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“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien: a book review

What really hit me about this book is it’s readability. They’re short stories, kind of, it’s literature, definitely, but you don’t have to go to college or be a snob to love this book.

While meticulously crafted, O’Brien’s storytelling prowess and very personal style never comes off as pretentious or glory seeking or overly “warish” like other war books can be, and the vignette style of presentation, blending truth with fiction, is presented in a very specfic order of set-ups and pay-offs. This is a book of absolute truth and honestly while not everything in the book was actually non-fiction. As Tim O’Brien will tell you directly in the book: this is because the “what happened” and “what it felt like” are two differnt things, and he wanted to covey the real emotions and hauntings and regrets and joys he had experienced while in Vietnam.

Some of these stories, half in fact, take place before he ever went to Vietnam or after he came back, adding to the dimensionality of it all. By not focusing hundreds of pages on a few months in another world, he shows the reader years and years of his life and how everything affected each other. His elementary school girlfriend, the day he was drafted, then later, his conversations with his daughter twenty years later.

Much more powerful than a few months of stories in paddies like other authors, not to detract from their service, just their writing.

I found it to be a total success — something staggaringly original in style and design and craft, while somehow being easily digestible literature of the highest regard. This is a book any one can and should read, because it’s not just about a single war; but about choices, ghosts, and simply humanity. I was awestuck by this book, and while the first three-quarters of the book hit me harder than the last quarter, I will not give “The Things They Carried” a 4.5.

It is a 5/5, and if you want to be moved and know what your mind does in a foreign country during war, and not just when the guns are going off, prepare to be deeply affected and entrenched in cleverly written stories that move and flow and blossom.




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“Legend” by Marie Lu: a book review

Realistic, Urban/Dystopian readers will enjoy this, but not as much as “Divergent” (4/5) or “The Hunger Games” (4/5).

While “Legend” is shorter than both, and more unique, it’s glaring flaws including forced loved sub-plot, 15-year olds who should be 18 or older because they act like it, and contrived “sleuthing” scene knock it down a point (3/5). It is good. Many will enjoy it, but not love it. I really, really, really wanna give it a 4/5, but that’s the entertainment value for the sap I am; writing and overall comparison to what else I’ve read is something different.

Luckily, it was a book that knew how long it was supposed to be. It could have easily been 75 extra pages by some other idiot novelist, so:  for trimming it down properly and having a second act that never sagged, I gave it a 3.5/5. Great action writing, cold murder scenes, biochemical warfare on civilians, and a mid-point and segue into the second half of the book that made you go “aw ,s***, I gotta see how this ends now.”

The sequel book due out late 2012 or early 2013 (?) she is currently writing will either hurt the series or lift it up. Reason: Will we actually get to see whats going on with the rest of the world or the country unlike so many other dystopians that only focus on one “area” or “city” and never expand to bigger philosophical or political ideas? Don’t they think we could handle it. Flesh it out! Dig deep! Give us an epic tale about our country that chills us to the bone! Not some half-baked trilogy to capitalize on the current market, your first time novelist hacks!

But, hey, I can’t read a bunch of gold ever time I pick up a book. Not gonna happen. And this grade is not bad. It’s better than average, one of the top 20 I’d say from last year in YA, but not quiet award worthy or one of my favorites. The movie would be sick and give The Hunger Games a run for it’s money. Yeah, it moves like that. People you love die, and there is something poetic and Shakepearian about the whole story. Marie Lu even admitted she was inspired by “Les Miserables” when writing. Go figure.

Her sequel, “Prodigy”, I can already tell you, is going to get a 3 or a 4.5 from me. There’s a TON of potential with this series. For more info: http://www.marielu.org/books.html

Go, Lu!



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“Daughter of Smoke & Bone” by Laini Taylor: a book review

click for synopsis on amazon.com


Just wow.

A breath-takingly beautiful ride of lyrical prose, this book is the definition of romantic-fantasy without being too much of either. It is on Entertainment Weekly’s “Must Read List” 2011, and an Amazon.com and GoodReads.com favorite on several “Top Lists”. This transcends simply “Young Adult” Literature, and sets the bar high for other modern day fantasies. Period.

I thought the cover was a joke and the title was cliche, but I’m very glad I took a friend’s advice and gave it the benefit of the doubt. I dove right in, eagerly and wholly. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

I literally cannot go on and ruin this for potential readers, but trust me, if you’re a girl and you like modern-day fantasy with non-cliche devils, monsters, and angels, read this. With a splash of humor and superb descriptions, somehow, this book makes it all real. I never go for this kind of story, but this had me hook, line, and sinker.

