Hey. I’m still Alive.

It’s been about eight weeks since I’ve posted last, which is way too long for me. I’m used to posting (or try to post) once a week, but life got busy. It always does. I won’t bore with you details, but I can tell you that I have been reading and watching movies and writing, and these accounted for some of my time away.

This blog is to catch up on my August and early September and let you all know what I’ve been reading.

Books:
Part of the reason for so few posts in August was because I couldn’t finish several books in a row. This rarely happens, because I’m something of a completionist, as in; even when the book is bad, I tell myself I MUST finish it to properly have a perspective on it and “bitch.” Alas, there were books in August that I couldn’t review and spent a lot of time wasting by reading 1/3 or 1/2 of it, throwing it across the room, and picking up something else. Usually my batting average is better than this. I read a lot of killer books over the summer, but right at the end, I had the great misfortune of picking a few crappy ones in a row. They are as follows:

IN ONE PERSON by John Irving
Man, did this one piss me off. Over one hundred pages in, I finally had to give up on it. It went into a scatter-brained area of transgender  and sexual identity confusion, areas I’m mature enough to handle and appriciate, but it was executed in a crappy way. It was all over the place, the narrative and plot, well, I couldn’t find one. And I pressed on thinking that maybe I had been reading too much Y.A. and my ability to digest more complex adult literature had waned, but that was not the case with this book. I don’t know what he was trying to say with it, and with so many hundreds of pages, and it being one of his shorter ones, I can confidently say I am not a John Irving fan, though everyone in the literary sphere calls him one of America’s greatest living writers. I just don’t see it. Maybe it was true three decades ago. Not now.

STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL by Rachel Simon
A huge, huge let down. By the premise, it sound like an award worthy book, but this was another one that took way to long to get going, the structure of back and forth story telling of multiple plots was strange, and the dialogue and character descriptions never felt real. Just, overall, one to be avoided. I’m particularly mad about this one since I had heard the author being interviewed on NPR, and they made it sound phenomenal. The commentator went as far to say that it was the most touching and powerful book he had ever read in his life. I found a lot of clunk and filler. Maybe there was something magic past page 90, but I’ll never know. I’ll wait for the movie.

NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS:
My book haul from two months ago clearly stated that I was hitting up three other books as well; Seraphina, Partials, and The Night Circus. I can honestly say that, while it took me a long time to read, The Night Circus was one of the best books of 2011, and in hte top 10 of books I’ve personally read in 2012. It deserves all the praise for world building and creative atmosphere it has recieved, even though the ending DID leave us all wanting more. It’s not to be missed, and just for the journey, has some of the most beautifully descripted settings I’ve ever read, and I usually hate books like that. Please, visit this world!

On another note, Partials by Dan Wells is a Y.A. sci-fi that is almost not a Y.A. book. It’s long, it mature, it deals with a lot of human issues as any sci-fi should, but its peaks and valleys and pacing was not consistent. This was a 7/10 for me, but I can see people giving it a 6 or a 9 also, just depending on what other books you’ve read before, and likely, also how old you are. There were some setting issues where I had a hard time visualizing the space the world inhabited and there was some unique dialogue involving biological and military terminology that were either true-to-life but a tad confusing nonetheless, or was made up B.S. that people who are actually in the hospitals or the army are going to be able to shake their head at. Whatever the case, if you like future dystopian, we built clones of ourselves and now their rebelling kind of stuff, (and we need to help each other or “we” and “them” are all going to die out, check this one out.

Lastly, Seraphina: nothing to report here yet since I read other books instead of this one, but I’m going to read it before the new year.

Here’s a brief list of books I read since I’ve posted last and their grades according to me. I’m not reviewing each one since I wanna move forward and get into the Fall. In the future, I’ll be more on top of things.

  • BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Sepetys (3/5) * why do we not know this history *
  • AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR by Matson (4.25/5) * sweet, and now I wanna travel *
  • THE GIVER by Lowry (3/5) * What’s the big deal? *
  • DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Dick (3.75/5) * Better than Blade Runner *
  • READY PLAYER ONE by Cline (4.5/5) * Favorite Adult Fic List for Me *
  • THIS IS NOT A TEST by Summers (2/5) * huge let down *
  • A MOSNTER CALLS by Ness (4/5) * Sad, heavy, sad, and sad *
  • EVERY DAY by Levithan (4.25/5) * Y.A. Top 10 this year *

So, I’ll be posting more in October, and rock on.

