Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review: Silence by Natasha Preston


219 pages, December 22nd 2013

Goodreads synopsis:

For eleven years, Oakley Farrell has been silent. At the age of five, she stopped talking, and no one seems to know why. Refusing to communicate beyond a few physical actions, Oakley remains in her own little world. 

Bullied at school, she has just one friend, Cole Benson. Cole stands by her, refusing to believe that she is not perfect the way she is. Over the years, they have developed their own version of a normal friendship. However, will it still work as they start to grow even closer? 

When Oakley is forced to face someone from her past, can she hold her secret in any longer?

2.75 stars

Hmm. Some of this book was really interesting and some of it was just bizarre. I get the premise of the main character not speaking for 11 years, and I get why (if you're wondering why, think of the most obvious reason a girl would stop talking), but I don't get why halfway through the book we suddenly jump into Cole's head. The book is oddly structured; you have oodles of chapters in Oakley's POV and then all of a sudden we switch to Cole's. Jarring.

I didn't buy some of the climactic scenes, either. They seemed less thought out and more tacked-on. Especially the horrible ending which came out of nowhere to the point where I read it twice just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. It left me going:

I have to talk about Cole; he is so perfect as a boyfriend and a boy in general, I think he's every girl's dreamboat. He's so good it's unrealistic. He never pressures Oakley to speak but one might think any healthy person would eventually (I mean 11 YEARS here, people) feel a touch frustrated that the person they're in love with never talks to them. He texts her every night and although she always types a text back, she never hits send. A lot of chapters end with us being told this.

The book has some fairly good writing but needs a good editor. I'm not going to attack the author because this is a self-published novel and it's not terrible, it just needs some cleaning up, better structuring etc. And a revamp of the ending because that ending is just horrible. Just don't bother reading the last chapter, you'll be glad you didn't.

Oakley as a character is likable enough. I think her real strength comes from Cole, though. He is so much a part of her life and pretty much the entire book focuses on her POV of him. The two are very wrapped up in one another, and Cole is her knight in shining armor. There's really no conflict there because they love each other and well, that's it. They're very cute and adorable and it's nice reading about their happy moments together. There's no explicit sex, just a lot of kissing. I mean to say, they do have sex but the author handles it in more of a sweet way than down and dirty. Speaking of the sex, considering the main character's past, I found it a little difficult to accept that she didn't seem to have any problem going to bed with Cole. Yes, she loved him and trusted him, but people who have been abused to the point of not speaking for 11 years would probably have a few more issues with intimacy no matter how much they loved the person. 

They're so connected through the book that the ending (THAT ENDING!) really makes no sense whatsoever. It comes out of left field and feels so out of character for Oakley. 

I think the characters needed more fleshing out, more psychological nuances and so on. 

As it stands the book is about a 2.75 stars for me. There's a lot of good things here but the book is calling out for a good editor and some rewrites. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Review: You Are Mine by Janeal Falor

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370 pages, Published May 6, 2013 by Chardonian Press

Goodreads synopsis:

Serena knows a few simple things. She will always be owned by a warlock. She will never have freedom. She will always do what her warlock wishes, regardless of how inane, frivolous, or cruel it is. And if she doesn’t follow the rules, she will be tarnished. Spelled to be bald, inked, and barren for the rest of her life—worth less than the shadow she casts.

Then her ownership is won by a barbarian from another country. With the uncertainty that comes from belonging to a new warlock, Serena questions if being tarnished is really worse than being owned by a barbarian, and tempts fate by breaking the rules. When he looks the other way instead of punishing her, she discovers a new world. The more she ventures into the forbidden, the more she learns of love and a freedom just out of reach. Serena longs for both. But in a society where women are only ever property, hoping for more could be deadly.

4 Stars

I wasn't sure what to expect when I received a copy of You Are Mine from the author in exchange for a review. The premise made me wonder if it first it was some kind of "Fifty Shades of Grey" clone type book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was completely wrong in my initial assumption.

Serena is a young woman from a large family (she has many sisters) living in a society where women are owned by men. As she is unmarried, she's owned by her father who pretty much terrorizes her and holds deep resentment over his own inability to produce male offspring. (It is seem as a bad thing to have daughters.) He takes this out on Serena and her sisters and mother.

Serena comes of age and is tested to see how much magic is in her blood because the more magic, the more valuable she will be to basically sell off to a warlock who will then become her new owner.

A fiancé is chosen for her and he is as despicable as one would expect (think sort of Guildford Dudley in the film Lady Jane only older and more gross.) As luck would have it, he is thankfully taken out in a tournament and a young man from another land suddenly is given possession of Serena. He "inherits" her as property along with everything else her former fiancé owned.

Zade is a different sort of man, and Serena's rebellious sensibilities are allowed to flourish under his ownership. Still, she is property and doesn't forget it. As she is accustomed, she continues to act submissively but her own fierce will is kindling brighter every day. It's exciting to see Serena grow and become more bold, more free, as the story progresses. Aside from Zade's extremely progressive philosophy (which prevents Serena from being punished for having her own thoughts and feelings as the men of Chardonia would usually have it), he is not really a huge catalyst in Serena's awakening. I enjoyed how the focus was on her and not on a romance (though there are delicate touches where romance appears).

