Another book where 2.5 stars would be perfect! I went up to 3 because the writing was solid overall (if a little close to purple prose by the end), an...moreAnother book where 2.5 stars would be perfect! I went up to 3 because the writing was solid overall (if a little close to purple prose by the end), and, finally, here's a first person novel that doesn't skimp on the description. The author also did a nice job of drawing in the reader and making her fantasy world accessible to an audience beyond readers of that genre. On the down side, the novel feels like a mash-up: 1/2 Hunger Games, 1/4 Game of Thrones, 1/4 Princess Mononoke. Borrowing the female heroine, the fancy clothing, the political machinations, and the mystical stag (perhaps the most blatant), would be one thing if combined with new, fresh ideas. Sadly, what I've left out is that the main character is an orphan who is the chosen one and there's a fight between light and dark. Sigh. Overall, it's a quick read, though, and generally well-written, if not new, exciting, and different. (less)
I really enjoy this series and #3 is probably the strongest and most diverse collection so far. It is more mature than "Funny Business," and holds tog...moreI really enjoy this series and #3 is probably the strongest and most diverse collection so far. It is more mature than "Funny Business," and holds together as a unified collection better than "Thriller." Like both collections, it also has some surprising highs; but unlike editions 1 and 2, there are no real lows.
In all three collections there is one standout story. In "Thriller," it was Walter Dean Myers' tonally different, and very affecting, realistic portrait of a Somali boy pirate. "The Sports Pages" follows suit in Chris Crutcher's serious, mature, and realistic portrait of a teenage boy struggling with sports and familial abuse in "The Meat Grinder." The friendship that develops in the story between the main character and the football star is touching and honest, and feels realistic in a way that the other stories approach, but don't quite attain. The closest competition is Tim Green's "Find Your Fire" in which two star athletes and best friends are competing for a football scholarship. The story has too much going on, and too much dead space, but the title theme and ambiguous ending make up for the areas that are lacking. Also oddly-paced is Jacqueline Woodson's "The Distance," that unfortunately never answers the question of why the narrator didn't try harder in his relay leg (because it was too difficult, really?). Again, however, the ending theme and the interesting familial and friend relationships give the story weight. Better than Green's and Woodson's story is Joseph Bruchac's "Choke" about a boy who takes up mixed-martial arts to take on a bully. It has a similar generic set-up but the narrator's sarcastic sense of humor mixes well with the realism, and makes the story more engaging overall.
On the other hand, "Max Swings for the Fences" by Anne Ursu, "The Trophy" by Gordon Korman, "How I Won the World Series" by Dan Gutman, and "I Will Destroy You, Derek Jeter" by Chris Rylander, all go for laughs...and are completely unrealistic. They are all genuinely funny, though, with Ursu's being the real surprise. Her story about a lie that quickly spirals out of control has the best twist ending of the bunch. All four are frothy and light-hearted, and could give the stories in "Funny Business" a run for their money.
Perhaps the best surprise, however, are the two nonfiction pieces--hockey player Dustin Brown's "Against All Odds," and James Brown's "The Choice." Like Crutcher's fictional story, they feel honest, and they each carry important, powerful, and different messages to young readers. The nonfiction stories also help to both broaden the diversity of the collection, while, interestingly, thematically tying the all the stories together. Both stories made me wonder what "Thriller" and "Funny Business" might have been like with some interesting nonfiction mixed in.
Sports stories can so often go horribly wrong, descending into treacly, platitude-spewing, sentimental disasters (think of almost every popular sports movie out there). That this collection sidesteps that trap in so many interesting ways is phenomenal, and shows that these collections are only getting better as the series continues.
Such a difficult review to write...the middle 2/3, when the book hits its stride, and before the unbelievable (but romantically hopeful!) ending, is r...moreSuch a difficult review to write...the middle 2/3, when the book hits its stride, and before the unbelievable (but romantically hopeful!) ending, is really good. The characters live and thrive, and the book takes off. I turned page after page, happy for their lives taking shape and starting to fully form for the reader.
