Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Rock Star in Seat 3A

So after reading Gillian Flynn's mental mind fuck of a book, Gone Girl, I really needed something breezy. My husband was supposed to pick me up on Friday to drive down to Chinatown for an appointment so I should have had about twenty minutes to browse my wish list and pick something out. I was narrowing down  to two choices when he called to tell me to take the subway instead so I went for the book that had the better reviews. Next time, I should just get a sample of each.

Seriously, I rolled my eyes throughout this book. I'd bought it and since it was only 200 pages, I figured I should just finish it but I really didn't like it.

Here's the premise: Hazel is a "gamer girl", who works for a company eloquently named "Badass Games" in NYC. She lives with her boyfriend, a promising chef named Wylie (stupid name #1), who she learns early on in the book wants to marry her (although he doesn't know that she saw his star sticker on the ceiling proposal). She freaks out a bit and goes on a work trip to LA without saying anything to him. In an earlier scene, she had been at a dinner party with friends where each character shared their celebrity crush. Hazel's was a hard core rocker named Finn Schiller who she has been obsessed with for years. This sets up the inevitable plane encounter.

Hazel gets bumped up to first class. And who boards the plane right before it takes off? None other than our friend, Finn Schiller, rock star extraordinaire. Immediately he learns where she works and turns out he loves Badass' games. The flight is rocky as they go through a storm and the near death experience draws the two of them closer. She gets sick but he still is interested in getting to know her. Sparks fly. They are totally drawn to each other and she forgets a bit about Wylie. In LA, he takes her out to dinner, where she admits that she has a boyfriend. Finn takes a step back and lets her leave LA without trying to hook up with her, but he does let her use an old warehouse that he owns for the launch party that she is supposed to plan for her company's newest game.

I'm not going any further into the plot, but I did want to share somethings that I didn't like at all. First off, there were several inconsistencies that any good editor should have been able to pick up.

Inconsistency #1: Hazel tells Finn that she is visiting LA twice before the launch party. Once two weeks after she first met him and then two weeks after that. But then the second time she goes to LA, it's the weekend of the party. He had told her that he was going on tour in two weeks but that he would come to the party and I was totally confused on the whole timeline.

Inconsistency #2: Hazel asks her sister Kira if she remembered reading The Missing Piece (or maybe The Giving Tree - both are mentioned in the book and I can't remember which one was referenced in this part and I'm too lazy to go look it up). Kira says something like, yes, I just read it to Celeste. Who the hell is Celeste? Earlier in the chapter, Kira's daughters were named Iris and Maeve. Iris makes other appearances and Maeve vanishes... or maybe she is really Celeste. WHO IS CELESTE?!

Inconsistency #3: Finn mentions having a private plane. I guess it's not always that easy to use a private plane although that seems to defeat the purpose of having one. But anyway, if he did have a private plane, why was he on Hazel's plane to begin with? Ugh.

Inconsistency #4: When two characters have sex, there's definitely a comment about using a condom. However, after the deed is done, there is another conversation about sperm being on the woman's legs, which would NOT happen if a condom was used. That was just lazy.

Besides the inconsistencies, I hated the way everyone in the book talked. Hazel is supposed to be 30. I'm 30 now and this girl talked like a hipster idiot. She cursed non-stop for no particular reason. I'm really not a priss (I promise) and I do have moments where I curse but as a teacher, I'm pretty good at watching my language around people. I just feel like it lacks total class to curse in every other sentence and for no particular reason.

She also kept describing food as ambrosia, which got annoying. I get that food is supposed to be good, but pick another adjective! And she used really irritating words like "chunder" (vomit) and shizzle (are you twelve?). I found all of the dialogue in the book to be incredibly stupid.

Beyond that, things happened way too fast. Hazel never really has a good reason for either of the major decisions that she makes in the book. Finn also comes off as very light and fun but apparently he's all tortured and messed up but none of that comes across. Even when they talk about it, I still couldn't reconcile his self-description with the character throughout the whole book. There are also places where his awful song lyrics are printed in the book. The other characters in the book were totally one dimensional, so when she mentioned getting emails from "the old gang", I didn't care because she didn't make me want to care.

All in all, I should've gone with the book that was an update on Pygmalion... or something British. I'm all for fun and breezy but not stupid and poorly edited (there were various other errors throughout the book. In one instance Hazel used the term "blowj", and I don't know if that was one of her stupid expressions or just bad editing after the author forgot to add "ob" to the word). So not one I'd recommend.