Serena has a couple of her sisters by her side for support and makes a good female friend of one of the outcast females known as the "tarnished". The treatment of the tarnished reminded me a bit of the way the Amish would shun someone along with thoughts of the Avox in The Hunger Games. The tarnished dress differently from others, are hexed to be barren and branded with tattoos. They are segregated from the rest of society, and at times Serena asks herself if being tarnished is really as bad as being owned by a warlock.

The world in which Serena lives is a truly patriarchal society and I haven't really mentioned much of the fact that not only are the men pretty brutal, but they're warlocks. They can HEX women just for their own fun. Serena's father was not above using hexes on his children if they didn't obey him or even if he imagined they'd erred in some way. Even after Serena is no longer his, her father does not stop trying to reclaim her because he can't stand that she isn't being punished constantly.

If there's any flaw in the story, I'd say I would have loved to have the character of Zade fleshed out just a bit more. He is seen as a barbarian but is the most fair and true of all the men. His goodness has infuriated the warlocks of Chardonia and there is a price on Zade's head. He handles his political position as Councilman well despite some truly horrifying shenanigans that take place at Council meetings. He doesn't seem to know what to do with Serena but as time goes on, he develops feelings for her and it's very gently revealed that she feels the same. The romance aspect is light and fluffy -- a few sweet kisses and telling gazes.

There are two more books in the series at the moment, Mine to Spell and Mine to Tarnish and these feature new protagonists (Cynthia, Serena's sister is the main character of Mine to Spell and Katherine, Serena's tarnished seamstress friend head up Mine to Tarnish which is actually a prequel).

The world Janeal created will have any feminist seething with anger at the incredible injustices that take place, but that's a point to her for good storytelling.

Overall You Are Mine was intriguing, original, well written, and enjoyable. Serena is a likable heroine who faces serious dangers but isn't turned into a superhero or Miss Perfect in order to combat her troubles. She uses her wits and brains instead (imagine that!)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Born by Tara Brown

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274 pages, Published September 2012 by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Goodreads synopsis:

"The world has changed. 
The buildings have fallen, blown away with the winds made hot from the bombs.
The roads crumble as the forest takes back the land we stole a long time ago.
It's only been ten years since the end but it feels like a hundred for Emma who has been alone since the beginning, surviving on the skills her crazy father forced on her.
Trust no one.
Pull the trigger.
Stay away from the other survivors
Stay away from The Infected.
She has obeyed his rules since she can remember running from the car accident that claimed his life.
But one night that all changes." 

3.5 Stars

Born is difficult. It's a diamond in the rough and just needs some professional editing and TLC to be a better version of itself and as it stands, I can say I enjoyed it.

The story of Emma pulled me in right away. She's a survivalist living with a wolf called Leo and hasn't seen anyone but "the infected" (sort of like zombies but not quite) in almost a decade. She lives in the woods, has a number of safe and storage houses and keeps to herself as a rule.

Until one day when a girl shows up at her door and for some reason, Emma decides to help her. Turns out the girl, Anna, has a brother who is injured. Thus begins the strange and weak romancey bits between Emma and Jake with her nursing him back to health. Now I admit this book is very weak on the romance. It's not a big hot and heavy panting and sweating affair. The romance is light and fluffy and spare, so if you're tired of borderline erotica in YA fiction, this is a great choice for you.

Emma's reactions to Anna and Jake and the world around her are odd, but I found myself accepting this because of her solitary lifestyle. She's not socialized, she's not sociable. She loves Leo, they're loyal to each other, and she has strengthened her character through the wisdom of her father which she mentions often. He died years before, but he's a strong presence in the book and to Emma.

The infected. I don't know quite what they're supposed to be because they're not really zombies per se. They're more like really sick folks who wander around in a mad stupor. Sort of like a huge pack of drunks.

Dumbledore does not understand.

The infected are not a huge factor in this book, even though as it begins I started thinking it was more along the lines of some kind of zombie warfare in a dystopia kind of thing. They're just hanging in the background, these infected people. They show up here or there and by the time you reach the middle of the novel, you kind of forget they're even there. There are bigger fish Emma has to fry, and this new threat becomes the core conflict in the novel.

Emma's world is a new one that has been crafted after a bio-war engineered by the baddies. They're trying to recreate humanity under controlled conditions and have set up breeder farms where abducted girls and women will be artificially inseminated and produce three children each with a vague promise of "a condo in the city" after their "tour of duty" is done.

Males have their sperm harvested as well, though there's not as many males and mostly females are kept in these breeding farms.

Harry is appalled at these shenanigans.

Jake and Anna have a brother, Will, who Emma finds at a camp once she's ventured away from the safety of her home due to the infected gate crashing the area. The siblings are reunited and Emma starts to fall slightly for Will, while being slightly into Jake. I say slightly because it's all very much in the background. You get a splash here, a splash there.

The core of the story is Emma's fight to save and free the women and girls in the breeder farms and how she risks life and limb to accomplish this feat in a world that's full of mad scientists, rogues, rebels and the infected.

Her personal journey is from a hardened girl who whittles her own arrows and doesn't need anybody, to a young woman who is ready to let others into her life and even yearns for something that looks like a family. She tries to keep Will and Jake (and her feelings for them) at arm's length while she struggles to allow Anna and other girls she's met into her sphere as sisters.

Ellen Page is just so cute!