The sequel is due out in November, “The Days of Blood and Starlight.”

Again: 4.25/5


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Personal Update: 4/17/12

So, hey kids! LOL

I don’t do many of these personal updates, but in the past few months I’ve received a few more “followers”, a steady amount of hits everyday, and I just wanted to say “Hi” and thank you for your interest.

I guess it is paying off to write about different forms of media and genre-types, because unless a blogger is really specialized in an area of expertise, I don’t like blogs that only do “classic books” or “action films” or “pop music.”

I find blogs to be a great way to share something very personal about your interests and thoughts with strangers, and it’s really fun and liberating for me. By posting such different things, I never know how things are going to be interpreted and I love the dialogue that somehow starts from a very little blurb, springing into a conversation between two or more people in a comment thread which get everyone thinking differently. I love that.

So I just wanted to say that I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing, and I wanted to give you guys a little bit of info about who I am and what I’m getting into in the next few months.


I’m now 26. Former band manager and frontman for a pop/punk/rock group (2004-2010). So, after a decade of food service, retail, music stores, and Blockbuster jobs, I was 25 years old last May when I finally graduated college after 7 long years of school. No, I’m not a doctor — just unsure of what I wanted, mixed with an incompetent registration procedure for classes, adding forever “another semester” while touring the East Coast and recording albums. With a chip on my shoulder, I graduated with a Film and Media Studies degree with a focus in screenwriting. I’m now a full-time employee in a Maryland County Library System, doing book discussions, film discussions, and pretty much having fun all the time and getting paid the most I’ve ever been paid thanks to my degree. Swish. 3 points.


Which naturally brings us to books. I recommend that you take a look at my “Books To Read Next” tab on the top of the page and give a look to upcoming books I will be starting soon or have already started. Being part of the library system, I get a lot of free books with no due dates. Comment in that area if you have book recommendations of your own. I read YA, mostly literary fiction (classic and contemporary), adventure, some sci-fi, and historical 19th and 20th Century fiction. Every now and then, I dabble in Biographies or radical Non-Fiction, like Blink by Gladwell, Bill Bryson yarns, and Christopher Plummer, Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and/or Michael Caine Bios. They gotta be old, and have a lot to say. I don’t care about some 35-year old’s memoir. What the f*** have they seen? Not much yet. LOL


I will be blogging about this particular topic soon because; (a) I’ve been focusing mostly on books of late; and (b) this summer 2012 is sizing up to be one of the best summers for a films in about 5-years. There is something of quality for everyone this summer! Like, really good.


So I wrote a novel. Time to plug my own work. I’ve been writing screenplays for four years now, and fiction, both short and long, for about two years. All of my work has been sent out to various publishing magazines and agents in their respective fields. I’ve only just started doing this heavily in 2012. No bites yet of course, and I don’t expect their to be anytime very soon. I’ve read enough books on the business and craft of writing to know that you need tough skin to ride out to get the good waves. Don’t forget: JK Rowling was denied over 7 or 8 times for over a year before anyone gave her little Harry Potter book a second glance. Look at her now. You gotta have tough skin and always strive to be better and learn. That goes for a lot in life, in fact.

So please, give my books a look. I have a novella When the Dark Sun Shines (the first), a collection of short stories and poems Small Doors to Big Spaces (the second and most versatile), and now , the strongest, my first full-length novel The Ghost of Casablanca (the third).

You can find them all for purchase or read their synopses by browsing this site: http://www.wix.com/matthewhughston/book

Or you can search “Matthew Hughston” on Amazon.com. The novel “The Ghost of Casablanca “is out May 1st, 2012 and may not pop up yet when you search for it there. You can get it through the link above though.

It’s quality stuff, and if you don’t believe, comment in the box below and I’ll send you the first three chapters of the novel or a duo of short stories for your consideration.

Just a nice guy, I is, eh? LOL


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“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs: a novel review

This “young adult” oriented fairy tale is beautifully written and can be read by any aged reader. Don’t let the cover fool you: it’s not a horror and it’s not terrifying or sick and twisted. A relatively clean “PG-13” style fantasy and adventure, it is centered on a 16-year-old boy but both males and females will probably enjoy it. Fans of Harry Potter and X-Men will take pleasure in this coming-of-age mystery, unfolding into a bit of the supernatural (including some time travel).