Here are some more positive reviews than mine: Toothybooks, Woman Around Town. Here's one that was more in line with what I thought: Leeswammes.

Buy it at amazon or Barnes & Noble. Or don't. Ugh.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gone Girl Review

It was chilly and overcast in the early part of this week and I needed to read a book to fit the weather and, of course, one that was very different from The American Heiress. I like to mix it up, you know. I am familiar with Gillian Flynn as she used to be a writer for Entertainment Weekly, one of my favorite magazines. Of course EW has been promoting this book all over the place and while I usually roll my eyes at that (they have to give her a good review, right?), when the book kept popping up all over the place, I finally looked into what it was all about.

Gone Girl is the story of a ridiculously messed up marriage. The book opens with Nick, waking up on his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy, who is downstairs cooking crepes for a special breakfast. It becomes clear quickly that things are not altogether right in their world. Nick is disgusted with his wife... or perhaps with himself for what he may or may not do to his wife. It's unclear at first, although when Amy disappears in the beginning of the book (the first chapter, I think) and leaves behind signs of a struggle, Nick immediately looks like the main suspect. He becomes more suspicious as the book goes on, especially as he slowly reveals more about himself that shows that he was purposely keeping details from the reader so they also grow suspicious of him.

Between Nick's chapters, which take place in the present, are Amy's chapters - excerpts from a diary that she kept from 2005 to 2012. These entries provide a chronological snapshot of their marriage, from their initial meeting at a party to the day of her disappearance. Amy presents herself as a loving, buoyant woman, who adores her husband, even if he has frozen her out of his life. She uprooted herself from Manhattan after they both lost their jobs and moved with him back to Missouri, his childhood home, to care for his elderly and sick parents. Amy is also the inspiration for the Amazing Amy series, books written by her parents featuring an all too perfect character. Is Amy really amazing? Is she as perfect as the character named for her? Is there truth to any of this?

The book is divided into three parts. The first presents Nick's story as he deals with Amy's disappearance, as well as the diary entries. Nick tries to spearhead a police investigation to get Amy back, but again, the reader starts to find out more and more about him and discovers that he is quite flawed and unlikable in a lot of ways, while Diary Amy becomes more and more adorable and sweet as the book goes on. For their anniversary, Amy set up a treasure hunt, one of their traditions, and Nick goes from place to place, piecing together the clues and, despite years of being dissatisfied with his wife, starting to fall for her all over again.

But is he falling for the right Amy? I'm not going into detail about the other two parts because the book is filled with twists and turns and I really don't want to spoil it for anyone. I found this novel to be completely gripping. I was stuck home for several hours yesterday, while my super fixed tiles in my bathroom, and I literally read all day. I have about 10% left this morning and when it was too hot to sleep past 6:30, I got up and finished the book. I can't say whether the ending was entirely satisfying for the reader but you definitely get the sense that characters got what they deserved. There are no stand out, lovable characters here, but that really works for the story. This book was certainly worth all the praise it has received and I will definitely be buying Gillian Flynn's other two novels soon.

NY Times Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Catching Up on Comics

Locke and Key, Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom
I'm off for the summer and I'm hoping to do a lot of reading. I spent yesterday reading two of the comics that   I bought my husband for his birthday on Sunday. I think I got him 8 different comics - two Star Wars, two Dark Crystals, two Walking Deads, one of the Fables spin offs (reviewed below) and the fourth Locke and Key.

I've reviewed Locke and Key before, but as my husband says, this series is consistently awesome. He's absolutely right. It is written by Stephen King's son, Joe Hill. It's weird and creepy but also funny, sweet and sad. People get hurt and die. The keys continue to do interesting things, like turn the kids into birds and giants. The plot moves along smoothly. Some shocking things happen by the end but the kids start to get clued into the mysteries along with the audience. It's a really awesome series. Anyone who likes comics, Stephen King or American Horror Story should check this out.

Buy at at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Cinderella: Fables are Forever
Cinderella: Fables Are Forever

Fables is probably my absolutely favorite on going comic series. The premise is that all of the fairy tale and fables characters that we know and love really exist, in parallel worlds. However, when those worlds were threatened by a mysterious adversary, many of the magical people came through portals and moved into our planet. The group we spend the most time with lives in New York City, led by the mayor, King Cole, and his deputy, Snow White. The sheriff, Bigby Wolf used to be the Big Bad Wolf. The series is full of clever characters and moments. There's one major arc about defeating the adversary but the story kept going on beyond that. There are also two spin offs, with a third on the way. This volume was the second of the Cinderella spin offs.