I liked Emma even though she pushes some areas of believability (is that a word?) and needs to get a handle on her own feelings. Will seems unfortunately way too aggressive and fell for Emma way too fast. He persues her despite his brother also being infatuated with her. Not cool. And Jake, poor Jake. He's just not fleshed out enough. His big moments are trying to steal kisses from Emma and kind of hanging around just to be present. He does not participate much in his own life.  He's just sort of...there. Emma wants to be friends with both of them despite Will grabbing and dragging her and giving her bruises which Emma and Will himself wave off as "talking with their hands."

There are a couple of instances of slut shaming where Emma goes on about a girl in the camp who had a relationship with Will at some point. Emma's commentary goes into deciding that Star's clothing is "asking for trouble" and then humiliates her and calls her "Short Shorts" in front of a group of people.

Emma also had a few instances where she flipped out on men, one during which she nearly killed a man in a camp for snuggling up her one of her friends who was fifteen years old. Being extremely sensitive to the whole use of women and girls as "breeders" and seeing how men have abused women left and right, Emma is a minefield when it comes to protecting and defending her "sisters." It's kind of cool to see that, though I was put off by Mary's reaction -- that Eric didn't deserve it but wait maybe he did because this wasn't his first offense with someone underage. That part was a little confusing.

The writing is quite good at times (and I applaud Tara Brown for not ending up having Emma describe herself in a mirror!) but the dialogue can be somewhat cringe worthy. That's the weakest area of the writing, technically. At one point an 11 year-old girl describes how her mother worked at a "firm". It just didn't sound right coming from a child.

"She was a secretary for a dental firm. My dad was a dentist."

The older characters say things that sound scripted and strange while the younger ones sound way too old.

There was one instance where a person said, "that's a pretty scary dog" and she replied, "he's a wolf." This exchange brought me right back to the 1985 film, The Journey of Natty Gann where there is an extremely similar scene "That's a nice dog," says the man. "He's a wolf," says Natty. Check the movie trailer to watch the exchange. (Jump to 0:40 below.)

There are a few grammatical errors and typos (I found an instance of the author using "peak" instead of "peek" for example) so the book could just use a clean up.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Born and read it in the typical time it takes for me to read an interesting and fun book. If I have not finished a book in about a week, it's either extremely long (it took me 6 months to finish The Lord of the Rings) or I got distracted by shiny things (i.e. other books) because it just didn't grip me enough to stick with it consistently. I do most of my reading in the evenings after work and other obligations and if I really like a book I will often stay up until 2 or 3 am or even later (earlier?) to get through as much as possible

I'm off to read the second book in the Born Trilogy, Born to Fight.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Currently Reading: Born by Tara Brown

Oh dear. I put Timebound aside for a bit in favor of Born, which I stumbled upon accidentally. It started out fantastically, then the dialogue happened. As long as everyone kept their mouths shut, it was going along fine.

I am not impressed with Tara Brown's ability to write realistic sounding dialogue. I do enjoy some of her turns of phrase elsewhere in the novel, so I continue to read. I hope I finish this one.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Currently Reading: Timebound

I'm currently reading Timebound by Rysa Walker. I was really in the mood for something different and with action and adventure. I like the historical elements and how the prologue gives shades of horror to come (I see H. H. Holmes makes an appearance and we actually will get to see the protagonist running all around his house of horrors in Chicago. Great choice of setting.)

I'm about 65 pages in.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: The Hazards of Skinny Dipping by Alyssa Rose Ivy

Goodreads * Amazon

248 pages, Published May 17th 2013 by CreateSpace 

Goodreads synopsis:

"This isn't a deep book about first loves or self-discovery. If you want a book like that, I'd be happy to recommend one, but I don't have that kind of story to tell. Instead my story is about rash decisions and finding out that your dream guy is bad in bed. It's the story of when I finally went skinny dipping, and how my life was never the same again. Oh, and it's also the story of my freshman year of college and realizing Mr. Right might have been there all along."

3 stars

I admit this book was a guilty pleasure to read. I got a kick out of it even though the main character, Juliet, did a few ridiculous things that made me want to scream. Granted, the synopsis is brutally honest about this from the get-go so I really can't complain.

Juliet is in her first year of college and her cousin Amy gives her a list:

"Juliet's Must-Do Before College List"

There are five items: Get drunk, go to a bar, wear something that would give her father a heart attack, kiss a random guy, and go skinny dipping. Juliet jumps right into the skinny dipping one as per the title and while swimming in her own pool one evening, her big time crush Dylan shows up and for some reason (who cares why, right?) he starts talking to her, figures out she's naked, and gets in the pool with her. Instead of ordering him to leave, Juliet makes out with him and they get out of the pool to go have sex. Which turns out to be terrible because Dylan stinks in bed. The scene is a little bit comical and sad. I have a feeling this sort of encounter has happened to more women than they want to admit! Just because you have the hots for a guy doesn't mean he's actually worth all that attention.

The thing that bugged me was how Juliet started dating Dylan even though he was so lousy in bed and really didn't even treat her well. She was so willing to put up with crap. (The character reminded me of the fantastic book/move Girl starring Dominique Swain. In Girl, Andrea is crazy about rock star Todd Sparrow and after having a quickie after a concert in the stall of a stable we see her emerge from the "roll in the hay" with bits of well, hay in her hair and looking disheveled. She tells us in voiceover, "I felt like a princess!") Juliet reminded me of Andrea in that Dylan was not good for her, but she hung onto him, anyway. I thought for sure she'd dump him after that first encounter, but no. I had to read a few more encounters, each one just as bad as the ones before. (Dylan really didn't learn anything.)

