Monthly Archives: November 2011

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I was able to get my hands on an advance reader’s edition of Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and I read it in a few days. The premise was good: dystopian world, teenage girl with the Rogue-like ability to kill with her touch, hot guy, bad guy, new tyrannical form of government, lots of action. So why did I hate it?

*takes deep breath*

First off, it was compared to The Hunger Games because of its suspense and action. Pahah, yeah right. That’s like The Wizards of Waverly Place claiming to be better than Harry Potter. Or an American Idol hopeful claiming to be the next Whitney, Britney, or Mariah. 

Not likely.

Secondly, we already have Rogue from X-Men, and I’m not sure how Mafi got around pretty much plagiarizing the whole idea of the main character, Juliette, having the exact same super powers. The exact same super powers. I mean, yes, it’s an awesome concept, but it’s been done. At least expound upon it or change it in some way–kill with a kiss, can only non-lethally touch members of her own sex, withers plants and food–SOMETHING.

But the language, oh the language. That’s what absolutely destroyed it for me. It was the most overly-done, laughablely dramatic inner monologue that I have literally ever read. Some of the sentences were actually painful, they were so bad. Cringe-worthy is the only way to describe it. I don’t know what Mafi’s editor was thinking, but creating meaningful metaphors and similes clearly slipped their mind. Here’s a gem. She talking about a teenage mother at the grocery store:

“Her legs were standing crossed at the ankles, her child was on a leash she thought he thought was a backpack. She thought he was too dumb/too young/too immature to understand that the rope tying him to her wrist was a device designed to trap him in her uninterested circle of self-sympathy. She’s too young to have a kid, to have these responsibilities, to be buried by a child who has needs that don’t accomodate her own. Her life is so incredibly unbearable so immensely multifaceted too glamorous for the leashed legacy of her loins to understand.

Did you catch that last sentence? The leashed legacy of her loins. It just makes me shudder every time. This is an example of trying way way way too hard at it’s finest. It’s a kid on a leash for crissakes. And no, that’s not a typo. There are about a hundred commas missing from that paragraph. It kills me a little inside, it really does.

And that’s not all. Painfully over-extended sentences like this spatter every single page like gravel in a scraped knee. Murdering minutes = spending time. Breaking knee caps = feeling weak. Deep blue pools I’m drowning in = eyes. Every fist in the world has decided to punch me in the stomach = I am upset. My heart is an exploding water balloon in my chest = my heart is racing.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

I was literally just flipped through random pages to find those.

The first half is excruciating, and the second half is bearable. Bearable, not great. Not good. Bearable. And it clearly leaves an opening for sequel, which I will be glad to pass on.

If only this book sucked the life out of me while I was reading it, I would have been spared the unendurable agony of 340 pages of my time wasted.

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The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

So kiddies, I finally knocked out the last of Alice Sebold’s books, The Almost Moon. First she brought us The Lovely Bones, then Lucky, and now this. I’m kind of sensing a theme here…

The Lovely Bones was about a little girl’s abduction/rape and then subsequent death–told from the perspective of her watching her family from heaven. Lucky was Sebold’s personal memoir about her own rape experience. And now, The Almost Moon was about a woman finally killed her deranged, elderly mother after hating (loving) her for years. Phew… Pretty intense.

I like Sebold for her daring. She’s willing to go where not a lot of authors are. She talks about the rape of a child, her own rape, and the killing of an intimate with a clear and honest voice. I like that a female author is not afraid of touching on such taboo topics. I enjoy being shocked.

That being said, The Almost Moon left me wanting. Big time. I LOVED The Lovely Bones when I read it several years ago because when Sebold is in her full swing there’s no stopping her. She has a way with language that can be quite poetic at times, and she notices the little things about the world that no one else would think to mention. However, in this particular novel, the plot moved rather slowly because all of the good action happened almost immediately. This is great to get the reader hooked, but you have to keep them coming back for more. It took me about a week to read this, which is a long time for me. The main character Helen was not very warm, and even though we lived inside her head within the pages of this book, I never felt as if I really got to know her–or understand her motives.

If you are willing to suffocate your insane mother, your own marbles need to be accounted for. I get it. But at the same time, rather than being interested in Helen’s (extremely freaking) dysfunctional family– I was repulsed by it. And every step she took farther down the rabbit hole of killing her mother (and disposing of the body) I just kept screaming NO NO NO at her in my head. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Criminology major, and I’ve grown up on a steady diet of Cold Case Files and 48 Hours and I’m biased about the whole thing–but damn, this woman was dumb! I know it wasn’t premeditated, but she pretty much incriminated herself in every way possible.

