A good coming-of-age novel is interesting in that, even if the main character's experience is vastly different from the reader's, the reader still fee...moreA good coming-of-age novel is interesting in that, even if the main character's experience is vastly different from the reader's, the reader still feels the nostalgia. Twenty-Sided Die is a good coming-of-age novel. It's a series of vignettes following the lives of five young men who play Dungeons & Dragons together.
I was a nerd of a different ilk in my youth; I tried D&D once, but it didn't really take. The boys I knew who played D&D (and they were all boys, actually) were as varied as Prisco's characters: some were the stereotypically socially awkward geeks, some were socially adept and intelligent (if physically lacking in various ways), and there were even a rare few who were athletic and popular and hid their D&D fetishes from their teammates and girlfriends.
Prisco paints his characters with stark, but loving brushstrokes. He's almost harsh in his descriptions of some of the boys -- fat, acne-ridden, arrogant, awkward. But his affection for his characters shines through in his narration of their daily lives, their inner monologues, their vivid fantasy adventures, and their secrets. Like Steinbeck, he finds the beauty in the mundane, a reminder that even those whom society disdains have secret pains and joys and worth.
If Boogeymen was an homage, then Twenty-Sided Die is a love song -- a bittersweet ode to what was, what is, and what could have been.(less)
Fanfic is usually written to satisfy the writer; filled with the fan’s desires of what he’d like to see come t...moreThere’s fanfic, and then there’s homage.
Fanfic is usually written to satisfy the writer; filled with the fan’s desires of what he’d like to see come to pass. Since the focus is the writer’s satisfaction, it often happens that no one but the writer is satisfied after reading.
Then there’s homage, which is written to honor the original work. Any true fan can appreciate a good homage, and it may even succeed in converting the uninitiated.
Boogeymen is the best homage to horror movies I’ve ever read. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, this was my first foray into writing of this genre, so my word may not be worth much to hardcore fans. But I can say this: I laughed a lot and was thoroughly satisfied when I was finally done ripping through it.
The premise of Prisco’s novelette is that two boys inadvertently summon all the scariest creatures in horror history to participate in a battle royale to establish who is the scariest monster of them all. Much blood is shed in a myriad of creative ways. Not only is there plenty of gore for hardcore horror fans, but there’s also an abundance of snappy dialogue, salty insults, and hilarious exposition, which anyone who enjoys witty writing can appreciate.
Be forewarned that there is lots of gore and strong language (as the MPAA puts it). But Boogeymen is a fantastically satisfying read for fans of the genre and fans of a well-crafted tale alike.(less)
Girl Afraid is a gripping, terrifying ride. It's a very dark look into a very dark world -- one that I was not actually prepared for, and probably wou...moreGirl Afraid is a gripping, terrifying ride. It's a very dark look into a very dark world -- one that I was not actually prepared for, and probably wouldn't have taken if I'd known what I was in for. That speaks both to the author's skill and to my own sensitivity to the subject matter. But since the review should reflect the quality of the author's work and not my own personal history, I'll keep to the book.
Alice is awakened one morning by a terrifying phone call. Poppy, her boss' daughter, has been taken, and the mysterious man on the other end is the only person who seems to be able to help her. The kidnappers aren't asking for a ransom; they have a much darker purpose.
The story is told from various characters' points of view, and West does a good job of jumping from POV to POV without unduly confusing the reader, which is hard to do. There are a few plot points here and there that felt a little forced, but it's a tight story overall. I don't know how much in-depth research the author invested into how the "dark net" functions, but the picture he painted was plausible to the point of turning my stomach.
Is Girl Afraid well-written? Very. Ciarán West delivers fast-paced, tightly-woven action. But I do so wish I hadn't read it. The author did too good a job of drawing me into his world -- one that I wish didn't exist, but know probably does.(less)
I've lived in Long Beach for over thirty years, and I love my hometown. It's not easy for a town to gain international recognition when it's living in...moreI've lived in Long Beach for over thirty years, and I love my hometown. It's not easy for a town to gain international recognition when it's living in the shadow of a major metropolitan city, but Long Beach has done just that. Long Beach is scrappy.
I read D.J. Waldie's Holy Land a few years ago, a wonderful memoir about growing up in nearby Lakewood. My house is very close to Lakewood, and many of Waldie's memories echoed my own. I remember wishing that someone would write something similar about the history of Long Beach.
Long Beach Chronicles is not that book. Written by local journalist Tim Grobaty, this book was not a memoir. It was not a history. It was just... a sterile retelling of an assortment of more-or-less significant events from Long Beach history. I wanted someone to give Long Beach the David McCullough treatment, or at least the D.J. Waldie treatment. What I got was a box of puzzle pieces with no picture on the front of the box -- a lot of distinct facts without much help to tie them together.
Grobaty is an award-winning journalist and columnist, but I found his writing style in the book to be quite bland. The events in the book were all out of order. There was no depth to it; various notable residents were mentioned, but I didn't really get a sense of who they were or how they shaped not only the buildings and streets of Long Beach, but also its society and culture.
I learned a decent amount about various historical events in the city's history, including how certain streets were named, which parts were incorporated later, and the fact that a lot of its early residents were Iowans seeking sunnier skies. I learned a fair bit about the who, what, when, and where of Long Beach, and that's to the author's credit.
I recently had the outrageously good luck of being hired by a local startup ten minutes from my house. One of the things I like best about the company is that they, too, love Long Beach and are proud to represent her on the tech scene. They even had me go out and shoot a video homage to the city that makes us what it is.