MH

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“Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo

First of all, cool author name. Beautiful cover art. Original Russian inspiration to a slightly historical fiction-feeling fantasy. Yeah, sign me up. This is a book I would love to see on the big screen, just as much as any of the Harry Potters, and I mean that. It’s a book with a map in the beginning on a double page spread. Enough said.

It starts out like other YAs, but in that third or fourth chapter, the conventions get a big twist, and happens again just after the mid-point.

It has it’s flaws and it’s weak chapters and its girly moments as any fantasy/war story does with a teenage female protagonist, but all flaws aside, the overall experience is filled with original yet familiar world-building and high levels of conflict. While other novels have “world-built” better or deeper, and yes, I would have like a little more from the book in that respect, the majority of the creatures, characters, and environments were better than most, and maybe I’m being too critical. I really, really, liked it, but I did want to know more about the class distinctions and Grisha powers. The culture’s details were never overkill going on and on, and it was never underdone either. I guess it found a happy-medium.

There was just enough Russian insipred diction and dress and decor in “Shadow and Bone” to keep me invested and curious about this place called “Ravka”, however some people may find it thin in some of its details. Considering this is the beginning of a YA trilogy though, and this novel truly set off Bardugo’s career on the right foot, I am eagerly anticpating the next novel. It should expand on what has already been set-up, and if it does, this is going to be a best-selling series.

The wait may be a while though, since Shadow and Bone was released very recently.

If you enjoy original plot twists, stakes which continue to climb and climb, total fear at the three-quarter mark when it seems all hope is lost, splashed with magical beasts, light court intrigue, and some coming-of-age romance (the weakest part of the novel), then this excellent first installement of “The Grisha Trilogy” is for you.

Some writing was weak and you might skim a few pages here and there, but over all, this 4/5 book gets a 4.5/5 from me just because the ending was exciting and seemed terrifyingly hopeless and I really got sucked in. That was well-executed, and Miss Bardugo knows how to write conflict. This has “make me a film” written all over it.

For fans of The Wizard of Oz, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Graceling, and Grave Mercy. (If you haven’t read Graceling, and you’re a girl, read it now.)

4.5/5

MH

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7/14/12 – Book Haul Update

Just a brief reminder, as much for myself as for you, about the books I’d like to read over the next 6 weeks before summer — sigh — ends.

  1. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  2. Partials by Dan Wells
  3. Seriphina by Rachel Hartman
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
  6. In One Person by John Irving

Check ’em out before I do.

MH

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“Insurgent” by Veronica Roth: a reaction to the novel

This is not a traditional review. It’s a reaction. And I’m doing this because I don’t feel like writing today, plus this is a second novel in a series by Veronica Roth, and I don’t want to waste your time if you’re not interested in the series. If you are curious though, please read my first blog review about the first novel HERE to decide if it’s worth your time.

The truth is, with every author writing a trilogy or worse, it’s hard to get genuinely excited for a series anymore. A lot of these author in Young Adult take a premise that could be a book or two at best and make them between three and seven obnoxious, money grabbing books. If you read my blogs from the past few months, you’ll know I complain about this regularly.

That said: I can honestly say the “Divergent” series is deserving of the buzz and should be THE NEXT BIG THING. A movie will come, and when the third book is out, this will hit the roof, just like Mockingjay did for Collins’ and her less than impressive “Hunger Games” Series.

Divergent is better. I’m sticking to it.

Which brings me to the reaction to “Insurgent” which came out in MAY 2012:

This was the best sequel to a “book one” I’ve ever read in Y.A.

It had the impact of Harry Potter while being Sci-Fi. It carries weight and angst and romance and violence. Veronica Roth continued to write a fast-paced story here, and, yes, it’s not perfect writing and can sometimes go on a bit, but nowhere near the extent of other Y.A. authors. You read Veronica Roth’s work because it’s so visual and has a lot of energy. It’s the series I would equate most to “reading a movie.” This is not poetic or artsy writing, in fact it is very utilitarian in its use, but you can’t turn the pages fast enough.

You read because the plot and story rules. She works with her strengths well. She does what she does damned good.

So I give it a 4/5, just like the first installment. These are not really sepearate books, but a three part, very long story. “Insurgent” picked up exactly where “Divergent” left off, which will be jumbling to someone who hasn’t read the first book in ten months, but it’s nothing a brief wiki visit can’t fix. Overall, this continued the adventure at the same calibur as the first one, which isn’t always the case for sequel movies and books. God knows there’s a lot of shit out there. But if you liked Divergent or if my PREVIOUS REVIEW entices you, go NOW to your library.

And the Ending, the last chapter, no, the last page, is a Holy Crap Moment. Enjoy that.

I’m sad there’s only one book left.

