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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Books I Read: March - April 2015

The Maze Runner by James Dashner


The book succeeds at being entertaining, but not at being satisfying. It's a "this is the way we've always done it" story. You know those? Some new guy comes into a group or society that lives in a closed circle. He throws a spanner in the works, breaks all the rules. The leaders try to punish him and his friends pressure him to stop, but he becomes the hero anyway. Like if White Man's Burden was a novel. Sword of Truth did it. And it's a plot that I'm not thrilled with. Too heavy-handed with the Jesus-savior-chosen one having to save everyone from the sins of humanity. But that's not all I don't like.

James Dashner went to the "Dan Brown School of Writing". Short chapters, each ending with some kind of shock cliffhanger. False thrills that are melodramatized. And it NEVER explains anything. The main character gets amnesia and everytime he asks a damn question, people say "you'll find out" or "we don't talk about that" or they just shake their head sadly as if too depressed to speak. It's aggravating, because there's no reason for them to be so obtuse. You'd think they'd want to bring him up to speed to get him helping everyone else out faster. But no, everyone subscribes to the "Antagonistic High School Jock" handbook.

And finally, this whole "stick kids with no memory in a maze" concept is the biggest, most ridiculous Xanatos Gambit I've ever heard or seen. It's all a plot to find children who will be smart enough to get rid of a plague that's affecting the world on the outside. Huh?! So what do the maze monsters have to do with that? How do they get built? Why are two of you telepathic? Why isn't anyone else? How were they able to create their amnesia? How does any of this help survive the plague?  And it's all through a company named "WICKED".  I mean, come on, how heavy-handed can you get?  How can I take a company seriously that names itself WICKED?  And to boot, the ending negates everything before it, turning the story into garbage.

 It feels like a cheap thriller that somehow gained popularity on little more than originality of concept. But the insides are as flimsy as a cracker.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman


It's comedic and entertaining. A must for any fan of the show. It's not as dramatic, but the plausibility makes up for it. It's fun to see where characters like Crazy Eyes and Red came from. Not to mention it one hundred percent works as what it was intended to be -- a look into women's federal prison.

I can see why others might not like it. In another world, I might have lambasted this book a la "Wild". But I feel the difference is this woman owns up to her mistakes. Cheryl Strayed ran away from them. True, Kerman does benefit from white privilege while in the system, but she also benefits from keeping her head down and doing her own time. There are no grand gestures. It's a series of anecdotes about time in prison, and surprisingly, there are a lot of them. I'm not sure why there are chapters because there doesn't seem to be much categorization.

It's far from flawless. There are a lot of characters and Kerman doesn't describe them distinctively enough to picture them. If you haven't seen the show, you could easily get lost. But I had no problem with her attitude or writing style, as some have. This is non-fiction -- don't go in expecting a soap opera.  But it has the same comedy-drama tone as the show, which is what I think you should come for.

Confessions of a Chalet Girl by Lorraine Wilson



The novella starts out with a gratuitous boob flashing contest and it goes down from there. Holly is working at a ski resort to run away take some needed time from the domestic problems back home. What problems there are, I don't know, because the book never tells us.

It also never tells us about the romantic male lead. He has no characterization. It just jumps right into doing naughty things. Holly has no sense of this guy or who he is before letting him explore interesting crevices. Just that he's her boss. She's physically attracted, but that's it.

The girl's characterization is all wrong too. I can't believe someone who likes control (as the author is fond of constantly reminding us) would tolerate all this "wildness". And I can't believe her boss would jeopardize his position by sleeping with one of his new employees (although maybe it's different in England/Switzerland/wherever this takes place).  It reeks of "Red Shoe Diaries".

It needs more characters and better explanations for the non-conflicts that arise. It hand-waves plot developments, like her Facebook "being hacked", without explanation or characterization of the enemy.  It's just there to provide a little more filler.

Stupefying Stories: March 2015 (Volume 14)


I'm in it! Not only that, but I'm the cover story. See that? That's my fifty foot girlfriend on the cover. Sweet.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin


Let me say it like this. I'd originally rated this two stars because the writing was competent. A day later, I was still suffering from the memory of the book, so I lowered the rating to one.

Why is this book so popular? It's just a romance. The writing is colorful, but unsophisticated.  And the beginning hooks you, but afterward, I felt betrayed.  The characters aren't working towards anything. They have no problem to face. The girl seems to have Death Note powers (maybe) but she doesn't have a clue they exist until 75% through. Until then, you're just waiting for something power-related to happen.  Meanwhile, you get mind games and insipid teen dating.

The heartthrob is straight out of TFIOS. He's a scruffy, charming guy who speaks like a thirty-five year-old hipster with a Masters.  And he has a cigarette thing too. But if that's not enough, he's British and rich. To manipulate the reader into liking him, he has the most blatant "save the dog" moment. Straight out of Carrie 2. He has no life interests in anything but the female lead.

And the female lead is the kind of simpering, do-nothing, damsel in distress that Twilight taught us to hate. She has no agency -- she's constantly being told what to do by the boy.  She makes a show of resisting, but eventually goes along with it.  Decisions are made for her. And when she does do something, she makes the worst possible decision to keep the plot going.  It's an "idiot ball" plot.

And nothing happens.  They tool around, arguing, going on dates, while I'm shouting at the book "do something!" The other events are full of cliches. There's the "I don't want to have sex" fight, the "Don't fight to prove your love... okay, fight" fight, bullies that are mean to the new kid for absolutely no reason. There's a little brother who has no presence whatsoever. Halfway in, he goes missing. No one knows why or who did it or why the heartthrob knows where he is or that he's been kidnapped. Uh, red flag?! Plus the kid's had only three lines up to this point, so who gives a fuck if he's gone. And she NEVER asks the boy how or why he knows where he is.  She's just "grateful" to have him back.  Idiot.

It's not poor writing, it's a poor story. With earmarks of Twilight bandwagon-jumping all over it.
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