As good as that part was, and as much as I wanted that happy ending, there were also many problems with the novel: first and foremost, there was not much of a plot and very little description. Things happen to the characters for much of the novel, but there doesn't feel like much of a logic to what's happening when. And, the actions that do happen are not the most original or engaging. In addition, although the book is generally hopeful, why oh why is there another narrative that revolves around serious bodily harm to its gay characters? While the 'it gets better' message seeps through, one can't also avoid thinking that being gay somehow entails violent harm.
The lack of description was even more problematic--there's so much emotion in the book, that it works when things are going okay for the characters, but teeters toward melodrama when problems abound. Having no description to cut these parts makes scenes go on or lead nowhere. There's also a LOT of crying and conversation punctuated by many direct emotional statements. Perhaps it's being from New England, but much of the family interactions ring false.
And yet...I still liked the book. I wanted to keep reading, if only to find the moments of pure poetry in which the novel soars. With a few adjustments, however, it could have been even better.(less)
I really wanted to like this book for the premise alone: updating Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Sadly, there wasn't anything new, exciting, a...moreI really wanted to like this book for the premise alone: updating Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Sadly, there wasn't anything new, exciting, and different in 'Ten.' There were plenty of cliches and horror tropes, however--from the reveal of the killer to every action, nothing was much of a surprise. There was also plenty of bad writing: every time there was a bit lip, creased forehead, or arched brow I wanted to hurl the book across the room, not to mention all the ridiculous decisions made by the characters. But, worst of all is that the characters are boring. McNeil does an okay job with the brattier teens (Vivian, Minnie)--sadly, most of the women characters are shrill, gossipy, and backstabbing, but at least they're interesting. Still, the reader doesn't care about them, or the milquetoast heroes, making the early chapters a slog, and the later ones uninteresting. At least the plot kept the novel moving at a fast pace, and for that, and the premise, 2 stars seems about right.(less)
Cup of Gold Steinbeck disavowed, but this he appreciated? While there are definite strengths--the allusion to the Biblical story of Saul, the unusual...moreCup of Gold Steinbeck disavowed, but this he appreciated? While there are definite strengths--the allusion to the Biblical story of Saul, the unusual structure, the compelling set-up, and moments of great dialogue and description--there are also big drawbacks. The novel/play (whatever) builds too quickly, lending the first third an unintended melodramatic quality; the sea section is a great change, but under-utilized--it might have as well taken place on land; and the climax in which Joe Saul reveals his sterility is both over-the-top and, in the days of Viagra, unfortunately reminiscent of a drug commercial. Not to mention: Mordeen? Really? Okay, I get that the name is somewhat symbolic (reference to Morgan Le Fay?), but I'm just not buying that name. Still, Steinbeck at his lowest is better than most at their peak. And, Burning Bright is nothing if not an interesting experiment in form. Oh, and the last page seems like it had to be a starting point for The Shining: "With all our horrors and our faults, somewhere in us there is a shining. That is the most important of all facts. There is a shining." Weird.(less)
Avg 3.24? Really? I absolutely loved the writing in this novel--it was fearless, raw, challenging. Perhaps that accounts for the absurdly low rating--...moreAvg 3.24? Really? I absolutely loved the writing in this novel--it was fearless, raw, challenging. Perhaps that accounts for the absurdly low rating--clearly, Gordon doesn't care if people are turned off by her characters or content. But it's also not gratuitous; this is not a writer being flashy or going over the top. It's a refreshingly honest portrayal of a group of people at the bottom, all working, scheming, and dreaming to make it big in the world of horse-racing. But not Kentucky Derby-horse-racing--small-time races with big-time risks. Gordon's characters leap off the page, and, to her credit, she gives equal weight to each: the new couple Tommy and Margaret hoping to get in and get out before anyone notices, Margaret's betting uncle Two-Tie, the old groom, Medicine Ed, so close to retirement, but yet without the means. The novel is so well-balanced that everyone's story gets told, and, although sadness is a part of each person's life, the story is never crushed under the weight of it. It's a fantastic novel, written by a confident writer with her own unique, distinctive style. (less)