The stakes are raised, people die, and this plot runs deeper than affecting just five factions.

I’ve said too much already. Go. Go!

4/5

MH

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“Blankets” by Craig Thompson: an illustrated novel review

“Blankets” by Craig Thompson is a unique and mature graphic novel which was never a collection of comic issues, but a decidedly heavy and intentional one-shot novel told through pictures and text. A hefty 400+ page black-and-white journey with dark issues that are anything but black-and-white, this tale is ambiguous enough that many may not know how to feel about it, and some may not even like it — but if you consider yourself a lover of well-executed visual art or if you are a graphic novel aficionado, read this right away.

This title is so close to a 5 but the end was a bit to ambiguous for me. The meat of Thompson’s story, however, is truly a novel; a well-written one, that happened to be illustrated, and deserves respect.

This is an adult book for 17 and up, and here are a few reasons:

Implied molestation, child abuse, child negligence, scenes showing the difficulties of mental retardation and family life, drug use, violence, harsh language, nudity, frontal male gentials and topless females, and scenes discussing, inferring, and almost showing the act of masturbation.

So yeah. Adult stuff.

I would love to ask Craig why he felt he had to tell THIS story in THIS style, (why not just a real novel), but that question is kind of answered in the text. This is a story about finding our purpose in life; making decisions to live for others or ourselves or God. It also touches on how many of us felt growing up: awkward and wishing for acceptance and love. Some of us still feel that.

It’s a story loaded, and I mean freakin’; loaded with Christian guilt and hypocracies, showing how bad organized religion can be for a particular youth. And he backs up the claim of why he lost his faith in this novel. You’ll see. Oh, you’ll see literally. Or is it “graphically”?

Top 20 Most important graphic/illustrated novels of all time, I’d guess.

4/5

MH

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“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne: a book review

Simply put, this is one of those fablelike books that come around once a lifetime, filled with messages about humanity that serve as entertaining lessons for children, teens, adults, and the elderly. This is just good writing — just a book, not meant for any sub-genre category.

In this brief book, about 210 pages, big font and margins, you can fully absorb yourself in one day into a Holocaust story told in a way that is as unique as the title. Without ever saying “Holocaust” or “Auschwitz” and leaving out painful slangs and hyper-violence and sex, this still hits hard and will stir you deep. Through our collective culture’s global understanding and our personal interpretations of what happened in Poland and Germany in WWII, we’ve all been given a lifetime of details from our movies we’ve watched and our lessons from school and the stories we’ve heard from the elderly.

With this personal information we all carry, and our own relationship to it, the author shows us something fresh; he shows us this time in human history through the eyes of a naive nine-year old son of a Commandant who lives just outside of a “camp” and makes friends with a Jewish boy on the other side of the fence. Third-person, but mostly from Bruno’s perspective, we watch a German boy’s desire to be around others and find happiness through very specific cultural “lenses.” German lenses. Heavy stuff and easy to empathize to nearly all the characters.

(The movie adaptation was great, but I still recommend reading the book first.)

Staggeringly simple, short, and tightly written, this novel is equally harsh, inventive, artistic and important — while most importantly, being accessible to any age.

Worth owning and a Must-Read. One of the great “Holocaust” tales, just as important (if not more so) for kids to read than “Diary of Anne Frank.”

5/5

MH

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“Dubliners” by James Joyce: a book review

I enjoyed this more now in my mid-twenties than I would have in high school, but slice-of-life naturalism in general suffers from lack of dramatic tension. It’s like, “peek-a-boo, my country this, sad hopelessness that,” and then the book is over.

Yeah, some of this is pretty writing. A lot is not. He was 22 when he wrote this.

I have no doubt that these pieces were revelatory a century ago, specifically to the Irish, but today the aspects of human nature which Joyce wanted to illuminate are well explored in popular media. We’ve had decades to dissect our lives, our wants, our needs, our faults; and the things that make us different, strong, and weak; TV, songs, writing, tales of war, science, societial constructs, and other, frankly, more accessible writings.

Your average, contemporary reader – in any country – will find this work taxing to read and self-serving. This is not fun, Sunday morning light reading. In fact, I bet if you were not made to reade Joyce in high school or college, MOST young adults or adults for that matter would never touch this stuff.

You can respect Joyce, but, and forgive me for saying this, you’re an asshole if you love his work. If you really enjoy it and own it all and think few things are better. Ha. Joyce was in love with his self at a young age, and the pretension shows through everything he ever wrote. Get over his writing, get over yourself.