The book itself was hard to read because 95% of it took place alone in Helen’s head, without much dialogue to break things up a bit. There were tons of flashbacks setting up her reason for murder and the whole story jerked back and forth each time she switched gears. I wasn’t terribly impressed.

All in all, my recommendation is that you should reach past The Almost Moon to grab The Lovely Bones, any day of the week.

2 of 5 stars

 


Mortified: Love is a Battlefield by David Nadelburg

Oh… Young romance. We all remember those days. Standing by your locker with sweaty palms, waiting for your crush (who you’re sure doesn’t know you exist) walk by. Staring at the back of their head in class and trying to work up the nerve to say something to them. Then if they looked your way or smiled at you, rushing home to feverishly write it down in your journal to remember forever and ever. Ahhh… The Age of Embarrassment. 

This feeling of adolescent romantic disaster is what David Nadelburg captures in Mortified: Love is a Battlefield. His book contains a couple dozen stories of teen love gone awry, from the extremely naive (think a crush on Leonard Nimoy–aka Spock) to the extremely awkward (white kid death metal love ballads). Yeah. It’s that kind of book.

To be honest I can’t say I really enjoyed this collection as much as I thought I would. I thought it was going to be gut-busting, pee-my-pants funny, because I know what kind of shenanigans my friends and I got into as love-struck teenagers. And how many times we (meaning I) got horribly shot down. I didn’t think it was that great.

I liked how the book utilized actual excerpts from the authors’ diaries, including drawings and handwriting, but none of the stories were that unbelievable. (I never shouted OMG! while reading, or even shook my head, so nothing was that crazy.) I would’ve liked there to have been more commentary about the entries from the adults who wrote them, because there was barely any. I was perpetually left wondering,  well what the hell happened with that? We never saw the ending of some of these events and I felt cheated for getting invested in the first place.

Also, all the author bios were at the back of the book in a short of index, and by the time I had finished reading Mortified (which took a few hours tops) I couldn’t remember who wrote what, and I didn’t care enough to flip back through and find out.

All in all, you’re better off going through your own adolescent diary if you want to feel some embarrassment by proxy. I can’t believe I did that! 

2 of 5 stars


Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff… Ahhh…. The book by Mary Roach that I picked up like 5 years ago and never finished, yet here I am today. See? Better late than never, right?

Appropriately, I started this corpse compendium right around Halloween, and let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. Roach (disgustingly appropriate, right?) discusses all the fascinating things that happen to us after we die, whether that’s simply rotting away after a nice funeral, or something a little more extreme, like being a research crash test dummy. For real. (By the way, don’t ever get embalmed… Blegh.)

She discusses science and death in a fun, light-hearted way that is refreshing to read yet factual at the same time. Somehow the woman had the stomach to visit several facilities that deal with death and dying, and never lose her lunch (or even her appetite!) She chronicles her adventures at research centers, funeral homes, crematoriums, hospitals, and at the front door of the doctor responsible for the first successful head transplant. Soooo gruesome, yet so interesting. Her experience enabled her to come in contact with many interesting people–alive and dead–and make many witty remarks along the way.

If you’re like me, I wouldn’t suggest reading this before chowing down on some ribs or anything, but Roach gives the facts without making readers too queasy. (Nothing’s really going to completely sugar-coat descriptions of surgical procedures in the 1700s, or cadavers’ heads used to practice plastic surgery, but you’re the one who wanted to read it in the first place, weirdo!) I’m sick and twisted, yet also somewhat of a baby. I don’t watch scary movies so I have to get my fix for the horrendous somewhere. And here it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, Stiff isn’t some gratuitous blood-bath talking about all the evils perpetrated against humanity, it simply lets you know what is done with corpses now and what was done with them throughout history. And let’s just say we are WAY more adept at dealing with them now…

If you are a science junkie (like me) or just have a morbid curiosity (also like me), Mary Roach’s Stiff is just the ticket. However, if you have an extreme aversion to gruesome death, are interested in flying in an airplane again, or don’t believe in human dissection, I would leave this one on the shelves.

But then again, a book with a toe tag on the cover really should’ve tipped you off, right?

4.5 of 5 stars


By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers by Peter Seigin

Let’s set the records straight: I have read many books on how to write. I love writing, but sadly the ability to plunk my ass into the chair and just do it escapes me most days.

Blame it on the ADD, baby.

Whatever.