Dylan Bradley creeps me out, honestly. He's not just bad in bed, would that be his only deficiency. He's also a complete creeper without even trying. From wandering into Juliet's backyard uninvited to taking off his clothes uninvited and moving to making out and sex while being so weird and creepy -- I just kept telling myself, "Juliet is blinded by his pretty face! This makes sense, sadly. Many women DO THIS!" When Juliet should have been calling the cops, she was anxiously allowing him to make his advances. Not cool.

Reed, the much more normal human male, treats Juliet so much better but I was still unsatisfied with him somehow. Maybe all that Dylan action was just too much for me. (Especially the handcuff scene which was pretty funny.)

Sounds like I didn't like the book, eh? Well no, I wouldn't say that. The character did frustrating things and I wanted to reach into the book and shake her a bit, but it was well written and had good pacing. Juliet does get a happy ending, but I guess on the road to finding happy endings we sometimes stay too long with the wrong guys.

I read the Kindle edition that had a preview of The Hazards of a One Night Stand by the same author and I jumped right into that book, too. One small complaint is that the two books seemed very similar when it came to word choice and descriptions but I haven't finished it so I can't give a full opinion yet.

On a completely irrelevant note, I love the author's name including not one but TWO flower names. I love flower names!

NOTE: I gave this 3 stars as per my own ratings policy which equates to an enjoyable, but flawed book. Sometimes the flaws can be it just doesn't connect with me personally but it still could connect with you. Three stars is by no means a bad rating, I just hold onto those 4's and 5's for things that really hit me.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Authors Behaving Badly: Sam Taylor Mullens

This is a very strange story of plagiarism. I suppose it isn't all that odd that a person doing something wrong would want to hide it, but in this case there's really nowhere for Sam to hide. The author of the original work (A Bid For Love by Rachel Ann Nunes) called her out and Sam responded in such a bizarre way, making up stories about having received permission from a relative to rewrite the book and so on.

Sometimes you see plagiarism where the person lifts a few words or a sentence or paragraph. We've all seen Cassandra Claire/Clare using unattributed quotes in her fanfiction works and then getting upset when called out on it. Sam Taylor Mullens goes a few steps beyond and follows the original novel sentence by sentence, adding a bit here, taking out a bit there. The work is essentially the same (except for some graphic sex that she apparently added in to distract everyone.) I can't imagine how anyone could possibly defend this book.

Once Upon a Time

I have been binge watching Once Upon a Time on Netflix for the past week. I just can't stop! How did I miss this show before? I'm totally gaga over Rumpelstiltskin and Belle. Ooh la la!

And can I please have your hair, Emma?

Once I'm done with the next episode or two (I'm halfway through Season 2), I'll get back to reviewing a novel. I'm almost done with Flim Flam and scouting out some new YA's to read.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Goodreads  * Amazon

224 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by Overlook TP (first published 1968)

Goodreads synopsis:

"Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed "Rooster" Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path. "

Rating: 5 stars

Fourteen year-old Mattie Ross is on a mission to avenge her father's murder at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. She's traveled from Dardanelle, Arkansas to put her father's affairs in order, send his body back home, and stick around town long enough to hire out a rootin' tootin' U.S. Marshall to help her find Chaney and shoot the stuffing out of him. Chaney happens to have taken up with Ned Pepper's gang and they are off in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). 

Mattie is a total wit. I loved her wonderful narration and Portis deftly writes a character who is tough but still comes across as a girl of her time. She's a very clear minded girl, full of grit herself. She finds Rooster Cogburn to accompany her and they pick up Mr. LeBeouf (pronounced "le BEEF" so not to be confused with a stuttering actor of our day called le BUFF) who is himself a Texas Ranger and quite proud of it. Mattie's having none of that ego stuff and sets off determinedly even though Rooster and LeBeouf try to ditch her a couple of times. 

The book has been made into a film twice (I've only seen the 2010 version) and the 2010 Coen brothers rendition sticks very close to the novel save for a part here or there. For example, the scene where Mattie first speaks to LeBeouf is almost word for word, where later in the movie when Mattie asks LeBeouf not to leave -- well that one's not in the book at all. Minor changes here or there did not make either the book nor the film less enjoyable for me; both were excellent in their own right.

The book is in first person, told from Mattie's point of view. It begins:

"People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leavehome and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it didnot seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of TomChaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him ofhis life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California goldpieces that he carried in his trouser band."
Mattie first sees Rooster Cogburn as he is testifying in court and we are treated to a very interesting transcription of the proceedings for a few pages which really help establish Rooster's background and personality. 

As in the film, when Mattie meets LeBeouf, their conversation is sharp and cute:

"I said, " Why did you not catch him in Monroe, Louisiana, or Pine Bluff,Arkansas?"
"He is a crafty one."
"I thought him slow-witted myself."  " That was his act."
"It was a good one. Are you some kind of law?"

and a few lines later:

"He stood up and said, "Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a
kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to
boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my
"One would be as unpleasant as the other," I replied. "Put a hand on me
and you will answer for it. You are from Texas and ignorant of our ways
but the good people of Arkansas do not go easy on men who abuse
women and children."
 I enjoy the way everyone speaks in this book, it's very old-fashioned and charming (even when they're being threatening, it's all a bit adorable.)