Cinderella poses as a spoiled, flighty socialite, who owns a shoe store called The Glass Slipper, which she barely goes into. She is also one of the ex-wives of Prince Charming (in a brilliant move, there is only one Prince Charming who married Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella). In actuality, she is a spy and sometime assassin for the New York Fables. She's intelligent, resourceful and of course, beautiful. This trade covers her long time issues with Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz), a dangerous mercenary. Dorothy was featured in the Jack of Fables spin off but this reconciled the two story lines nicely.

As usual, I really enjoyed the book. The Jack spin offs ended really badly but the main Fables comics are consistently good and I'm looking forward to the Fairest spin off, which will feature stories about all the female characters from Fables, including the continuing adventures of Cinderella.

If you are a fan of Once Upon a Time, Fables is definitely up your alley. Check it out!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The American Heiress Review

I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw this review excerpted on amazon: "Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms (who isn't?) will find an instant tonic in Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress. The story of Cora Cash, an American heiress in the 1890s who bags an English duke, this is a deliciously evocative first novel that lingers in the mind." --Allison Pearson, New York Times

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I obsessively love Downton Abbey... and pretty much anything from the Edwardian/Victorian period in England. I bought The American Heiress ages ago but finally got around to reading it. I'd been so immersed in Hugh Howey's Wool series that I needed to take a break with a totally different kind of novel.

For those of you who are Downton Abbey fans, you should know that this could be the story of Lady Grantham, the wealthy American wife of Lord Grantham. Apparently it's also similar to the story of Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (here's another interesting article on Lady Jennie). There are certainly familiar elements of both Lady Grantham and Lady Randolph Churchill in The American Heiress.

The novel follows Cora Cash, the young, beautiful and insanely wealthy heir to a flour fortune. She lives in New York City during the Gilded Age, although the book opens up in Newport, Rhode Island, where the fabulously wealthy spent their summers. Cora's mother is determined to marry her daughter off to a European title, which is of course the one thing that their money can't necessarily buy (or can it?). Cora just wants to live her life uninterrupted and marry Teddy, a fellow NYC wealthy heir.

After a disastrous end of the summer party in Nantucket, Cora and her mother embark on a tour of England, sailing over in daddy's private steam yacht (it is ridiculous how much money people had back then!). During a hunt early on in the book, Cora is thrown from her horse and rescued by Ivo, a duke. Like many British nobles of the time, Ivo has the beautiful and ancient house and the title but very little money, as he was saddled with death duties after the deaths of his father and brother. Within a week (maybe a bit more), Ivo proposes and they are married in a grand NYC society wedding.

However, it becomes clear rather quickly that Cora and Ivo do not know each other very well. As they settle into their life in a gorgeous mansion in London and the ancestral home in the country, Cora realizes how difficult it is to fit into life in England. The rules are very different from what she became used to. Americans, especially wealthy heiresses, are known to be vulgar. Cora makes a lot of mistakes, which puts a strain on her marriage to Ivo. At the same time, an old family friend named Charlotte keeps hanging around, and it seems clear that she and Ivo have a history. Also her mother-in-law, the Double Duchess (who seems similar to Churchill's mother), doesn't make her life very easy.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which is interesting. Cora is spoiled and brash, but also likable. She genuinely loves her husband, even when she does not understand him. Bertha, her half-black maid, shares the story of the "downstairs" world. Cora's mother also chimes into the story from time to time, as does Teddy, Cora's first love. There are various other characters who pop in and out as well, which makes the novel very well rounded.

It's on the longer side, close to 500 pages, but the story was always interesting. I know I said it before, but it's mind blowing how much money these people had! There's an Edith Wharton feel to the story as well, so fans of her work would probably enjoy this. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending as well. Cora could have come off as a total brat, but Goodwin wrote her to rise above her spoiled nature to become a very real, very interesting woman. I truly enjoyed this novel!

NY Times Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First Shift: Legacy Review

As I said in my previous post, I'm obsessed with this series. I meant to take a break between finishing the first five Wool books and the first of the prequel series, but yesterday, I couldn't resist buying First Shift: Legacy. My co-worker, Tom, has been waiting to buy and read this until school ends, but I couldn't wait after finishing Wool 5. Plus, since I borrowed the other books from him, I figured I should purchase all Howey's other books in support of his work.

