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.