL and Scribble, and, lastly, the RPG with anime-style characters, Lock's Quest (I'm getting a steampunk Tales of Symphonia vibe).
THE ART OF 5TH CELL works well as a standalone. Even if you haven't played any of the games, the art is still pretty impressive. I never really thought about the backgrounds of a game, but they do add a lot to the atmosphere of a game (and a level) and often go ignored. It's interesting to see the schematics behind what often goes unappreciated in game design. It's also a commercial success, in my opinion. THE ART OF 5TH CELL is basically a 168-page advert for 5th Cell's games, featuring a sneak peek of up-and-coming games by the company at the very end. It's fluff, but fun, and would make a great addition to any gamer's coffee table. And on that note, my thumb is starting to itch for an A-button to press.
Yuki is pretty much the epitome of the Japanese schoolgirl stereotype -- tiny and petite, pretty and popular, and a little too free with her emotions. When she's not being groped by perverts and filmed by other perverts (who later turn out to be love interests), she's caring for people and filling her eyes up with earnest tears.
There's a bit of a love triangle. Chiba, her best friend, is in love with her, and so is Matsubara, the creeper she befriends on the train who video-records her with his phone. (Later, he claims that he did it because he wanted to get to know her better. Uh-huh...)
The thing about Matsubara is that he might also be Spirit, a serial-killer wannabe who slaughters cats (the bastard!) and biology lab frogs that are slated for dissection (why?). The killings are eerily similar to another set that happened seven years ago, culminating in the death of a boy named Tsuji. (I just tried to spell culminating with a 'K.') Is it the same person? Or a copycat? Is Matsubara a killer as well as a lonely pervert?
DUN, DUN, DUN.
I haven't been on Netgalley in a while, so GOOD-BYE GEIST was my first foray back into internet crackdom. As far as hits go, it gave me a non-existent buzz. Don't get me wrong; as an indie author myself, I can really appreciate attempts to showcase indie work, and that's what Gen Manga does. They publish indie manga (doujinshi) that isn't available anywhere else, translate it, and then publish it directly to the masses without the use of an intermediary. It's a great idea, and I've read some pretty interesting work from them. Artists struggle even more than writers, because the effort put into their creative output really exceeds the pay-off, unless you are both extremely talented and lucky.
But GOOD-BYE GEIST was a miss for me. The cat deaths really put me off. I love cats, and Yukiko, one of the victim cats, looked a lot like my own pet cat, Yang. And like Yukiko, Yang was also abused and has trust issues, so the whole time Yukiko was in the plot, I was thinking about my poor itty bitty kitty, and, well... I WAS NOT HAPPY, OKAY?
The use of "sexual violation" for titillation was a bit trashy and circumspect, too. And I feel like "sexual violation" is a bit...sensationalist for what actually happens. It suggests sexual violence, when all that happened (unless I missed something) was a grope. (Although the groper does at one point shove an umbrella under her skirt, and into her panties--so maybe that's what they were referring to? I don't think it's actually shown in the panels, but the characters were discussing it at one point and I was like, DA FUQ.) There doesn't seem to be much point to it either, except to provide a way for Matsubara to take an interest in Yuki, which isn't cool. I don't really like the two-opposite-sexed-characters-meet-and-bond-over-thrwarted-sexual-abuse trope. It suggests (to me) that women need men to help save them from being raped... which is a disturbing message to send.
Another thing that annoyed me was the fact that the identity of Spirit is never revealed. There's a flashback at the end that is maybe supposed to provide background to the mystery, but if the killer was revealed, I never figured it out. (I was kind of suspecting Yuki or Chiba, but hey, your guess is as good as mine.) That lack of closure was irritating. I feel like making it through a book entitles you to something. Leaving the reader hanging, that's just bad manners. And that's the problem with this book: GOOD-BYE GEIST is too nebulous, and uses violence and sex to keep the reader turning the pages.
First off: I am not dead. I am just working about 40-50 hours a week. I haven't been reading or writing, and life is just really stressful right now. Really stressful.
