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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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“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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“The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier: a book review

Because the style and emotional conveyance worked so effectively, “The Chocolate War” gets a 3.0 rather than a 2.5 star.

“What?” you say. “Only a 3? It’s a classic!”

Yeah, but age has worked against it, and being edgy and controversial doesn’t always make great art, and while this book could be great for kids in high school, it’s too damn bleak and bullyish. While argulably realistic, no one — not one character, students or teacher, bad guy or good guy or in-the-middle characters — got what they deserved. The good were punished, the bad guys never repented, and there was simply a lot of harsh language and sexuality here, all of which I was fine with, but given the plot and the story, I felt they were interesting character vignettes; powerful but little else.

It’s a book for boys. Girls are objects, don’t disturb the status quo, adults suck. If anything, it made me dislike organized religion, authority, and bullies more than I already do, and if that was the point, bravo.

But aren’t readers supposed to enjoy the books and lessons in them? Aren’t writer’s goals to give harsh reality checks in a way that make us want to keep reading? Fail.

I was never swept away, I could always find a place to put down the book and check my Facebook account, and the depth of the story honestly merited a short story, not a novel. You would have lost some of the brilliant character depth, yes, but that’s the trade-off, and I would have prefered it.

Robert Cormier was an incredible writer, and it does show it’s face here in “The Chocolate War.” But you can tell by how disjointed some parts are, how repetitious the second act was, and how confusing and unfocused the first few chapters were: this was a book he wrote off-and-on for three years while he was working a full-time job (which he admits in the back of the 30th Anninversy paperback edition).

I admire this author, but he has better stuff out there, and “The Chocolate War” came no where near the excitement and readability and appeal and execution that “I Am the Cheese” can tout.

Final words: Bland, not fun to read, not something you’ll be recommending to friends. You’ll hear about it because your school blabbers on and on about it or because it’s been on the banned book list for ages.

enjoyment at heart: 2.0/5

writing: 4.5/5

my sensible and critical grade: 3.0/5

MH

 

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“A Devil Inside”: a movie review

Firstly, this cover is misleading. No one looks like this in the film. This character doesn’t exist. Strike one of eight. Making one of your letters in the title backwards doesn’t make you spooky, that makes you the 90s metal band “Korn.” Strike two.

God, Eff off, A Devil Inside, for serious.

When your film is in and out of the theaters and on DVD in under four months, hey, you got a problem of quality. Overall, this is how you do a bad “exorcist” movie. This is the kind of film that makes the public think horror is dumb and the sub-genre of exorcism is not scary.

To begin, this film is one hour and fifteen minutes of actual movie. Over seven minutes at the end of the film are the credits; the slow, slow credits—part of which ask you go online after the film for “more about the unsolved case.” Well, shit, glad I didn’t pay 12 bucks for a seventy-five minute film which then gave me enrichment study homework. What a crock. It’s like Downloadable content that XBOX360 games ask you to buy after you buy the 60 dollar game. Put it in one package please. Doing it in stagnated pieces is lazy. You’re wasting my time or money, and sometimes both.

This film had no style, rehashing everything that’s been done in the shaky-cam, mediocre-college-actor genre that better films like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield” have already done. Something here reminds me of “Insidious” and “The Last Exorcism”, but both of those films, regardless of your opinion of them, were at least more original and clever. This film was not clever. The mood was never quite right. The pacing was never quite right. It’s difficult to put your finger on it, but if you see it, which you shouldn’t, you’ll feel what I’m talking about. Something just wasn’t done correctly here and feels sloppy, inarticulate, uncrafted. Very few details are given about the plot, what made this situation “special” or this story worth telling, and the characters are given the bare minimum of backstory and dimensionality.

Only at the one hour mark the film become something fresh and inventive, and that lasts for about fifteen minutes. Whoopie.

Just when it gets good, when an additional 15-minutes could is almost expected to follow and could wrap-up with a stately denouement and resolution, we are left at the Climax, with no way to know who lived, who died, how the demons went from body to body, or what ever happened to Maria, the protagonists mother (whose acting was actually pretty good for being possessed). The actress playing Maria kept this Phoned-In Money Grabber from dying at the front door of the genre club it desperately wanted to be a part of.

