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Monday, January 19, 2015

The Books I Read: November - December 2014


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

It's kinda funny. It eschews notions of romance, and really, it's more about the friend, who reminds me of Tony Goldmark. I couldn't get that image out of my head -- the deadpan, Internet snarker-troll, self-deprecating, black comedy hamball.

And that's what the book is really about. This guy is a amateur filmmaker and it talks about his love of weird, foreign, independent cinema and his friendship with Earl, a black urban youth. And in the background is Rachel, an acquaintance who is forced by Tony's mother to hang out with because she's dying of cancer. The story's not about her, but about Tony making films and then showing them to her. It's more about his student film-making.

I think it was published as a response to YA death-roms like "The Fault in Our Stars" and "If I Stay", but it's more like a parody of "A Walk to Remember". The thing is, at the end, I asked myself "did anyone learn anything?", "did anything change?" And I'm not sure anything did. Which may have been the point, but as far as the story goes, it left it a little hollow for me. Which was disappointing, because it started so well.


The 13th Floor (Complete Collection) by Christine Rains

I feel like this is meant for a middle school audience. Its a collection of short stories, but all the plots are mostly the same -- paranormal romance. But it's not really romance, it's adventure. Like old-school serial, afternoon cartoons style. And they're generally cliche. Like superhero stories. It has as much romance as an action movie. Instead of stories about romantic love or keeping couples apart, there's Greek god tournaments and vampires fighting Big Bad Demons and werewolf girls in pack politics.

It's an amateur book and has all the earmarks. The writing style involves too much telling, characters without goals (or stereotypical ones), and overwriting/telling the reader what they already know.


The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

If you're any fan of Patrick Rothfuss, you've heard about this book and the split decision. In the author's preface, he states "you are probably not going to like this book" and most reviewers seem to come on one side of that extreme or the other. Sadly, I am on the side of hating it.

The biggest problem is that it's not a story. It has no dialogue. It has no plot. It has no events. There is one, single character who crawls around the undercity, looking for interesting trash-treasures like Gobo Fraggle, and rambling in abstract, "precious" attachments. If you remember Auri from Kingkiller #1 and #2, she's not any saner when she's in first person. You won't learn anything new about Kvothe or the Kingkiller Chronicle mythology from this book. I couldn't even find a summary online to help me understand what I'd read better. It defies explanation. At least it's short.

The good thing is Rothfuss admits this, and that's fine. I believe that he accomplished what he set out to do, and that's a big achievement for any writer. He knows the general audience, even the audience of his previous books, are going to have a visceral response to this. There is great beauty and energy in the way that these inanimate things are given empathy by the main character.

It's a good book for bibliophiles and writers who want to see something different. It's not for the masses.


The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

I think I've learned that it's impossible for me to be scared by the written word. Maybe it's the medication, maybe I'm older. I hear people who couldn't sleep after reading Salem's Lot or The Exorcist, and I just don't get it. This book is no exception for me.

It follows the movie quite well, so if you've seen the film, I don't think you'll get much more out of this book. The Horror Guru had a lot of good things to say about both, but I believe that not all stories fit the medium. Horror, as good as the written word has been, just thrives better in cinema. It was very "meh" for me. Maybe it's too wordy to be scary.

Maybe it's scarier in concept and theme than the words on the page. One thing that happens to horror as it ages is that the scariness becomes campy. No one takes Freddy and Jason seriously anymore. When you grow up and look at it, it's just a Rubik's Cube and a guy who fell on a nail gun.


Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Well, it's definitely about a horse.

This was a book assigned as reading in either fourth grade or fifth grade, maybe sixth grade. Anyway, it was never finished, not sure why. The reading unit moved onto something else that didn't involve silent reading. Maybe policies changed.

Anyway, it falls under the category of so many other books I've read. It's just boring and out of date. If you like horses, there's a lot of detail about how horses were treated and all the equipment and things you don't think of, like having to brush down a horse of its sweat after a hard ride or it'll get pneumonia. But it's lacking any overall plot, any overall story arc or obstacle or goal. It's just a horse living. More interesting things happen to its owners, but the horse doesn't get to hear about that because it's in the barn.

The only reason I can think to read it is if you were SUPER into horses. Most classics are classics because they've got some themes that relate to today. I'm having trouble seeing where the equivalents are for beasts of burden. Just about everything we used to use horses for are now done by cars and trucks. Horses are now pets or show animals (or merchandise for princess dolls), and thus, rarely mistreated. I think there are better "talking animal" books out there that fit our society today.


Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall & Carrie Jones

When I was at my child's book fair, I saw this on the shelf and thought, "holy cow, this exists?" I have an interest in bullies and bullying as it exists (beyond the overused cliche seen in movies like Biff Tannen or Scut Farkus). The clincher was the few authors I recognized: R.L. Stine, A.S. King, Mo Willems. Unfortunately, those were the only authors I recognized.

Some are bullies, some stand by and do nothing, but most relate anecdotes or essays about their bully experience. The best thing this book provides is the knowledge that everyone gets bullied, popular people, nerdy people, and adults. It's nice to know that eventually, all things come out in the wash. This means that the experience is universal. It also means that you get seventy stories of virtually the same thing.

Each essay is only a few pages, and there are seventy-five of them. After a while, the story starts being the same. I think this could have gone farther if the number was reduced and the length was upped. Find the experiences that are truly unique, or more authors that are universally well-known or use a variety of techniques, and this book could have gone a lot farther. Also, there is way too much bias on the female end. I don't have the facts to support this, but I believe this is a universal experience. As a result, a lot of the stories are "Mean Girls" style bullying. I feel male stories would A) provide the variety the book needs and B) raise the stakes from "shunning" or "shaming" behaviors to physical threats.


The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This book hooked me right away. It started by talking about a girl strapped to a chair, wheeled to her class, then put back in her cell, handled with utmost caution. I immediately thought "Galerians" which endeared me more.


Unfortunately, that was not to be. I was lucky enough to start this book without knowing what the twist was. It's not a surprise there is one, as the tagline and summary are quite vague. The publishers must be relying heavily on word of mouth for this one. But I can't talk more about it without revealing the twist, since it happens early on. So if you want to avoid the spoilers below the paragraph, know that I feel the book is a standard example of its genre. It peaks in the beginning and end, but sags in the middle, and doesn't demonstrate much outside its tropes. In other words, set me up only to be disappointed in the overall story.

Now to the spoilers. This is in fact, a horror novel. More specifically, a zombie story, and not much different than the other zombie stories I've read (Monster Nation, The End Games, etc.) It's very standard. There is a camp where the survivors hold up, and do experiments on the few sentient zombies, which are children. They're trying to discover what makes them tick and how the fungus that causes zombieism works (reminds me of "The Last of Us"). The trappings I'm talking about are that, like most zombie novels, it's really a survival story. And like all survival stories, not much happens, as you are just trying to survive. There's a lot of walking, thinking, bickering, and observing. The "few of us against them" that we see over and over again. Hide out in a house, where are we going to find our food, run and run, but no one dies and their ultimate goal is simply "safety".

This is where the book sags, and it's a large portion. I know one of the themes will be that it's the other human survivors you need to fear more than the zombies. I know that there's going to be conflict between the protective mother of the zombie girl and the hard-nosed military leader who wants to kill her and the mad scientist who only considers everything in black and white science.

So yeah, mixed feelings. Maybe I'm disappointed because it's not the novel I wanted. But it's got great tension, but the plot drags out and doesn't move past some of the tropes I wish it would. A lot could have been cut out of the middle.


Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan

This book has two different halves that have nothing to do with each other. One half is awesome, the other isn't.

The one that's awesome is about Jade, an MMA fighter that goes to Thailand for some training (and to avoid a possible arrest after beating up an MMA fame whore). Holy cow, let me repeat that. A book about a girl American Mixed Martial Artist who travels half a world away to the land of Muay Thai for further training and a chance at a title shot. Doesn't that sound awesome? Doesn't that sound like no other book you've ever heard before? It did to me.

But the other half has nothing to do with this. It's about a girl who can teleport through plants who's being exploited by some rich white guy holed up in Thailand to deliver drugs and human traffic to various parts of the world undetected. It's not even the same genre as the Jade story. It's a dark fantasy with Thai mythology and beliefs about reincarnation and ghost/spirits and animals. Not what I came in for. And neither character has any relation to the other, either in spirit or plot. They just... meet... at the end.

I would so love this book if this part was excised. Each half has nothing to do with each other, it feels like it was shoehorned in to increase length. I just want to hear about Jade. I care about Jade. I'm interested in Jade. Not some girl who can walk through walls and the old rich white guy "big bad". I can go to X-Men for that. The tonal difference is too jarring. That keeps this book from being one of the best I've read.
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