Mattie and company do eventually get their hands on their man, but not without a few twists and turns so you aren't completely sure if they're actually going to apprehend the man or if all of them will survive.

The story is wonderfully compelling and exciting, kept me glued to the pages, and provided a quick and satisfying read.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Book Review: Four Houses by Victoria Scott

Goodreads * Amazon * Scribd (read free with trial)

Publisher: Smashwords
Published: June 26, 2011
44 pages

Goodreads synopsis:

"A frightened girl. 

An empty field. 

Four houses. 

Which house would you choose?

FOUR HOUSES is a dark short story told in an unusual format that leaves readers wondering how they'd react if found in the same situation as seventeen-year-old Maddy."

Rating: 3.75 stars

Everyone on Goodreads seems to be giving this short story 5 stars, but I'm still pondering it and having it sink in. The story is only 44 pages so it's easy to read in one sitting. The format is unusual: you begin the story at the end, essentially. The chapters go backwards in time, bringing you to "The Incident" -- the catalyst which propels our main character Maddy into a place where she must face four houses. The questions are: Where is she? Why are there four houses? What's inside them? 

I am not usually one of the "I saw it coming" bunch and truly I enjoy a story so much more when I can't figure out the twist. This time I did have a hunch what the Incident was (and I was correct) but when get to the big reveal, the best thing about the story is how little it actually matters. The story is not hinged on the twist, the twist simply is a springboard which expertly ties the ends into a neat package. Take it or leave it, it is what it is. 

Maddy is 17 years old and faced with four houses. She ventures into the last one in the first chapter and describes what she finds there; the descriptions don't always make perfect sense and are very surreal, but that's part of the big picture. What Maddy finds behind each of the doors of the Four Houses is in the most substantial sense, subjective. 

This story has to be taken as a Big Picture and not analyzed chapter by chapter. As a story, it makes me think. It's a bit like a splash of cold water in the face (if I may use a very overly used simile). I'm a bit...disturbed by it, but I think the author was going for that reaction so I consider her successful. 

I can't tell too much without giving everything away and I certainly don't want to reveal the twist for those who enjoy finding out for themselves. 

I had to fudge my own ratings system a little on this one because I have an idea of what 4 stars is to me and this didn't *quite* hit it, but it's definitely above a 3 -- it's not an average book with average writing. Victoria Scott does an excellent job of creating a sense of disturbance. That's the best word for it -- it's not confusion or desperation, but disturbance. Something wrong with The Force. Something off-kilter. 

The book is available for free at Scribd, you just need to sign up for a free trial membership (make sure you know when your trial ends as it is $8.99 a month after the free period). 

If you like stories that stick with you and make you think for long after you've finished reading, Four Houses will hit the spot.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Monday, 21 July 2014

Review: People of Wal-Mart: Shop and Awe by Andrew Kipple, Adam Kipple and Luke Wherry

Goodreads synopsis:

As Americans, we hold these truths to be self-evident: We will shop. And when we do, especially at our favorite supercenter, we will wear and do the most bizarre things possible.
From the wildly popular website PeopleofWalmart.com, this photo collection of Americans in their natural shopping habitat (70 percent of which is brand new and never before included on the website) presents people of all shapes and sizes wearing and doing everything imaginable in full view of their fellow shopping public.
Plus, for the first time brand-new fan-submitted stories offer the most random experiences you can imagine!
So welcome to a world where no shoes and no shirt are no obstacles, where parking lots are filled with dead deer, Bengal tigers, and old men in thongs riding bikes. Once you meet the People of Walmart, you are sure to fall in love.

My Rating: 1 star

This book is not much of a book, really. The pages consist of mainly photos with boring captions that aren't funny, usually pointing out the horror of people being overweight or daring to wear short shorts and bright clothing. There are a few stand out photos of folks that are a bit over the top, but many of the photos are kind of boring and just show a spectrum of real life people. So what there are a couple of people who wear shirts with rips in the back? That's a fashion thing. Another few photos of goth people. That's news? Some people wearing tie dye. Also not interesting. It's almost as if we are trying to make fun of average people for not living up to their obligation of being eternally 18 year old lingerie models.

How is this funny or even interesting?

Sure, there are some folks who really just seem to tip the scales in favor of mentally unstable (those who go to the store with no pants for example. And I mean no pants at all.) Most of the photos were of overweight people and their various bodily protrusions and unfortunate selection in clothing sizes (always on the side of "too small".) But I'm not completely sure what's FUNNY about them. I feel kind of sorry for some of the people, like the man who was obviously homeless and pretty filthy (the authors referred to him as "PigPen" from Charlie Brown.) Sure he's dirty, but is being dirty FUNNY? Not to me.

Another item that the authors seem to like is the mullet. Several photos are of people with mullets and sometimes with rat tails. Again, not funny. It's a mullet, so what? I don't get the funny there.

                                         A woman shopping. What am I supposed to be criticizing here?

I don't think the authors have a really good ability to sort and choose photos that are actually funny. They seem to go for very low brow stuff, anything sexual or vulgar is their cup of tea. They highlight gross sayings on people's T-shirts a lot but again -- not funny.

Some folks were shopping while wearing pajamas or costumes and face paint. Weird a bit, but not funny.