Some of you may say that “realistic endings” where everything is not wrapped up is more real and better. While that’s left to debate, this doesn’t do it well. I like movies that don’t put a bow on everything. Most people in America today who what to be intellectually-challenged when enjoying a film would agree, but this film ends shockingly in spite of itself and just for the sake of “oh, that would be a crazy ending. Like, real life, where, ya know, you don’t know what happens.” Yeah. Okay. It can be done well when a theme or irony or metaphor is in place, but this had none of that.

When the best part of your movie is the tail end of the third act, and then you don’t FINISH your third act, well, you should be ashamed to call yourself a full-length picture. On top of all of this, pieces of the trailer were re-edited in the final cut, and really, the best movie of “A Devil Inside” is the freaking trailer.

Save yourself the trouble. Don’t even get this on REDBOX unless you are a die-hard horror fan or just HAVE to know how this film stacks up to the other of its sub-genre. Hint: in the bottom half.

Because the ending was better than the whole film, it gets a 5 instead of a 4.5

I would rewatch any, yes, any exorcist movie again before this one.

5/10

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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“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver: a book review and YA Marketing Rant

REVIEW:
It’s a bit better than the usual 3 stars, but really isn’t quite a four.  This has all the elements of being a very exciting story, but sad to say, it isn’t. The last fifty pages lift it from a two star, barely, but can’t save the entirety of the book. First of all, it’s simply too long for what is in here. The storyline isn’t bad, but it’s far too minutely descriptive and all I can think is, well, this is going to be stretched out to fill three books so, of course, it’s overly descriptive. Something has to fill all those pages. Too bad it isn’t the story, but street by street bicycling and walking or running. And the sights and smells over and over and over. There are some things that are described in almost the same way several times. This is unneccessary. And while we’re on the subject of unneccessary, I know that Lena is five foot, two. I got that the first time I was told and it didn’t need repetition. It was not in need of repetition. Or to put it a little differently while still giving you the same information again: it didn’t need repeating. This whole story could have been tightened up and more than likely the whole proposed three installments would fit within the pages of one book. I get it, I really do. Why write one book when you can hook readers into three? I mean, it’s three sales, three times the money, so kudos to the author on that, but the story really needs to be strong enough to make readers keep coming back for more. And, as usual, it ends on something of a cliff-hanger so, as a reader, I’m left disappointed.

Young Adult Publishing RANT:

The truth is, and I won’t list them all here, but I have 6 YA books behind me on my shelf I have to read and they are all the first installments of series that have begun in the past three years or just came out. Another 4 or 5 I’ve read recently. My concern is that these authors and their little game may be a terrible money making art and nothing more, and while there are good series out there that make sense to be SERIES, some publishers are asking these new, starry eyes, late-twenty-something authors who live in San Francisco or NYC to spread too little butter over too much bread. It’s getting to the point that if you want to buy that new book you’ve heard so much about, you have to find out who the author is, when the series started and play catch up. At the rate first time novelists are releasing now, in five years or less, the shelves will be a mess in libraries and book stores every where trying to finish up sagas and trilogies and people will be scrambling to keep them straight and everyone will be sick of the same forty or so authors digging into our pockets with the same drivel. There will be nothing fresh in a few years because it will be “the decade of series’ completion”.

I just hope some of these authors are worth it and give us good story arcs over a few books and move on. It’s near impossible to find good stand-alone YA novels today, except for John Green, I can’t think of one big name off the top of my head that is not involved in some trilogy or worse. I can only hope I am wrong and that three or more novels I read costing me between 10 and 20 bucks is a story worth finishing, because, you know, we just haaaaaave to know how it ends, right? Fuck.

I won’t even get into the discussion that every other YA novel I read already has a movie deal in the works for 2014. Thanks, Hunger Games. Geesh. Seriously, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenis slated to be directed by Tim Burton, and I’ve also heard Divergent by Veronica Roth could get the Hollywood treatment; and possibly Legend by Marie Lu is going to be a mini-series or an animated TV show. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also rumored to start production in the coming year. Movies are being based off YA books and adult novels like never before (look at The Help, 127 Hours, Water For Elephants, and Nicholas Sparks novels).

Snazzy titles, slick covers, big margins, 12-point font! Curse You, YA!

3.25/5

MH

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