“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is the only other piece I will ever attempt by Joyce. I’ve read it is the second most easily digestible next to “Dubliners.” Avoid “Finnegan’s Wake” and “Ulysses” like the plague. Long, obnoxious, literary tomes of garbage, gargantuan experiements tinged with a pleasure for the scent of one’s own shit.

My, my, my, look how I can write – some of his work seems to exude.

How good can something be when many only happen to read it during their seventh year Master’s in English Theory and half the class still doesn’t enjoy it? With writing for such a niche of scholars and used as such a pillar of 20th Century study, how and why could the majority of readers appreciate and read such work? Don’t all authors want the largest group possible to reflect and consume their work? Am I crazy here?

Dubliners is what I would recommend to a “first-timer”: nowhere near the self-indulgence of other work, i.e. “Ulysses.” Ugh.

Pioneering a style and setting the precedent only gets you so much praise from me – the rest of your writing as to be, I don’t know, good.

2.5/5

MH

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“We Need To Talk About Kevin”: a film review

This movie is scary and unforgettable. Top 10 of 2011. A rare instance where the film is more haunting and affecting than the novel (by Lionel Shriver).

Gripping, heavy, sad, anxious, horrifying film. Incredibly well-planned and executed. Not entertaining to watch — psychologically brutal involving a f***ed up kid and a school shooting — but a prodigy of making film into true, devestating art. The pacing, the soundtrack, the flashback tool, the imagery and metaphors, the layers slowly peeled away, what is shown and what is not shown. Amazing.

Again, I’m not saying I liked this film’s content, and will probably never watch it again, but it does what film does very, very well, and it will be with me for a long, long time. I hated the first few minutes, then understood something about it, and was trapped in the film for almost two hours. You could talk about this film or book with a friend or a group for hours.

I can say no more. If you want a deeply unsettling story with masterfully crafted writing and photography and flow, watch this now. You’ve never seen anything like this: a family and social drama that is almost part of the horror genre.

Freaking Disturbing.

9.5/10

MH

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“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore: a YA book reaction and rant

My grade breakdown within the book, according to its own segmented “Parts”:

  • Part I: 10/10
  • Part II: 5/10
  • Part III: 7/10

 

Spolier rant and reaction:

Very little conflict in this book. More character and “world” driven. Great language and world and characters, even the plot was good, but very fatty in the middle. Would have liked a better “End of Leck” which was a cop-out scene and a death that happened to quickly, and still can’t believe Katsa’s Uncle didn’t chase her down or make more of a fuss when she left.

Don’t listen to the hype. This is a good book, nothing more. Why people gush over this?….. I’m in the minority, but with good reason.

I really wanna give a 4, but…. no.

She did keep me reading though, but I constantly wanted…. more.

I can’t give it a solid 4 from writing ability alone. And the writing rocks. It’s issues with story building and entertainment execution. The copy editor’s disappearance and the lack trimming left something to be desired, and the story’s 3/4 mark was just weak. Needed core rewrites, 50 pages shorter, too. You’ll enjoy it more if you’re a teen girl who hasn’t read a ton of fantasy, but I’m a bearded man and have read a lot, and other work is just better in this genre right now. This gets third place after two or three other books at least (i.e. “Grave Mercy”, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”, etc.) She’s an excellent writer though, and maybe Bitterblue is better (the sequel book).

Worth reading, so, yeah, I recommend it, but after you finish part one, which is flawless, take a break and imagine what a great book it could have evolved into. Imagine what you might read next. Salivate like I did for scenes and situations that may never come, cuz some don’t. Then continue reading the novel and be slightly dissapointed.

3.5/5
MH

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“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman: a book review (and a personal introspection)

“…Dying is easy. Living is hard.”

This is one of the best books I will ever read in YA. Read it in a day, by yourself, and then let this one simmer. Girl gets in horrific car accident in chapter one, most of family dies, she has an out of body experience following her body and loved ones around the hospital, and using a potent flashback device we relive with Mia the years leading up to this point.

Her choice is this: leave this world, or stay?

Wow.

It’s not with out minor faults, but when you read it cover to cover, you’ll understand the high rating. Forget the cover art, forget the stupid “Twilight” quote from USA today for marketing purposes… just read.

A heavy tale that exemplifies great modern meta-fiction done right to connect with its target audience. “If I Stay” (released in 2009) houses references to rock-and-roll magazines, CBGBs in NYC, a plethora of 70s and 80s figure heads like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, and punk rock bands like Weezer, Nirvana, and the Ramones, Batman, television shows, celebrities, movie references, and Harry Potter, The Great Gatsby, and Lord of the Flies. But ultimately, it’s about family, love, and why you should live your crazy life.