I try to gather as much information about the craft as I can, because not only will it make me a better writer, but it’s also a handy procrastination tool. Hey, I’m reading something about writing–I must be accomplishing something! 

Unfortunately, most books on writing are EXTREMELY BORING and very technical. Enter: Peter Seigin’s By Cunning and Craft. A small orange book, it looks extremely like something Harry Potter would use to cook up something mischievous, and that’s why it caught my eye. The book’s physical style greatly compliments its content, and the content is really well written. I don’t know who Peter Seigin is, but he’s a great writer, and I’d love to stumble onto some more of his work.

Seigin uses examples from popular classic novels to demonstrate his point and help budding authors really hone in on what good writing looks like and what bad writing looks like. The way he chooses his words makes the book read intelligently (you’ll feel smart reading it) but it isn’t hard to understand or pretentious. The writing is clear, concise, and the point and its definitely one of the best guides I’ve found that covers the joy and madness that is being an author. Quotes from famous authors are also included and give a nice touch.

Recently I slogged through Writing YA Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson, and that was a difficult read towards the end. Halverson gives very necessary and practical advice, but (maybe because it was a “Dummies” book) it just didn’t have the same smooth flow as Seigin’s book did. I greatly benefited from reading both, but By Cunning and Craft was a far more bite-sized and easily swallowed hunk of information.

If you are looking to start writing, better your current writing techniques, and/or potentially get published someday, please read this book first. It will save you a lot of the time and misery that the other “craft” books will dole out, and you’ll learn something new in the process.

A win for sure.

4 of 5 stars


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

It’s no secret that I LOVE Maggie Stiefvater. (I can never spell her last name right, but I love her just the same.) I just finished the last book in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series Forever earlier this year, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her next project. I was a little hesitant when I heard it was about horses and horse racing, because, although I took lessons as a child, I’m not one of those horse people. With horses it seems, you’re either in or you’re out, and for the people that love these animals, it’s truly a way of life. 

And for the two main characters in The Scorpio Races, Kate “Puck” Connelly and Sean Kendrick, horses are their way of life. Puck has been riding since she was a girl, and now on her beloved steed Dove, she hopes to win the Scorpio Races in order to save her (dead) parent’s house and prevent her older brother from sailing to the mainland forevermore. Only one problem. Dove is a regular island pony, not one of the vicious Capaill Uisge (think Kelpie on steroids–and don’t ask me to pronounce it!) that men catch from the sea each year to enter the races astride. Basically, Puck is entering a race for carnivores while riding a delicious meal. Danger, anyone?

Enter Sean, horse person. More like, horse whisperer, really. Ironically enough, he works in the world-famous stables of the land owner/race guru who is coming to foreclose on Puck’s family home. On the back of his beautiful and terrible Capaill Uisge, Cor, he is a four-time Scorpio Race champion. But working for someone else doesn’t quite sit right with Sean, especially knowing that Cor is not his own, and could be sold or ridden by somebody else at any time. He makes a deal with his boss that if he wins the Scorpio Races, he can buy Cor and leave the treacherous, enemy-riddled farm. If not, he walks away empty-handed.

Well damn… Who do I root for now?

And if these horses are known man-eaters, who’s going to get chomped?

This book was amazingly written. Stiefvater has really hit her mark with an excellent descriptive voice and compulsively readable style. This has all the pacing and adventure violence that the Wolves of Mercy Falls series lacked, and is a great standalone novel. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve read all year. She really makes the island of Thisby come alive, to the point you can almost taste salt spray on your lips and feel the wind whipping knots in your hair. I also loved the deviation from the standard vampire/werewolf/faerie fodder that publishers have been glutting the market with lately. A book about carnivorous water horses? Yes, please!This is not what the horses in The Scorpio Races look like!

One thing, though: This is not a romance. Repeat, not a romance. If you are looking for steamy make-out scenes and tangle the sheets sessions, this is not it. Some will complain about this, and I understand why. We are so used to every male/female character pairing “hooking up” at some point during the story, that we feel cheated if we don’t get it.  Well guess what? It’s implied. 

I actually liked the deviation from declarations of undying love. The book was about these two characters struggling individually, and how they met in the middle and formed a bond, not about how badly they wanted each other. Yes, you could tell that they did, but Stiefvater purposely leaving this out only amps up the sexual tension. Plus, it’s a book for teens, for crying out loud!

Read this book and decide who’s getting it as a Christmas gift…

5 of 5 stars


Quote of the Day: Henry Van Dyke

“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”

-Henry Van Dyke