This book took me two days. It's about 266 pages, so it isn't super long. It follows two protagonists: Troy, in year 2110, who wakes in a facility under the hills of Georgia. The other character is Donald, a democratic congressman from Georgia in the year 2049. Through Troy's eyes, we start to understand more about the silos. He is in charge of Silo 1. He has to take on five shifts of six months. In between shifts, he is put to sleep (in a cyropod) for an indeterminate amount of time. There are only men in his Silo. The women and children remain frozen. We don't know until when. We don't know what the end game of all of this is yet. Troy takes pills to forget the past but is periodically overcome with sadness. As he slowly rebels against taking the pills, he starts to remember more of the past.

Meanwhile, in the past, Donald is a rookie congressman, who has been recruited by a powerful senator, Thurman, to work on a special project. The idea is that they will build a containment facility in Georgia to hold the world's used nuclear fuse rods. Donald, who studied architecture, is in charge of designing an underground building just in case something goes wrong. It's clear to the reader, although not to the naive Donald, that he is actually designing the first of the silos.

His storyline comes to a head at the 2052 Democratic National Convention at the facility site. It's an intense ending (or really, beginning) to his story. I suspected the connection between the two men early on, but Howey kept me second guessing myself as to how they tied together until the end. I was left absolutely reeling. I forgot to mention in my previous review how he has enough of a gift of words that I had very visceral reactions to his writing. In the 5th part, he wrote this long sequence where a character is underwater, and I literally felt like I was suffocating. At the end of this one, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. In a good way... is that possible? Well let's just say, I was shocked by some elements, while others confirmed my suspicions and the whole thing left me dying to read part 7... which he is only 5% into on his blog. AH! Luckily he's a fast writer. I'm sure there will be five books in this series as well, each one detailing a shift from silo 1, although I don't know that for sure. I read some forum posts about this book on his blog, and he actually jumped on and gave some hints about what lies ahead for these characters. We don't know what year the other Wool books occurred in, but it seems likely that Troy could be put to sleep and brought back to interact with the characters from the other series.

As I said in my last review, I can't emphasize enough how much I loved these books and how highly I recommend them. They're wonderful stories about people so even if you think you don't like dystopia, just try the first Wool. It's about 65 pages and if you hate it, don't pick up the next one, but I really hope you love it as much as I did!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wool Review II (Parts 2-5)

I've become a bit obsessed with Hugh Howey. Every time I say "Wool", my husband says "faster sheepies, faster," a line from the opening of Your Highness. He keeps pretending the book is about evil sheep. He's weird.

Anyway, after reviewing the first Wool novella, I tore through the rest of the series. This is the amazon description of the books:

"This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside."

I already covered the first part and the start of the second in my first post. The second part was just as gripping as the first. The mayor and the deputy journey through the Silo to interview a young woman named Juliette for a vital job. They visit her father to learn more about her and the readers get to see much of the rest of the Silo as only the up top section was focused on in the first part.

I really don't want to give anything away because there were a lot of twists and turns but the last three parts were absolutely fascinating. The story switches from having a single narrator to a few different points of view in parts 3-5, one of which is Juliette, who was introduced in the second part. There's an idea in the book that people who think are dangerous. They are an infection that could spread through the whole Silo, leading to a collapse of the tightly controlled system. What's fascinating to me is that as the reader, you get to see lots of different perspectives. You understand the motives for those who are in charge of the society, even as Juliette and another character, Lukas, do.

I'm don't really love sci fi in the sense of space travel and aliens, but I love dystopia (as I've mentioned many times before). One of my students told me that the book sounded like The Hunger Games. I told her it was more like The Giver. The series is more introspective than action based. It tackles really big ideas like morality, repression and what holds people together. It also reminded me a bit of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and her MaddAdam trilogy (although only two of the books are out now). I literally could not put it down. The ending was to the series was a satisfactory conclusion, which hinted that there was more to come. Yay!

I've read a lot about Hugh Howey recently as he's getting a lot of press, and I really admire his whole persona. He is a dedicated writer who, despite foreign book deals and having the rights to Wool bought by Ridley Scott, truly cares about producing excellent, well-crafted stories and continues to publish independently even though he has gotten a lot of buzz and could probably score an awesome book deal. He came to NYC a couple weeks ago and told fans to come hang out with him at a bar in my neighborhood. I so wish I'd been aware of him at that point. I would have loved to go!

I will definitely be checking out all of his books. I already bought The Plagiarist and plan to read everything he's done... even the Molly Fyde series, which is set in space and I think has aliens too.

I can't recommend this author or this book enough.

You can currently buy the Wool series in separate volumes, or in one omnibus. Here are links to the omnibus (it's under $6) at amazon and Barnes & Noble.