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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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“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami: a novel review

Alright! Okay! I missed something! What the hell! What. The. Hell!

What the f*** did I just waste a week of my life reading? Why couldn’t I stop? Why was I enthralled? What was lost in translation?

I loved “Norwegian Wood”. That one, five star. This?! “A Wild Sheep Chase”?

Less of a novel and more of a parable or a very long allegory. I didn’t get it. Super-weird, surrealistic overdose. Prepare for a timeless wandering where you can’t place the decade this was written in or confirm any character’s motivations. Aimless themes. Half of Murakami’s books are better than this. An incomprehensible tale of philosophy and self-actualization that only carries weight for the very curious and open-minded reader. Only they will take something away from it, and even then, everyone will argue about what it “really meant.”

Skip it, skip it, skip it.

I felt like I was stuck in a dream but couldn’t wake up. I’ve never so willingly subjected myself to crazy sh*t before. Something kept me reading, likely the philosophy and the mood/environment descriptions taking on characterizations all their own, but that’s where the praise stops. It stops HARD.

Read if you like subtle symbolism, Japanese history, alcohol, cigarettes, more cigarettes, descriptions of cooking and eating food nearly every chapter, non-sense dialogue, and a lazy, unmotivated protagonists who rarely exhibits the proper emotion: rage, confusion, or doubt given the irrational and insane things occuring in the world around him.

No amount, I mean no amount of spirituality or literary beauty can save this one. It’s full of set-ups that barely paint the character and we never see pay-offs later in the plot. There are loose ends with characters. This was barely fun to read and is frustrating as all hell. But, again, something kept me reading. I guess it was a morbid facination with the fantasy elements of this shitshow, but I guess I also just wanted to read the whole thing so I could properly critique it and tear it apart and back up my claims.

How this book can be given above a 3.5 staggers me, and all the 5 reviewers are literary elitist that want to be in some sort of “I get it” club, like since I don’t appriciate his crazy sh*t, I’m uncultured or incapable of higher thought. No matter the language this novel is in, no matter who describes their opinions and interpretations to me, I will never change my star rating for this book. It’s a book that depends entirely on the readers interpretations. Only certain things are “fact” in this brain-pounding novel, and besides the ideas or reinvention of one’s self, people can make up any reasonings and answers for this creative writing experiment and support whatever arguments they want. You cannot be right, you cannot be wrong. You can only be mind-fu*ked.

Nothing feels present day Japan or America culturally, and nothing feels like past decades of Japanese or American cultures. It’s “timeless” and odd in its own way, if those are even the right words.

You can not compare the two, but Norwegian Wood by Murakami runs literary, thematic, and emotionally-statisfying circles around “A Wild Sheep Chase.” I need a brandy like the Sheep Man.

I could not recommend this book to anybody, ever. It was “okay” only: a two star. I gave it and extra 1/2 star for rediculous originality mashing reality with bat-sh*t crazy fantasy.

Fu*k this book.

2.5/5

MH

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“Grave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers: a book review

I was SHOCKED at how good this was:

click to go to goodreads.com

It earns it’s page count and really blew me away. I don’t go for longer books (550 pages) but this earns it with virtually no “padding” B.S. chapters. Great plotting and character building. Not very much action, but that’s okay. It’s not supposed to be break-neck paced and action. It’s intriguing and mysterious and full of right-on dialogue of the times while begin readable. Much takes place in council sessions and castles and sneaking about courts and passageways.

It’s a superb alternative for new-comers to historical-fantasy who find Tolkien’s stuff too descriptive or “The Game of Thrones” too “vulgar” or just beefy with confusing language. (Not that I do, but, for example.) If you enjoy literature set in the 1400s or 1500s in France or Britain, lots of mystery, politics, a bit of magic and religion, and driven by dialogue and plot twists, read it! The romance is also the most realisticly blossoming and strong romance I’ve read in YA to date. This is for 13 and up. Really, any age would dig this! No themes or scenes make it “just for teens” (besides being with a female protagonist between the ages of 15-18, which… so what?). It feels mature and takes itself seriously.

It’s not some bubble-headed action, and with every passing of 100 pages you’re like: “sweet.” I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about this book. Jump into this now and put yourself in the hands of a great writer.

I give almost nothing 5/5 stars and don’t really read this genre to begin with. I was thoroughly impressed. The time she put into this is clear. She must be one of the best in this genre, and she crafts her stories like a true expert artist. While other titles are my “more favorites”, for what this genre is — for what the book is — just, WOW.

5/5

MH

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“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut: a novel review

Taking a break from YA titles and doing a classic.

Look this is not a bad book. It’s good. It’s better than good. Maybe. But it’s over-rated.