Disclaimer: I have never found the 60s inspirational, nostalgic, or fascinating. I think hippies are stupid. I think 60s music is overhyped, discordant, and, for the most part, terrible. And, with very few exceptions, I am not a fan of the art. Andy Warhol is (sort of) one of those exceptions. To me, though, Warhol is less a genius than the embodiment of tasteless kitsch. Like, I would happily hang a print of a Campbells soup can in my kitchen, for example, because it (to me) has a country kitchen vibe to it. But I would not pay $1,000,000 for his work. No, no, I would not.
(My favorite pop artist is actually Wesselman.)
But Andy Warhol's designs are pretty cool. They definitely have an appeal that spreads from the lowest common denominator to the self-professed highbrows. So I guess in that sense maybe he is a genius. A marketing genius. I may hate E.L. James, for example, but nobody can argue that the woman fails at being a pimp for her wares. The success of FSoG continues to baffle me--especially since it started out as fanfiction. And in that sense, she and Warhol are also similar because most of his designs were ripped from other things--brands, silk screens, photographs. He didn't even do most of his silk-screening himself.
But, like I said, he's an interesting guy. I had no idea he had so many health problems, and his homosexuality in an unforgiving era--especially with disfigurements that made him an outcast among men looking for arm candy--made him a more sympathetic figure than he otherwise might have been. So I stuck it out, hoping that I would learn something, and maybe even become touched. But I've been reading POP at work for several weeks now and about 100 pages from the end (it's a long book) I decided to call it quits.
POP is a biography of Andy Warhol but, like most biographies, it is not content to confine itself to the life of the person it is about. Rather, POP aspires to be a sweeping portrait of the zeitgeist of the late 50s to the mid-60s. At this, I have to say it fails. The tone is uneven -- sometimes it reads like a trashy gossip mag; at others, like a dry and incredibly dull history textbook.
Another thing that irritated me is the color plates in the center of the book. I was really excited to see reproductions of Mr. Warhol's art, but no. Only a few of the plates are actually of his work. Most of them are artists who were inspired by Warhol, or contemporaries of Warhol. They were very stingy with the artwork in my opinion. I don't know if that's because they couldn't get the rights to it, or if they just decided to cheap out, but it really damaged the value of this book to me, because now I can't say, "Well, the book was terrible, but at least it had great art."
It takes a lot of talent to make a book about an influential figure unreadable, so I guess in that sense the people who edited and wrote this book are geniuses as well.
A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT is a puzzling book. For starters, I can't even remember where I obtained it. I'm usually pretty good about remembering how I get my books. For example, just looking around at some of the titles in my room -- I won SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY in a Goodreads giveaway. I got FOREVER AMBER at a thrift store. I bought the Saint-Germain series at a shop in San Jose, while on a trip with a friend. And I got THE EIGHT at a FoL sale after remembering how much I loved the first copy that I bought and read several years before (also at a FoL sale). But this one ... this one is a mystery. Maybe it just crawled into my room?
At first, I liked A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT. It has an indie feel to it, in the sense that the writing is a little awkward, and the MC is kind of Gary-Stu-ish -- but it's good indie, and deals with some interesting topics. If your tastes run anything like mine, you're probably bored to death of the tattoo schtick. I know I'm tired of middle-class pussy boys trying to be all, "Look at me, I'm badasss because I've got tribal tattoos and wear Axe Gold Temptation!"
No, A GOOD AND USEFUL HURT is worth reading if only because it shows that all kinds of people can get tattoos ... whether because they're into BDSM, or want to remember an important life event, or want to re-own their body after some kind of trauma or abuse. Or just because, you know, they feel like it. That's a good message to send, I think. Tattoos really aren't a Big Deal, and neither are piercings. They're only stupid if you do it to look cool or be a bad-ass, because that means you haven't thought about this decision beyond the superficial aspects. Never a good idea.
So. The message. I liked it.
Now, this review is going to contain spoilers, because a lot of the things I didn't like the book will contain plot information that will spoil the 'mystery.' Or at the very least, the suspense.
If you do not want this to happen, you shouldn't read any further.
Seriously, do not do it.
Also, this book also contains spoilers for Dean Koontz's ODD THOMAS, so if you have any vested interest in reading that series, maybe you should also back away.
Okay, so Mike, our main (slightly Stuish) character, is a tattoo artist. I think he's the mouthpiece for the author, because there's a lot of proselytizing about accepting people for who they are, especially when it comes to tattoos, and getting over racial and sexual prejudices, and just a lot of paragraphs devoted to this opining that really have nothing to do with the plot.
The plot is that there is this creepy psycho man named Phil who likes raping and dismembering and killing women (in that order). Especially if they have tattoos. There's also this plot where all these people keep coming to Mike, asking him to tattoo their dead loved ones' ashes into their bodies. Which is a little creepy, but I didn't mind that too much because it was an interesting thought, and people have done weirder things in grief. (Or even not grief. I seem to recall a certain celebrity pair who wore each other's blood around their necks in little vials.)
Meanwhile, Phil has hired a sassy new piercer named Deb who basically takes no shit. Deb kind of reminded me of this girl I knew in college. We weren't really friends, but we hung out sometimes, and she was really wild and crazy and just really happy with her life. Like, she had this persona, and you could tell that she was totally happy with it, and life was this giant adventure to her, even the bad stuff. She's the kind of person you envy, because you can't keep up with, and sometimes you call her fake because you just can't believe that anyone could really be so out there. That is Deb.
I liked Deb.
And then she died.
At first, I could not believe it. Because on the back of the book, it says, "And when the life of a serial killer tragically collides with the lives in the tattoo shop, Mike and Deb will stop at nothing in their quest of revenge..." So no way could Deb die, because the two of them are in this together.
Because it turns out that tattooing the ashes of your loved one into your skin gives you the ability to communicate with them telepathically. That's how come Mike has been getting all these weird customers. Word on the grapevine is that Mike's tattoos are magic. And his first hoodoo client, Doc, has the brilliant idea that if they collect the ashes of the serial killer's previous victims and tattoo them into Mike, they'll collect enough info to find out and get revenge upon the serial killer. Oh, and since Mike tattooed Deb's ashes into his arm, he sees Ghost Deb.
Odd Thomas, much?
Except, with Odd Thomas, there was a depth to the relationship that was tangible. When I saw the movie Odd Thomas, even though I knew what happened, even though I was emotionally prepared for what happened ... I wasn't. And when the grim reveal happens, I sobbed like a baby and went through like a whole roll of TP. Even now, I'm starting to tear up -- because it was so EMOTIONAL.
That wasn't here, partially because Deb gets so little air time, just when you're finally starting to like her and get a feel for her, she's gone -- and that was a really bad tactical move on the author's part.
And then there's how the girls get revenge on the serial killer. It is probably one of the most grizzly scenes ever. They Freddy Krueger his ass Hannibal Lecter style, and the clinical dispassion with which it is written makes the scene even more unpleasant than if it had been labored over. Especially when one of the transitions involves the main characters going HEY LET'S GET SUSHI. Yeah, that's what I want to think about. A guy getting skinned alive before having his balls chopped up and then transitioning to raw, skinless fish. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT IMAGE.
(At least it wasn't carpaccio?)
The last 140 pages really killed my enjoyment of the book. For a while, I was like, "Okay, this isn't perfect, but it's interesting and I like the way their relationship is progressing." And then Deb was dead, and the torture starts and I'm just like ... what was the point of this? It wasn't even satisfying ending-wise, because Mike ends up all alone at his friend's wedding, and the serial killer gets tortured to death, and the cops are just like, "Hmm, that's odd that he has strangle marks even though nobody ever touched him ... oh well!" (Hashtag -- worst cops ever.) It was a big downer, basically.
I was really hoping that this could be a small press book I could recommend in good faith to people, but alas ... nope. Even my friend who is interested in tattoos and piercings probably wouldn't like it, because of all the darkness in the book, and the lack of redemption. (I mean you could argue that Mike allowed the women to be at peace, but still. He ended up alone, and kept having all the women in his life die. How fucking depressing is that? Not something I want to be reading for fun.)
So overall, I think I'll give this book 1.5 stars.
(There was also this one chapter where the book randomly switches into first person. No idea why.)