Yes, making too many modern pop-culture references in your story can often promise the novel will age poorly or just always hearken back to the time period in which it was written in, but when dealing with the Young Adult genre, it’s wise when doing realistic and dramatic teen fiction to put the characters firmly in the here-and-now; to force the reader to reflect and empathize with the characters in the novel who seem to be inhabiting their own familiar world. Yes, as the years pass, tales using this ploy may not be as affective or relatable for future generations, but in the case of “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman, not only is it crucial, but it’s done masterfully and balanced and graceful. It’s a book for today’s cultural environment and youth and makes no excuses or apologies for it. It’s done well.

Another book will be written by another author years from now for the next generation. This one is for the kids born roughly between 1980-2000. Awesome, awesome message of hope and love that never, ever feels forced. Gayle, fucking bravo, girl!

On the down side (and there is very little to criticize about this book): three issues. One: The early description of the car wreck and the graphic details are a bit much and not necessary. Two: the elitist, scene hipster character, Brooke Vega, though not in the story for long, was an unrealistic personification of the punk landscape, thrown in specifically for humor and stood as a cheap, lazy construction of a very dead part of early seventies era glam-punk. Young teens in Portland, Oregon would never have and don’t have rock gods like this anymore. The descriptions and the dialogue this character spouted pulled me out of the story and rang untrue.

Which leads us to the final complaint: in a story that is so short, there may be too much “insider-type” referential material, two or three too many call-back and shout-outs to obscure sub-cultures which most 15-23 year olds would never know about in any way, shape, or form unless they harbor very curious niche tastes or their parents were born in the seventies, grew up in the eighties, and pummeled their kids in the nineties with tons of rock trivia. I know about it because I’m a punk rock junkie, but not everyone might. I’m turning 27 soon, and I listen to punk from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s; I pride myself on being the person in my group of friends who knows everything about punk rock’s evolution. I even own some of the better documentaries on DVD on the subject, okay? Me. Dork.

Part of this story was very cathartic for me on a personal level. Yeah, I’m gonna get personal on you now. The dad of Mia and his story closely mirrors my own. The parents are in their thirties, and that’s where I’m headed in less than five years, and the dad’s whole back story (the localized popularity while never getting big famous, releasing the CDs, doing the summer tours, then giving up, putting on a tie, and getting a real job) is exactly what I am. Even down to the eerie detail of how the dad’s bands were somehow popular in Japan and fans offered up their houses if they would fly from America to play in Japan. This happened to my band “Flash Grenade” except with fans in London and, strangely, Australia. I honestly thought Gayle Forman read my diary.

 

circa 2006

circa 2007

circa 2006 again

To make it doubly freaky, I too have considered becoming a teacher since my wife and I are talking about having kids in a few years. Then Gramps says how Mia’s father wrote lyrics like poems and he thought he’d be a writer someday. I have a book on Amazon. I wrote lyrics for my band like short stories. Mind-fudged… that’s what I got. Never has a book done this to me. Page 152-160 shook my soul.

circa 2009

It was tricky to read some of these parts. I’m a push-over to begin with: I’m a hopeless romantic, I don’t shy away from sad thoughts or introspection, so when I saw what I could be in a few years, I was struck with a volley of contrasting and opposing ideas, stirring up long buried philosophies about my life and my choices. I still secretly breathe the punk scene. It made me think: would it be sadder to leave those hard decisions of “moving on” in the past, or is it sadder for a librarian and shoe salesman to reattempt slam dunks when he hasn’t touched a court for years?

From 2004-2010, during the reign of Flash Grenade, (yes, on iTunes) I was sure music would be my life, and then, suddenly, it couldn’t be and wasn’t for several reasons. We made thousands of dollars and hundreds of memories in a few short years. Now it’s over. One day, I was going to open for Green Day, right? Of course I was. Just a matter of time, right?

In the end, I guess I’m saying this book hit home on a personal note and made it really real for me – I could honestly relate to at least half the characters and empathize with them.

And then I continued to the final fifty pages of this novel and was blown away by how powerful and honest it was. This book is surely one of the best in recent years. Period.

This YA book for older teens (15+ I’d guess) is not even 200 pages long but pack a punch, keeps those pages turning, and has some wonderfully fleshed out and dimensional characters—further proof that size and page-count of the book isn’t everything when crafting excellent fiction. It’s haunting; it’s true to life, honest about punks and alternative culture (for the most part) and portrays self-doubt and first loves realistically.

The ending of this book is incredible. Must-Read, not just for girls, but for all. I will be reading the sequel, Where She Went (last year’s goodreads.com winner for best YA novel).

5/5
MH

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