Maybe I was expecting this book to be humorous and entertaining, but it was quite boring. Even the anecdotes sparsely interspersed between the photos were a real let down. A couple of the stories didn't have any entertainment value at all and I wondered why they were included. It felt like the authors had a very small pool of letters from which to choose and just sort of accepted anything.

Here's a particularly pathetic example:

I thought the book was supposed to be funny and mostly I found it just kind of sad and boring.

Review: The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Published: September 1, 2009
242 pages
Amazon * Goodreads * Barnes and Noble

Goodreads description:

New town, new school, new friends. It was difficult for Ginny at first, but her senior year is finally starting to feel kind of normal. That is, until she sees him--the beautiful mystery in her English class. He has never spoken a word to anyone. He moves through each day at school without making eye contact. His name is Smitty Tibbs, but everyone calls him the Alien.

Ginny is convinced there's more to the Alien than his muted exterior. But as she attempts to break into his safe and emotionless world, she realizes her efforts might be causing more harm than good. Has she gone too far, or not far enough?

My rating: 4 stars

I literally stayed up all last night reading this novel. The synopsis was so gripping, I just had to know what was up with Smitty. The first part of the book reminded me a bit of the film, The Boy Who Could Fly. In that film, 15 year old Milly meets a silent boy who lives next door to her and is in her classes at school. Her teacher even asks her to make a bit of a special project of him, and she spends a lot of time reading to him, taking him to the park etc.

Ginny is a similar type, new to the neighborhood, a thoughtful and nice girl who becomes intrigued by her classmate Smitty's silence. He does not speak, he does not communicate, he does not establish eye contact and he does not seem to want to be with anyone, ever. He's almost not there at all, but Ginny and her new best friend Caulder (thank you for not being a love interest, Caulder!) who has known Smitty since childhood, she tries to figure out what makes Smitty tick. At first the teens go to Smitty's house under the pretense of needing help with math. Well, they did kind of really need the help, but they also had the ulterior motive of trying to unlock Smitty in general. 

Bits and pieces of information about Smitty are eventually uncovered and we learn that he has been a victim of horrific abuse that leaves him a prisoner of his own beliefs. The mind is so powerful that once trained to believe something, the body reacts to the thoughts. 

Ginny also finds herself falling for Smitty as time goes on so there's a light romance aspect carried through. 

The characters are mostly well written and have expected and typical reactions to things. Caulder is much more impatient than Ginny and sometimes oversteps his bounds when pushing Smitty to communicate. The only part of the book that really seemed odd was the interactions with the psychologist and with Russell. The climax seemed a bit contrived and I questioned whether the tactics used by the psychologist were kosher.

I really liked the story, it kept me reading all through the night because I had to know Smitty's secret. As I have had my own anxiety issues and know what it is like to have your beliefs affect your body, I identified with some of what Smitty experienced. I think his condition was far more serious and precarious than even severe somatization disorders, but the author made some great observations through Ginny when she explained the intensity of our own thoughts and how they make up our realities and lives. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Fanfic Review: Seven Minutes, Seven Years, and Six Kisses by Nmoreblack

Seven Minutes, Seven Years, and Six Kisses
by Nmoreblack
Fandom: Hunger Games

5 Stars

Wow. This is one beautiful piece of fiction. So many times as I read this story I thought the author far exceeded the usual level of talent that shows up on FFN and should be a lot more celebrated than folks like S. Meyer and C. Claire. Why is it that the former are relegated to small sites with modest readerships with the latter have big time book contracts and movies made out of their poopage?

Back to Seven Minutes. The premise is simple: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are long time friends who happen to end up getting shoved together by the powers that be (in this case, fate and some exceptionally pervy pals) into random closets and kissing games where they discover they actually like each other quite a bit.

The story begins with Katniss mentioning how Gale tried to kiss her when they were kids and subsequently brought her to her first boy/girl party when she was 12 years old. She meets Peeta Mellark there and eventually the two end up playing Spin the Bottle.

When the bottle landed on me, I was barely paying attention. In my curious examination of how everyone was interacting, I forgot to be afraid. To feel the nervous panic of knowing that, not only would I have to kiss someone, I'd also have to do it in front of an entire group of people. When Madge nudged me, I froze, my cheeks heating as the realization hit me. My eyes dropped to the bottle pointing straight at my shoes. I followed the line of it up to meet the eyes of everyone sitting across from me, all of them wearing shit-eating grins. Except for Peeta Mellark. He looked terrified.
He also had his hand poised in the air. Kind of like he had just spun that sinister amber bottle.
Katniss experiences her first kiss with Peeta, and afterward tries to avoid him due to pre-teen embarrassment. After the party, they each admit that they'd both shared a first kiss.

"Peeta," I started, and he shook his head to himself like he had earlier that evening. Before he could turn on his heel and never speak to me again, I finally managed to finish. "That was my first kiss, too." 
For a moment, he just breathed. I could see the air fill his lungs and lift his chest before he let it all out. "Oh." 
I shrugged again and kicked the same spot he had, unsure of what else to say. 
The silence went on so long, I had to look up to make sure Peeta was still even there. 
He was there. And he had a big, dopey smile on his face.

Squee! So cute. The descriptions the author uses are so evocative and adorable.

He nudged my nose with his just slightly before our lips pressed together. Like last time, he didn't press too hard or move them at all. Just set them against mine like it was their natural resting place.
Can it get more cute? No. No it can't.