The inclusion of eerie, vintage photos added a surreal atmosphere to the book. Some may find this gimmicky, but I found it original and refreshing. You can’t please everyone.  Also, the “Mystery” portion of Jakob’s adventure as he tries to put the puzzle pieces left by his grandfather really worked well. There was a great sense of strangeness, and the tension built up fairly steadily.

The author Ransom Riggs has a gift and definitely can write a great fairy tale. He writes very descriptively, adds depth to his environments, and builds three dimensional characters. I love his sentences—often poetically quotable passages that the bookworm in you want to share with someone! “Listen to this! Great, huh?”

Critically, I can say that some information comes a little late in the story: for example—and I’m not spoiling anything here—the big reveal where Miss Peregrine discusses just what the heck happened on the island and what those creatures are that want them dead. It all comes about 50 pages too late for me.

The most beautifully written sections can be found in the romantically haunting descriptions of Miss Peregrine’s House in Chapter Five near the beginning. This was the chapter that hooked me.

Until the end, it’s not a very action packed tale—there are not many obstacles for Jakob to overcome, other than random snooping and intellectual conversations. However, the plot devices all set-up and pay off well, where many little things included early on (for little or no reason) come around in neat and surprisingly satisfying ways.

The biggest issue with the book is there are only ten chapters in this densely margined 340+ page book, making some of the chapters over 70 pages! I was begging for a good place to take a breath, no matter how good the plot. Some sections drag, there’s no way around it, but they are few in number in my opinion. The remedy is simple: break up the chapters in logical places—which exist—so the book is a cozy but still dense 15-20 chapters.

Near the end, as a “stand alone” piece, I think I would give it 3.5 Stars. I didn’t like that some characters were being developed so late which we were all of the sudden supposed to care about. But with 75 pages to go in the book, I realized this was not going to be a solitary book, but the first installment of some series. My frustrations were mildly alleviated. Because this is the first part of what could be an amazingly original trilogy over the next few years and whose sequels could outshine the original “Miss Peregrine’s”, I’ve given it a higher star rating for personal anticipation and excitement.

There is enough here to make the next book better, without question.

This is not a “Must Read”, but after you finish those two other books you’ve been meaning to read, this is a great first attempt at a novel by Ransom Riggs.


(p.s. the first thing I thought when I was half-way done this book was “Time Burton could do this.” Well, he is. Watch out on the blogosphere and imdb.com for more info.)


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Kazuo Ishiguro: a Review of “Nocturnes” and Other Work

Overall: 3/5

Here are five uninspired stories very loosely connected via music. In each a young, unsophisticated and unmarried man who either plays music or enjoys music, becomes either involved with an older couple or an older woman and thus observes the vicissitudes of marriage. It’s a slightly jaded book by an aging author who is losing that “zang.” After the third story my interest waned significantly. The title story, “Nocturne”, about two plastic surgery patients recuperating on a secluded floor in a fancy hotel I found to be totally vacuous. It’s long and it is not needed. Endless dialogue. Ishiguro likely wrote this peice first, and realizing it’s lack of “novel potential” built four other stories around it. I promise you that’s what happened.

An outstanding novelist does not a great short story writer make.

This should be a “2.5” because the stories are of such flawed, annoying characters who never self-affirm their lives, but the fact is that the writing is clear and extradordinary and all have to do with how people place music in their lives. The first story says a lot about love and ambition, arguably the strongest story here. The beginning of “Malvern Hills” also struck a chord within me (pun intended) as I agree with the opening sentiments of the young singer-songwriter trying to make it around other egotistical musicians. Been there, my friend, been there. But why all the relationship fluff and marriage issues? Wasn’t a big opportunity missed here to really show how lots of different music affects lots of different people? Where’s the variety?

There’s a unity in “Nocturnes”, but the them are only so-so, layed out through beautiful writing — as always. If you happen to be in a library and want to read award-winning writing, sit down for twenty minutes and read either “Crooner” or “Malvern Hills” in this short story collection by Kazuo Ishiguro. If you’d like to read something amazing by him though, read “The Remains of the Day” or “Never Let me Go”, both (4/5) at least. As a side note, I recently finished his first novel, the very short “A Pale View of Hills”, and while atmoshperic and haunting, it raises way too many questions and is his weakest work. (2/5).

F.Y.I. — I’ve read “Never Let Me Go” twice and I’ve seen the movie adaptation with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.  It’s well done, (4/5), but not as fulfilling as the book. If you’re not a big reader, check out the movie first and I hope it fires up your interest!

I’m beginning to read another Ishiguro novel right now, “When We Were Orphans“. More on that, I’m sure, later.


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