I really like what this book was about but not enough to call it one of his best. I think another title of Vonnegut’s should be in the Modern Library’s top 100 Best English-language novels. Some great lines are in here, and I see the satire, but it wasn’t darkly funny enough to make me laugh out loud, nor do I understand the 5-star, glowing praise for what is mainly a metafiction of post-modern fatalism.

Maybe I’ve read too many other books which have since done it better or grabbed my attention harder. Maybe I grew out of my 20-year old self who would have enjoyed this more. I’m 26 now.

Meh.

Many have told me, before I read it, that it’s a book you either love or hate. I respectfully disagree. I understand and respect this book for what it is, so rather than jumping to a 2 or a 4 star like everyone I know, this gets a 3.

Yes, I did “get it.” That doesn’t mean I’m going to be pretentious and pretend I’m “super deep” and read Ulysses by Joyce for a bit of Sunday afternoon scholarly light reading. I just don’t like that crap. Doesn’t mean I’m not smart as shit and capable of reading big books or old books or complex books. Some stories, hey, I just don’t like. Simply put, believe it or not, things change over the decades, including how we read and what a given generation wants to read about or how. Imagine that. Some of you should pull your head out of your ass now. “Timeless” writing is relative. Oh, and an opinion most of the time. Rarely are people going to agree on the importance of the voice of, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. All kinds of people, educated and otherwise, love to have opinions about dated work like this. We just like to yack on and on about it. I don’t know why. Look at me. I’m doing it now!
Thematically, “Slaughterhouse-Five” is great work, it’s sharp — but for being such a short book, it was a slog at times. I really wish I could give the book 4+ stars like Vonnegut deserves, but this isn’t a review for Vonnegut’s body of work and his over-arching legacy/impact: it is but a review for Slaughterhouse-Five.
Only read this one after you read Welcome to the Monkey House (the short story collection), Cat’s Cradle: a novel, or “A Man Without A Country” (his memoir). These are great introductions/primers to him, I think. All of these are more steadily entertaining, not that SH-5 was completely dry. There are great moments here, clever ideas and sharp set-ups and narrative design; but I honestly fear how it will age.

Vonnegut will never die, but something else by him in the coming decades might replace “Slaughterhouse-Five” as the “quintessential” must-read by this author. Other stuff is just as funny or cynical or satrical or political. Just browse around on amazon.com for his stuff and you’ll get a good medley. Read some reviews, watch some youtube interviews, and wiki some info for yourself. There is a Vonnegut book for almost everyone (stereotypically and historically, mostly for dudes; I don’t know why, but I have a hard time finding girls who dig this guy).


I’m in the minority, I know. Still, SH-5 is only fifth place in my personal top five favorite by Vonnegut.

(R.I.P. : 1922-2007, age 84)

3/5

MH

more classic novels and Young Adult reviews coming soon.

Rating Scale:

  1. 1 hated it
  2. 2 very flawed
  3. 3 good
  4. 4 highly recommend
  5. 5 classic or personal fave

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“Looking For Alaska” by John Green: a book review

We’ve all felt like we don’t belong. We all wonder about religion and the meaning of life and friendships and love. This novel will remind you of everything you questioned as a teen, and might remind you to hold on to hope.

This novel rightly won the Printz medal for Outstanding Young Adult Ficiton and its cover art could not have been more smartly chosen.

John Green’s premiere book from 2006 will make you laugh out loud, cry, and marvel at how honest and heavy a novel can be. It’s almost a crime to ONLY call it a “YA” book. This is for anyone 15-30, if only because the people in this age group will more easily follow the lingo and pop culture references and likely know what a PlayStation 2 is. Having said that, I think even adults and teachers could easily find the value in this book. This ranks up there with the ultimate coming-of-age stories involving life, death, love, guilt, and “firsts.”
It is similar to Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” (which focused on the 60s Japanese youth expereience) and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” (the 50s American youth experience). “Looking For Alaska” brings it’s own modern/21st Century thing to table, with certain references and speech cadences that make it very readable, relateable, and digestable. There’s no question that this book is for 1990’s and 2000’s kids, yet the themes here are for any generation.
This is a solid 4.5/5 for style and message alone. There are maybe 10-15 pages that drag in the last 1/3 of the book keeping it from a 5/5, and maybe I’m being too harsh, but this is still an exceptionally necessary book to experience. It will take you to places of sorrow and joy and you will likely read another John Green book. Proof, once again, that small books can pack a punch and you don’t need over 400 pages to write important ficiton.

Every high schooler who has ever lost a love or had a friend die young, from accident or suicide, should read this book. You will connect with it, be lifted, and you will recommend the book like I am now.

Before or after you read this, John Green’s newest book, 2012’s “The Fault in Our Stars“, is just as good or better.

4.5/5

MH

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“Matched” by Ally Condie: a book review

Did you enjoy Farenheit 451, the Giver, Delirium, Twilight? Find relatable characters, solid dialogue, and conflict with high stakes interesting?

Then don’t read this turd sandwich. Go back and read those then.

The media hype and the YA reading community has never, ever been more wrong. At page 208, I realized I had over 150 more pages, and I was just like, “what did I read just now? What the f*** really happend in this story that couldn’t have been told in 100 pages? What is gripping about this?” Not to mention the many logic holes in the Society, the “paranoid big-brother, I’m watching you always” Orwellian government system thing which was really more of a “Brave New World” by Huxley thing, the “Gay” issue (or lack there of), the illogical choice of allowing “Singles” to meander around, do what they please, but not have kids ever, and the unnatural, illogical attractions of the main characters romances. The middle is a totla slog, there is almost no action, all she does is go hiking and whine th whole time, and Xander who rules gets the shaft because she’s falling for Ky, why? — I don’t know. Cassia, you’re dumb.

It’s not worth typing more, so if you really want to understand it, read the 3 star and 2 star reviews on Goodreads.com for this book.

Delirium was far superior, and in retrospect, I respect it more now. Geesh.

I threw Matchedacross the room and read the spoilers online… then the last two chapters. Trust me, I didn’t skip anything critical, I assure you.

a very charitable: 2/5

MH

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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!

MH

3.5/5

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“The Ghost of Casablanca” by Matthew Hughston

I’ve just released my first novel.

If it sounds interesting, please roll the dice and support my self-published book. It’s based on a screenplay I worked on in my last two years of college and I then spent 10 months writing this “adaptation” of it. It’s about ideas, the gray areas of life, our powerlessness to change the world, and self-righteous superheroes doomed to tragedy.

I think it’s damn good work and there’s a take-away message to it. For fans of adventure/thrillers, with a bit of mystery and romance all veiled as a philosophical/political anti-hero tale. If you like Batman or Watchmen, get it.

It’s available at the link below for 12 dollars:

https://www.createspace.com/3835035

MH

Official site: www.wix.com/matthewhughston/book

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“Blood Red Road” by Moira Young: a book review

Three or four of the past book reviews have been “Young Adult Fiction” books, and I feel that definition comes with an unfair stigma at times. Like they are lesser books.  I’m not the first to look at it this way, but I feel some people look down on fiction geared toward teens. The truth is a lot of these books are better paced and more visual than many “Adult” books I’ve read and it’s a shame that even some teenagers think that once they’re seventeen or eighteen that the world of “YA” is now for babies and they’re going to focus on “more mature, serious” readings.

Bullshit. “YA” can kicks ass.

Enter “Blood Red Road.” Published in June of 2011, it’s easily the best new YA novel from last year in my opinion. It is book #1 of Moira Young’s “Dustlands” series.

This book takes chances that many contemporary novelists, “Young Adult” or otherwise, would not risk, and I’m mainly talking about the use of slang. Think Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and you’ll get the gist. What’s more, the author really rolled the dice by making it extraordinarily sparse of punctuation. Think Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” or “The Road.” No parentheses and no quotations for spoken dialogue!—only some commas, dashes and periods.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “That’s gimmicky.” You’re wrong. In this case, it enhances the story, which should always be the crucial consideration when doing things unconventionally. You may also be thinking: “How would you know who is speaking, and doesn’t the slang make it a tough read?” Absolutely not. Somehow, the way that this book was written is clear, flowing, and engaging. Somehow the lack of quotations and the heavy slang and phoentic spelling of words stops being an issue after a few pages in. Some may disagree and find the style far too distracting for them. Their loss.

But if you’re a fairly seasoned reader or are over fifteen, “Blood Red Road” is a literary gem, complete with an original adventure story, full of heart ache, sub-plots, quests, and revenge. The scenery and locations are also well described, and take the reader through the desert, the rivers, the forest, the grasslands, the mountains, etc.—all the big fantasy backdrops you’d expect.

And Saba? Think “Gladiator” meets Katniss Everdeen meets Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta.” Yeah. I know, right? “Blood Read Road” made me say: ‘Katniss who? What are the Hunger Games?’

BLR’s teenage female protagonist wipes the floor with the personal dramas of Katniss and company. Saba in BLR is memorable and loveable; and her love interest, Jack, is honestly the best charismatic, smoky, arrogant love interest I’ve read ever in YA. Seriously, as far as writing style goes and capturing another world, Young and Collins are neck-and-neck. All motivations and dialogue is believable.

Did I mention this is Moira Young’s first book? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. No first book should read so well. I cannot wait to see what else she delivers (this is the beginning of a series).

I really think “Blood Red Road” is a testament that Young Adult fiction can matter, can be powerful, and can be artistically important. This is the fat 450-some page YA novel that kept some YA conventions intact, but also turned a lot on their heads.