And then we move forward past those first kisses to playing Seven Minutes in Heaven inside a closet. Bear in mind that this story focuses on these fleeting romantic encounters and while it does give us an excellent sense of who Katniss and Peeta are personality-wise, we're really here to ooh and ahh over their blossoming sweet love for each other (it's a one shot, not a novel. Though I could definitely stand it expanding into a novel.). Katniss is described as being more concerned with putting food on the table than finding boys to kiss, so we know she is true to character and not a silly, fluffy minded girl. Peeta is hesitant and subtle, just as he should be.

Time passes and the two again find each other at a party, this time hosted by Peeta. He's learned his lesson and has banned kissing and perv games from the gathering, but this doesn't stop him from bringing Katniss to his room for some very important kissing talking.

"When we were 12," he started, his voice low and serious, eyes unblinking, "I was gonna tell you you had pretty hair." My mouth dropped open, but he refused to let me interrupt, squeezing my waist to keep me quiet. "When we were 14, I was gonna tell you that smelled like wildflowers and honey. And when we were 16—" he trailed off, his grin turning roguish, "I was gonna tell you your ass looked amazing in those jeans." 
I grabbed a fistful of his hair and tugged until his grin broadened and his nose scrunched up. 
"What are you going to tell me now?" I asked, breath catching. 
He shrugged and screwed his face up in mock concentration. "That I like like you." He nudged my nose with his. "That you're more beautiful every time I see you…the closer I get." His hands trailed from my waist up my back, under my shirt. "That I want you."
Humina humina humina! And I do not use that word lightly.

Let's just say that the rest of the story is hot. I enjoyed the writing, the idea of exploring the characters as youths into young adulthood, and the sweetness and intact characterization.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

To Review Fanfiction or Not to Review Fanfiction

Sometimes I read novels and sometimes I read fanfiction. Fanfiction is nice because most of it is short and fluffy and lemony and exists in its own little world with its own little rules. Some works are book length and are so well written they deserve to be published. It's not up to me of course, but maybe I will try reviewing a few of them just because dangit, these are undiscovered gems and fantastic authors and they need to be brought to light and shared!

I will present a few different tastings of fanfiction:

  • Reviews of novel-length fanfiction novels published online
  • Reviews of fanfiction short stories
  • Commentary and examples of incredibly strange and badly written fanfiction
  • Commentary and examples of horrible cringeworthy fanfiction story summaries

Fandoms I tend to browse (in no particular order):

Some of these I check more often than others, and I do have a few more popular fandoms I pop into now and again but not regularly -- the Narnia series for one, Star Wars and so on. Mainly I'm reading Walking Dead right now but Hunger Games has been of interest after I watched Catching Fire (I read the books a while back.) 

So expect some fanfiction reviews and whatnot. 

Reviews with GIFs

I know not everyone is a fan of the use of gifs within reviews, but I enjoy them for kicks and giggles. When I started out reading reviews on Goodreads, I was annoyed by all those gifs but soon got used to them. Now I feel slighted when I read reviews without them. I need the laughs. Sometimes I would just crack up laughing at a well placed gif and a great caption or explanation. I hope my use of gifs doesn't bother you because for the time being, I enjoy the dang things.

I'll probably get tired of them so it's just a matter of letting things run their course.

Because the post is about gifs, I felt I should add one at random. Enjoy.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

"Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh. 
Melanie is a very special girl."

I was so excited to read this book based on the description (so mysterious!) and the fabulous reviews on Goodreads. Reviewers across the board spoke of great writing, a fantastic surprise ending, intrigue, a fascinating dystopia etc.

The story is a bit zombie, a lot dystopian society hiding from said zombies (called hungries because they, as most modern zombs, like to bite and their "virus" or whatever is transferred through biting/saliva), a bit of fungus/mold (taking the place of a virus because hey, how many ways can one come up with to transfer or grow a zombie plague), a bit military installation/doctor/scientist-y stuff, and a huge promise of a fantastic ending.

So, what happened?

I ended up giving this book just two stars ("it was ok"). I expected I'd be blown away and give it 5 stars like almost everyone else, but I found the whole thing fell short. I don't know if it was just expecting too much based on other people's opinions, or if it was the book itself.

The writing isn't a problem; many a time I would stop and appreciate a turn of phrase. Some of the characterizations were annoying, though: the male soldiers acted in a typically sexist way, always talking about their attraction to one of the female scientists and mentioning porn. The book certainly didn't need that at all. When we got into the men's heads, we just wanted to get back OUT.

Two characters needed a lot more interactions and opportunity in the book -- Melanie, a ten year old infected with the zomb mold/virus who is supposed to be the main character but who is mostly talked about instead of being a participant in much, and Dr. Caldwell who is the main antagonist who wants to dissect our young heroine. I feel so much more could have been done with these two and a lot of time was wasted on Miss Justineau and Melanie's "crush" on her.  It's like the book ignored two of its most interesting and vibrant characters in order to spend a lot of time blathering about characters who really didn't matter much in the end.

Even the times we got to see more kids like Melanie, we didn't get to spend much time with them. Action sequences didn't last long enough or have enough happening. There were only a couple of instances where there was a lot of suspense (the last couple of scenes with Gallagher for example). If the book had incorporated more moments like these, maybe along the lines of The Strain series, the novel would have been elevated for me.