I love Long Beach. It's a vibrant city, full of color and life. I'll be leaving it soon for the first time since college, and I don't know when I'll be back. But I'm glad that there's a small history of a tiny corner of Long Beach, right there on the border of Lakewood, that I carry with me in my heart. I guess I don't need Grobaty's book after all. I'll be my own Waldie.(less)
Everybody loves a good coming-of-age novel. There's something about reliving that time when you leave behind the innocence of youth behind that dredge...moreEverybody loves a good coming-of-age novel. There's something about reliving that time when you leave behind the innocence of youth behind that dredges up such nostalgia -- even if that coming of age involved some kind of traumatic experience.
Richie South is growing up in Limerick, Ireland, in the Eighties. He gets a fast-forward to manhood when he and his friends decide to investigate a neighborhood tragedy on their own. He also meets an older girl who teaches him the agony and ecstasy of first love.
The Boys of Summer is an engaging, if disturbing, read. The characters are realistic, and, while Richie's Limerick slang is a little jarring at first for those not accustomed to it (like big, ol', American me), it feels more and more authentic as the story progresses. West does an excellent job of capturing the confusion and rollercoaster emotions of adolescence. And he doesn't sugarcoat it, either. Bad things sometimes happen to kids. You even have to wonder whether bad things are actually happening if the kid doesn't think it's bad. It gets graphic, but, then again, so does life.
If you're looking for a story that will make you feel good and nothing else, walk away. But if you can deal with the complex emotions of human experience, and the trauma that often accompanies the loss of innocence, you'll find The Boys of Summer an honest, emotional, and compelling read.(less)
One of the most best things about Jane Austen's books is her social commentary. Her books are, for the most part, lighthearted in tone, but they also...moreOne of the most best things about Jane Austen's books is her social commentary. Her books are, for the most part, lighthearted in tone, but they also brought to light serious issues of that day and called into question the justice of issues like entail, social status, and the politics of courtship and marriage. She packaged her social commentary in a delightful narrative filled with plenty of wit and romance because a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
But she doesn't do that in Lady Susan. Unfortunately, without the wit and romance, Austen's social commentary is like watching an episode of "The Real Housewives of Regency Era England."
Lady Susan Vernon is a calculating, manipulative social climber who cares nothing about anyone but herself. A widow in her late twenties with a daughter who is of an age to be married, she likes to keep her daughter far away and plenty of irons in the fire. Among her admirers and potential suitors are a married man, her brother-in-law's brother-in-law (her brother-in-law's wife's brother), and a young man that's she's actually trying to manipulate into marrying her daughter.
Her lies and scheming are just plain ugly to behold. Some may argue that Austen's showing that Lady Susan lives in a society that forces her to be manipulative in order to survive, but I think that's a load of King George's shorts. Austen doesn't paint Lady Susan in at all a sympathetic light. Even Emma, a character only Austen herself was supposed to like, is miles more likeable.
The scheming and plotting sucked any joy out of the book for me. And everyone else's helplessness to withstand Lady Susan's machinations were just as annoying, if not more so.
It's an epistolary novel, so you also lose Austen's delightful asides and observations; you only get to hear the direct perspectives of the characters. It's a pity that the characters are so yucky.(less)
The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I was disappointed. I thought the romance was rather cobbled together, and Catherine Morland seemed the most d...moreThe first time I read Northanger Abbey, I was disappointed. I thought the romance was rather cobbled together, and Catherine Morland seemed the most dimwitted of all of Austen's heroines.
It improved upon the second reading, though. I think my problem with my first read was that I was expecting it to focus too much on the romance. But upon reading it a second time, I realized that the strength of this book is its emphasis on friendship, especially in regard to avoiding bad ones.
Catherine Morland is seventeen, and visiting Bath for the first time. Society in Bath is exciting, and young, naïve Catherine is taking it all in with much excitement. She's overjoyed when she's befriended by Isabella Thorpe, one of the prettiest and most popular girls in Bath. At Isabella's urging, she begins calling her by her first name, spending all kinds of time with her, and even doing a few things that she might not have thought proper back home in Fullerton.
Isabella flatters her endlessly, but is also oddly inconsistent in her behavior. She declares that she won't dance unless Catherine gets a partner, but soon abandons her to dance with Catherine's brother, James. She declares that she doesn't care at all for Frederic Tilney, but, somehow, always seems to be talking to him. But Catherine, loyal to the core, insists to herself that Isabella must have a good reason for her behavior, or must not know how her behavior is affecting others.
In the meantime, she also makes the acquaintance of Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor. Catherine likes Henry almost instantly, and she's glad to find that she likes Eleanor, too. Eleanor's not as flattering or flashy as Isabella, but she's steady and likeable.
Catherine's also a great reader of gothic mysteries. She longs for the excitement and romance that she reads about in these books, and her desire for adventure gets her in a bit of a pickle down the line.
The resolution of the romantic entanglements still felt a little too neat to me, but the friendship angle is still a good lesson to learn today. It's good to have an open temperament, and to be willing to get to know and like people. But it's also good to exercise discernment because there are many who would prey upon the unwise and take advantage of their trusting natures. Don't become jaded, but don't be a fool, either.
It's a nice, little morality play, and it teaches an important lesson: don't be blinded by flattery in friendship. A true friend doesn't flatter, but tells the truth, whether it's complimentary or not.(less)