I love this book, will recommend it to anybody who likes futuristic, dystopian, fantasy-adventures and I will eagerly be anticipating the film in the next few years which is rumored to be helmed by the great Ridley Scott. Book #2 of the “Dustlands” series — Rebel Heart — is due out around Halloween 2012. (Per Usual, there are different covers for the UK and the US, plus different hardback and paperback, so don’t judge the books by their covers. No pun intended. I just wish the publishers had made it clear that “Dustlands” was the title or even the subtitle for “Blood Red Road”, because it’s just confusing now.)

Click the links to browse the titles on GOODREADS.COM — a site I recently fell in love with. The Facebook of passionate readers.

Just trust me: start reading this thing like I did, knowing little or nothing about it. By page 41, the end of the first part, I was spellbound. Satisfying and book club worthy, get a friend to read “Blood Red Road” with you so you can gush.

4.25/5

MH

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“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green: a book review

My first John Green book. I will read more.

This is a depressing book that ponders big questions about how cancer is random, devastating, and can change lives. But it’s also hilarious. All the while it’s a charming romance swathed in dark humor with characters that were dying or are dying and worry about what their time spent on earth has meant and if they are going to be burdensome to those they leave behind. They want to be treated like normal teens and they wrestle with accepting or rejecting the perks that people have given them or the things that adults allow them to do because of their condition. Through snappy, intelligent, and sarcastic conversations, the main characters wonder about the afterlife, fall in love (and beautifully so), and discuss whether or not their lives should or should not mean something more or less just because they were unlucky enough to get cancer.

Does it mean anything? Am I angry or sad or both? Is it worth trying to make it count? How do we handle this? And then someone dies.

See what I meant when I said it was Heavy Stuff? But I loved it. And this is “Young Adult.”

All the while, it has some of the best-flowing, humorous dialogue (sometimes a little too much, in fact) and is minimally pretentious (which is a little John Green’s fault but also inherent to his designed characters I believe). I laughed out loud, cried a bit, and had moments where I needed to close the book, step away from it, and check my Facebook for ten minutes before continuing. It feels real and powerful, and it wasn’t a novel one should just slam through in one day (thought you could). John Green told his story in only as many pages as he needed—which I respect—which in this case is a just a touch over a modest 300 pages.

Some people will criticize that these teens are droppin’ lines that are too intelligent and witty unless they were twenty-seven years old. Well, no. Some kids are like this, and when you’re home schooled, or home a lot with cancer, I’d imagine that while some kids would just struggle everyday and be totally disinterested in delving into books, these characters clearly spent a lot of time online, in books, and reading about philosophical conundrums. Cancer is different for every person who has it, including the families, and the cancer itself can have many varieties. Just because a reader doesn’t know any teen who speaks this way does not mean that none do.

Some will say John Green is disingenuous or manipulative and will interpret the book as saying that the death of children and teens with cancer means more or should mean more, but I don’t think that’s what he is saying at all; furthermore, I find it presumptuous of readers to assume to know what Mr. Green was thinking while writing this. He crafted a book to entertain and move people. Make them think. It’s his job. He’s a freakin’ writer! The truth is that he left a lot up to the readers. Several ideas about love, youth, mortality, religion, and oblivion where discussed, and I think that some—not all—young people with cancer could relate to this book or at least have an opinion about it. People with and without cancer would find this one worth reading.

But again, this isn’t all about cancer either. The book is about how we all die. It’s true. So what are we going to do with it?

Some people have longer on this earth, but at what quality did you exist and enjoy it? Some lives can be just as grand in much less time, and if that’s all the time you have, it’s understandable advice that rather than wallow in it, which can be a choice for some and not for others, one should rather “seize the day.” There needs to be optimism in this meaningless suffering that we don’t understand, because life needs to be worth living. We are humans and that’s just instinctual.

Dissenters of the book will say:

“it’s so easy for a healthy person to expect someone with chronic health complications to find happiness in every moment. It’s much harder to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that sometimes there is no silver lining.”

Some readers will find this flippant of Green to write about, telling cancer kids to “find the silver lining.” Healthy or not, not everyone finds their purpose or their Great Romance. Okay. It’s not always there, sure, but it’s a brave novel doing many things that only a few readers will likely dissent over. This novel will pick up more people than put them down I would bet, with or without disease.

In closing, this is more than a cancer book. It’s a book about Great Love, young discovery, personal choice, and philosophy. It just happens to have main characters with cancer. Life is not easy, and clearly harder for some and sometimes unfair, but something here is worth fighting for and not giving up on.

That’s life. With or without cancer.

(This is a 2012 top 10 contender for me.)

4.25/5

MH

p.s. his first book is supposed to be great, so this summer, I’m hittin’ up Looking For Alaska.

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