Around halfway through I started getting bored, and that's not something I expected would happen considering I went into the book with excitement and eagerness. It was a bit of a chore just to finish.

Overall it was just ok. Nothing spectacular.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Fat Shaming

I could post for years on the subject of fat shaming, it's so pervasive and disgusting. We hear all the whiners insisting that they are only looking out for others' health and how fat people should not feel comfortable living.

I assert that if you have ever eaten something unhealthy, you're a hypocrite. How dare you go stuff your face with sugar and carbs and fast food yet attack someone whose metabolism is slower than yours (for whatever reason.)

We are somehow seen as celebrating disease and being "unhealthy" if we push for fat acceptance. So many people feel compelled to insist that "shouldn’t encourage obesity."

Sort of like when you attack someone for their choice of clothing or their hair color/style, or anything else that doesn't bring you pleasure? We shouldn't allow people to exist comfortable without us telling them they haven't lived up to our narrow minded expectations and demands, right?

How dare women walk around with small breasts. How dare fat people not be miserable all day. How dare short people be all short. How dare anyone wear glasses instead of contacts. How dare we walk around with *gasp* VISIBLE PORES! How dare women get older. How dare we look TOO GOOD, lest we arouse lustful thoughts in men who are incapable of controlling themselves!

WebMd states:

Medical causes of obesity can include:
  • Hypothyroidism. This is a condition where the thyroid gland, located in the neck, produces too little thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone regulates our metabolism. So too little hormone slows the metabolism and often causes weight gain. If your doctor suspects thyroid disease as a cause of your obesity, he or she may perform blood tests to check your hormone levels.
  • Cushing's syndrome. This condition results when the adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) produce an excess amount of a steroid hormone called cortisol. This leads to a build-up of fat in characteristic sites such as the face, upper back, and abdomen.
  • Depression. Some people with depression overeat, which can lead to obesity.
There are also certain inherited conditions and other diseases of the brain that can cause excess weight gain.
Certain medications, notably steroids, some antidepressants, high blood pressure drugs, and seizure medications can also cause increased body weight.

They also state that usually obesity is caused by "overeating" but I can point out a few things -- overeating is not always a choice thing or something within our control. We work on control all the time, but when your thyroid refuses to do its thing and you eat a cupcake, it's going to create much more fat than it would in someone whose body is functioning as it should.

Case in point, me and my husband. My husband is thin and can't seem to gain weight. I on the other hand, have struggled with my weight since childhood. I used to walk all over NYC (didn't own a car) and was still overweight. I walked quite a few miles every day. I walked from 44th street to Lincoln Center and back. My blood pressure was EXCELLENT. I didn't have any health problems. But I was still overweight.

I would try not to eat much while my husband could shovel in multiple helpings. I was eating low fat and doing portion control while my husband didn't have to think twice about what he put in his mouth. I was not eating a lot of food, not having multiple servings -- heck, I eat slowly and am usually the last person to finish eating and usually also have to bring food home in a to go box while everyone else's plates are clean AND they're having dessert! (Dessert, I don't do. Hate dessert.) Then I found that carbs were my personal culprit (i.e. a calorie is NOT a calorie and I was eating not too much but the wrong combination of foods), went on Atkins and started losing weight at a more reasonable rate, but still -- how was it that my husband didn't put any weight on considering he worships at the Golden Arches, drinks soda after soda all day long, eats pies, candy, Reese's peanut butter cups, peanut butter and ice cream by the gallon, bags of donuts, Kool-Aid, and full packages of naked, cold cooked spaghetti??? By rights he should be dead by now or at least diabetic. Nope, he's not. His cholesterol is about 2 pts. above normal. His weight is fine.

We went to a new doctor in Canada and during our initial chat with him, he pointed out that there are a couple of types of people and my husband was the one who watched what he ate and ate healthfully while *I* was the sort of person who ate whatever they wanted, whenever. (!!!! SERIOUSLY !!!!) He assumed this and could not have been more wrong. I was the one who paid attention to every meal, I was the one eating low carb, I was the one concerned with health. Hubby didn't give a shit because hey, according to society he was thin and thin is healthy! So why bother?

Did I mention that my husband also does not eat any kind of vegetable beyond corn (cooked), carrots (raw) and sometimes, in those RARER than pigs flying moments, lettuce? And might I also add that corn and carrots are heavy on sugars.

Society would look at us and say I am the problem. That I have no right to feel comfortable in my body. That I am somehow making wrong choices and need to be punished. But no one would KNOW that my husband packs away fast food and crap with absolute reckless abandon. No one would judge his eating habits or point out that he really should expand on his vegetable horizons. That he should take good care of himself and have some self respect.

Because you can't SEE what he's doing wrong.

And you can't SEE what I'm doing right.

And thin does not equal healthy. It doesn't mean the thin person is always eating veggies and tuna or that they don't eat fast food ever or crap or sodas or get drunk or practice safer sex or are responsible in ANY way. It could be as absolutely simple as their metabolisms are faster. Yet they're not attacked for any of their poor choices.

So to anyone who actually thinks it's ok to tell me how I eat or how I live or should live, or feels they can dictate another person's life for any reason, I will come by and pick up your porn, beer, pot and everything else you use that can be "unhealthy" so we can burn it on the "Healthy Only, Always" bonfire and I'll hand out some kale chips. In the meantime: