Thoughts on “The Terror” by Dan Simmons

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD TO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. 

The Terror and her flagship, Erebus, are stranded in the arctic.

Their food source is contaminated.

Sickness is rampant.

Their ships have been ravaged by ice.

And no rescue is expected.

…….Oh, and, also, there’s an immortal polar bear demon that can only be appeased by allowing it or someone else to play another human’s vocal cords like a flute.

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What I liked: 

The characters. I thought Simmons did a pretty stellar job distinguishing between each crew member which is saying quite a bit considering how many characters there are in this thing. As someone who often struggles with remembering who is who in most stories (another reason why I have yet to actually read the Game of Thrones series) his repetition when describing each character and their physical features and rank was very much appreciated. While many other characters could have used a bit more development, I believe he did a good job of making them come alive, especially Crozier, the Captain of The Terror and Erebus‘s Goodsir, the anatomist who remains one of my favorite characters.

The attention to detail. It’s obvious that Simmons did a lot of research with this piece from boat geography, to describing an arctic landscape without just using the word “ice” over and over again, to the ranking system. It’s impressive to read. You actually feel like you’re there, freezing along with them. Before reading this book I had no idea how awful scurvy really is, not to mention the other illnesses the crew had to suffer through. And make no mistake, this book does not skimp out on the gross details or give the dying any sort of dignity. It reports on how they crapped themselves, screamed, bled and farted. While this can be tedious to read it does a fantastic job of conveying the pure hopelessness of their situation which made this piece all the more engrossing.

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Historically accurate attitudes. While it is a bit cringy reading bits where characters go on racist or homophobic diatribes, at the very least I can say that it is historically accurate for that time period and I’m glad Simmons didn’t try to politically correct the characters in order to make them more sympathetic or likable.

Crozier’s second sight. While I didn’t think all of his visions were strictly necessary I loved the reoccurring dream he had where he is forced to partake in communion with his eccentric grandmother. It painted a perfect picture of what was to come and provided the audience with beautifully creepy imagery.

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The surprise ending. I admit I nearly quit reading this book because of the sheer hopelessness of it all. I knew that it real life none of the crewmen survived so watching them furtively cling to life in what essentially would be an exercise in futility seemed like a chore. However, I didn’t give Simmons nearly enough credit and he ended things on a note I had not expected.  Turns out my favorite character, Captain Crozier, survived after all and made a family amongst the natives.

What I didn’t like: 

It’s too damn long. I’m not opposed to slow burns, but this book went on waaaaaay longer than it needed to. I, personally, think they could have cut out maybe 100 to 200 pages or so and it would have been just fine. I actually thought about giving up on this book just because it was such an uphill climb.

Not enough monster. At a certain point in the books, after the crews decided to abandon their ships and go it alone, the monster attacks just…stop basically. And for no discernible reason. I guess it’s because the story would be over with too quickly? I’m not sure but it’s absence is sorely missed and hard to explain. In fact the monster more often than not appears as a sort of McGuffin. If you look at the story itself you wonder if the book even needs a monster at all. It’s not as if the crew didn’t have enough problems already. I mentioned the starvation, the intolerable atmosphere and the spread of illness. Then again, I did like the creature and the mythos surrounding it so I guess I can excuse it.

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Some of the character perspectives are pointless. Not many of them, you understand, but I’m still trying to figure out where Simmons was going for when he wrote the part where one of the oldest shiphand was talking to a former lover of his about the chances of rescue and Darwin and whatnot. It wasn’t a badly written scene or anything, I just don’t see why it needed to be there. Especially when neither of the characters present for that scene had that much of a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

Overall opinion: 

So, in spite of this book’s foibles, I did enjoy it quite a bit and even consider it one of my favorites now. I’m hoping to sample more of Simmons’ work in the future and hope his other pieces are just as entertaining as this one.

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Thoughts on “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK OUTLANDER AHEAD.

Strap in, folks, this is gonna be a long review. Then again this was a long book, so what do you expect?

What I liked: 

The great characters. I didn’t always like Claire, but she always felt like a person and not just a vassal through which the author could carry out the story. Everyone had an interesting backstory and their own distinct personality, which really helped me get into the spirit of the novel. The dialogue was very personalized as well and I was impressed at how each character was able to give lengthy exposition without it sounding too unnatural. I also found that, despite the Game of Thrones level number of characters, it was easy enough to remember who each one of them were because of how unique Gabaldon made them.

The immersive environment. It’s very easy for a reader to lose themselves in this book. The way Gabaldon is able to describe the lay of the land is impressive and I never had any difficulty wondering where exactly these people were or what the environment looked like. What I can appreciate is the environment isn’t just a backdrop, it’s engrained into the story itself.

Sexy times for all. While the romance between Jamie and Claire may have been a bit rushed, what with Claire still having a husband back home, I believe the chemistry between these two is strong. The fact that they’re both well-developed characters helps me care more about their relationship and I think Gabaldon writes sex pretty well. She doesn’t explain so little that you can’t tell what’s happening, but she also doesn’t explain so much that it comes across as mechanical and weird.

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The historical accuracy. It’s obvious that a lot of research went into this novel and as someone who has tried to write historical fiction with mixed results, I can really appreciate her efforts. The details she put into this really help the story come alive, especially when she writes about the environment and costumes people wear. She also doesn’t shy away from describing the abominable odors that persist in these types of places back in the 18th century. I was doubly impressed when she went into details about which herbs to use for healing and how to describe how someone would properly attend a wounded man back in those days.

What I didn’t like: 

The focus was all over the place. I don’t think I would be out of line for saying that this book is by and large plotless. While there are many obstacles that the lead characters run into, there is no centralized conflict. For the most part, the structure of the story is “this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened.” It didn’t ever seem to be leading up to anything. On the one hand it left me guessing as to what would be the final outcome of the story, but on the other hand it made me wonder just what the point of all of this was. This is a shame because there were so many points of interest such as Claire missing the modern world, Jamie’s outlaw status and, I think most importantly, the inevitable doom that is to befall the Highlanders.

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Claire’s unrealistic reactions to killing. The book makes it clear on several occasions that Claire is accustomed to seeing people dying because of her position as a nurse during the War. However, I’d like to point out that there is a huge difference between watching someone dying and actively participating in their murder. In my humble opinion, Claire’s reaction to having murdered someone is disturbingly understated. Granted the person she murdered was trying to sexually assault her, taking a life is an unnatural act and a psychologically stable person would be horrified at having to do so. Especially one who swore an oath to always preserve life in any way she can. I thought they would explore this more after she was forced to murder a 16 year-old in order to save Jamie, but even then she doesn’t seem to feel that guilty about it. What makes this even more difficult for me to swallow is that this boy really didn’t do anything wrong. He was just a young lad who was trying to do his job to the best of his ability. He just happened to be on the wrong side.

It went on for too long. I think much of this can be attributed to the fact that this book lacked a plot so the author just went along with the story until she felt like stopping. While I enjoyed this book, most of this story didn’t actually need to happen in the grand scheme of things and I’m actually shocked at what they left out. For instance, the final battle to collect Jamie from the infamous Scottish prison….happens off screen…….

We spent pages and pages talking about Claire fighting a wolf (a conflict that I don’t believe even needed to exist since it doesn’t contribute anything to the plot), but when it comes to the climax, the great escape, the novel’s main villain dying….it happens off screen…….

There was no reason to cut that part out. There were so many other pointless scenes that could have been scrapped. They did not need to cut the one part that needed to be in there.

I admit, I’ve gone into this fandom totally blind so perhaps Black Jack comes back with a cyborg eye and there will be a real show-down. I don’t know. I’m just judging this book by its own merits.

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What the hell is up with Chapter 39? So the scene where Claire tries to save Jamie’s life after his torture at the hands of Randall while they’re at the monastery….Can anyone tell me what happened in that scene? I think she was trying to rekindle his will to live but…that should not have worked. Mind you, I only have a passing knowledge of psychology when it comes to PTSD related events, but I’m pretty sure forcing a patient to relive a traumatic event literally days after it happened in an uncontrolled environment would not result in a sudden miraculous turn-around in their mental behavior. Particularly when they are at death’s door to begin with. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that should have made him keel over.

Jamie’s torture. I’m gonna be honest, I thought it was overkill. The extent of his injuries and psychological torture should have left him a completely unresponsive husk of a man or dead. At least if this had stayed as true to life as it had been before. One of the most interesting aspects of his torture was left, for the most part, unexplored. While recounting the horror he faced while against Randall, he lets slip that the sight of Claire makes him ill because Randall basically conditioned him so every time he thought about Claire he would either be beaten or worse. In one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in the whole book, he tearfully explains that he doesn’t want to see her again because just her being there reawakens all of these awful memories.

Me:

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Wow. That is dark. More than dark, that’s completely and utterly heart-wrenching.

Aaaaaaand after Claire’s Most Awful Idea Ever, he’s totally fixed and ready for some bairn-making.

Ummm……

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There’s no reason why this should have worked. You can’t just undo classical conditioning.

Mrs. Gabaldon, you seem like a smart lady and all, but I don’t think you understand how psychology works. Sadly, once a mind is screwed up that badly, the damage is usually permanent. If not, it takes a looooong time for an individual to overcome it.

I think that Jamie’s aversion to Claire would have made an excellent jumping off point for the next novel and would justify a book of equal length, especially if she found out during this debacle that she was pregnant with his child. Not only would Claire have to deal with the impending slaughter of the Highlanders and the Dragoons looking for Jamie, she would also have to confront the possibility of raising a child in a foreign country in the past alone. That’s more than enough conflict for a book, in my opinion. But instead we get a miraculous recovery from Jamie and they all live happily ever after. At least for now.

Overall opinion: 

I enjoyed reading this novel and I’m more than a little interested in reading the next installment. However, I also believe this book could have been so much better if some things were cut and if the story had been given more focus. It was interesting just watching them go about their daily lives, but I think actually giving it a plot would have raised the stakes a considerable amount.

Thoughts on “My Cousin Rachel” by Daphne du Maurier

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL.

As an avid fan of du Maurier’s Rebecca, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed with My Cousin Rachel.

It started off very strong with little Philip coming face to face with the corpse of a man who had been hanged for murdering his wife, a scene which instantly hooked me into the story as it seemed to indicate that shit was going to go down.

Unfortunately nothing that happens in the novel thereafter really has as much of a punch as the beginning would seem to indicate.

What I did like: 

Du Maurier does a fantastic job of setting up atmosphere and generating feelings of unease as well as mystery. I think she also does a magnificent job of creating characters and relationships. None of them came across as flat or one-dimensional, even the side characters who didn’t do all that much.

I award du Maurier bonus points for writing a male for the lead. As someone who often struggles writing for members of the opposite sex, I thought du Maurier did an excellent job of capturing the mindset of a 19th century Englishman. If I had no indication as to who the author was, I most likely would have thought this book was written by a man.

The pacing is excellent too, never focusing on any one scene for too long.

What I didn’t like: 

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of build-up for not a lot of pay-off. It became clear as soon as Philip recovered from his “illness” that du Maurier was not going to go balls-to-the-wall as I was hoping she would do.

What puzzles me is why Rachel allowed him to get better. Was it because the writer needed him to? I’m so confused.

Also I’m disappointed there was no final confrontation between the two of them where Rachel dropped all pretense and showed Phillip her true colors. Perhaps that would have been a little too soup opera, but I think it would have been more satisfying to see the real Rachel for a moment, instead of just the repercussions of her actions.

It  would have been so interesting to see how she interacted with someone who has her confidant, a.k.a the doctor. You could make the argument that it’s creepier because we don’t know but…I disagree. I think more would actually be better in the case of this story.

Overall opinion: 

This was by no means a bad book, I’m just disappointed because I know it could have been better. If it had been just a little bit more I would probably rank it up there along with Rebecca which is one of my favorite horror novels of all time.

I’m curious to see if the movie does a better job on delivering on scares. Based on Hollywood’s track record, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

Book Review: “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED MEMOIR. 

A synopsis taken from the writer’s website:

At 23, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent of J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-paneled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still prevail and old-time agents doze at their desks in the late afternoon, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic talent, Joanna is tasked with responding to Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the deeply candid letters from his fans, she finds herself abandoning the agency’s form letter and writing her own responses. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and wonderful terms.

Pros:

The writing style. While the premise intrigued me, what drew me in was the author’s voice. From the first page, Rakoff grabbed my attention and held it tight for the duration of the novel. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader so I was entranced by the novel-like style in which it was written in.

New York City. I loved how she describes New York in all it’s hipster-y splendor. She talked about the shops, the club scene, the restaurants, just the attitude of the city. Admittedly, I think New York tends to be over romanticized (particularly by those that live there), however, she was able to capture my awe and attention. It wasn’t an overblown love, but it was enough to show me why this city is considered so magical to some.

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It’s a story about growing up. I am around the same age Rakoff was when these events took place, so I found myself in her. She addresses many of the drawbacks of growing up such as paying the bills for the first time, growing apart from friends, watching other people make it big and become successful, and the doubt you experience in your own abilities. More than this, however, she accurately describes the loneliness of going through life, feeling as if nobody cares about you. It’s a relatable book, particularly if you’re in (or have recently graduated from) college.

Cons: 

The dust-jacket is misleading. While Rakoff’s job of responding to the Salinger’s fan letters is an important part of the memoir, the description makes it sound like it’s the crux of the story, or that she somehow mislead people into thinking she was Salinger when this is not the case. As I mentioned before, this story is more about growing up and figuring out what you want to do with your life than it is about Salinger or her acting as his mouthpiece.

Why Don?  Rakoff was never able to convincingly explain to the reader  why she stayed with Don, her roommate/boyfriend. From what I’m given to understand, she had a phenomenal boyfriend who went to California for school and….for some reason she didn’t go with him. She then decided to cheat on said boyfriend with Don, a egotist with little regard for Rakoff or her feelings, and even moved into a crappy apartment with him. My question is why? Why did she stay with him if she had a much better option? If Don had been the college boyfriend and she was just reluctant to let him go because of their history, I would be able to understand her thinking. However, that was not the case. I think it would have been important to discuss considering it probably reveals quite a bit about Rakoff as a person.

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Rushed ending. If I had to chose which part of this book was the worst, then I would easily say the ending. Up until this point, everything was well paced and shaping up nicely. However, there is no real emotional pay-off with her boyfriend Don. We don’t see or hear about the death throes of their relationship, the narrative just says she left him at some point for her much more desirable college boyfriend. There’s a jarring jump into the future where she learns about Salinger’s death and…nothing else about her life. We know she had kids and that she’s married to someone (she doesn’t tell us if this is the angelic college boyfriend of yore or not), but she doesn’t go into any detail about her life in the future. I wish we could have seen more since it would have been nice to know how her relationship with Salinger altered her adult life. Otherwise there’s not much point in including it other than to say “wow, sucks that Salinger is dead and stuff.”

Overall opinion: 

While I had a few problems with this book, my overall impression of it was a positive one. I was able to really connect with the writer and her experiences working at The Agency. It’s difficult to put down and I definitely think it was worth the read.

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“The Infinity Doctors” a Doctor Who Novel Review

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the novel. It’s been out since the 90s, but I thought I should give you a heads up anyway. 

Pros:

Gallifrey. Firstly, I would like to say I love how in-depth the writer is when describing Gallifrey in this novel. You would think that it would bog down the plot, but if anything it enriches the reading experience. Precious little is revealed about Gallifrey in the show so being introduced to the culture in all its complexities was a thrill for me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that is the best thing about this book.

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The Sontarans and Rutans. I was surprised by how invested I was in the conflict between these two races. They were just a tiny subplot that was mostly abandoned after the second act, but the resolution to their conflict was hilarious. I honestly laughed out loud. I loved how Sontar and the Rutan leader interacted with each other and the way they finally made peace was the cherry on top.

The plot. The book was pretty heavy on techno babble and, admittedly I got a bit bored with all the sciency speak. However, the plot itself was pretty solid and it introduced a lot of interesting concepts like people who remember the future instead of the past.

The characters. I won’t say that I was heavily invested in these people, but I did find myself a great deal more interested in the original characters than I normally am in DW novels. Most of the time I just want to skip to the parts with The Doctor, but this time I was actually interested in hearing Larna’s perspective and what it was like being a recently initiated Time Lord. They also seemed more organic rather than stock characters as is custom in most of these EDAs. I even found myself liking the Chancellory Guards Peltroc and Raimor even though they didn’t play that big of a roll in the grand scheme of things.

Cons:

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame. I will admit, there was one scene in particular that nearly made me stop reading the book. If you haven’t read the book, I would suggest you not continue with this post. Still here? Okay. Larna, a bright Time Lady and The Doctor’s favorite student, tries to stop The Doctor from entering the Station and The Doctor decides to retaliate by stabbing her in the heart.

No. Literally. He stabs her in the heart

He knows she’ll be able to have a surgery that will reverse any negative side effects that such an injury would create, but um…he stabbed her!!!!

This girl trusted him with her life. They were very close friends. And he stabbed her.

And then what happens? She moves the blade so it severs her spinal cord.

And she dies.

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I mean, sure, he asks Omega to bring her back to life later, but that’s beside the point. He stabbed an innocent person who got in his way. This leads me to another con.

No long-term effects. So my second biggest problem with this book is a bit ironic, especially if you’ve read the conclusion to this little piece. One of the largest issues with The Infinity Doctors is there are hardly any consequences.

What’s funny is the book openly admits that this is what happened:

“Nothing had changed, because nothing ever changed on Gallifrey except over geological timescales. Nothing was better, nothing was worse”  (pg 279-280)

There are no consequences for The Doctor having tried to play God and there are no consequences from him having murdered Larna. Yeah, the Doctor Who Wiki classifies it as suicide, but for all intents and purposes The Doctor killed her. There’s no confrontation, their relationship doesn’t suffer, she doesn’t remember it…it’s basically brushed under the rug.

Um…excuse me but…THIS IS A BIG DEAL!

He murdered one of his friends. And not because of some Save-The-Universe issue. He did it because he wanted to get with his dead wife whom he ditches after, like, two chapters.

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But no, no. Lance Parkin says it’s cool, guys. It’s cool. Just have a jelly baby and push the undo button.

The Doctor, himself, said that a universe without consequences is devoid of meaning and yet all of his actions go unchallenged. Maybe it’s addressed in the next book? I don’t know. All I know is that at the end of this one, Larna and The Doctor are totally cool with each other and The Doctor going all stabby-stab on her is never addressed again.

He doesn’t have an Oh-God-What-Have-I-Done moment, nor does he reflect on what such an action says about him as a person. It’s just kind of…forgotten.

Conclusion:

I did enjoy this novel even though the zero consequences thing kind of irks me. It did quite a bit considering how short of a book it was. However, I felt that everything moved along at a decent pace, not too long but not too short. I loved how fleshed out Gallifrey is in this novel considering how criminally underdeveloped Gallifrey is as a society in the TV show. I also found myself enjoying the side characters as well. I haven’t forgotten you Magistrate…even though everyone else seems to have done so.

Overall, I would give this book a B+ or an A-.

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My Thoughts on “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl”

WARNING: SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK.

Keep in mind I have not seen the Youtube web series that this book is based off of. My judgement is based purely on the novel itself.

Read synopsis here.

Buckle up, guys, this is going to be a long one.

My reading of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One minute I’m completely enthralled by the characters and storyline. The next, I’m bored by YA tropes and tired clichés.

Pros: 

The pacing. I, personally, think the pacing is the book’s greatest strength. The only part where it lags is when Nolan tries to convince Sunshine she is a luiseach. I, and I’m assuming most readers at this point, have seen this done a million times so it bogs down the momentum the story is building up. More on this later.

Sunshine and her mother. I like the uniquely intimate relationship Sunshine has with her mother. In most YA ,the parents are either brushed aside, or made out to be complete jerks so it’s nice to see a change of pace with this story. It also makes her mother’s possession all the more devastating.

The romance. THERE IS NO CONVOLUTED LOVE TRIANGLE!!

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I also appreciate that the writer (or writers) is taking their time with developing the relationship between Nolan and Sunshine rather than just shoving them together or forcing an unnecessary third-party into the mix. The main focus stays on the demon possessing her mother as it should.

Atmosphere. Atmosphere is one of the central components in a horror book and helps set the tone for what is to come. I was deeply engaged throughout the author’s descriptions of the house and found myself easily able to map out each room. More impressively, the writer was able to do this without slowing down the pacing.

Victoria Wilde. I can’t think of why, but Victoria was one of the most believable characters in the novel for me. You can sense with every scene she was in just how tired and aggrieved she was by what had happened to her and her family. I honestly wish there had been more about her.

Cons: 

Sunshine. At the beginning of the novel, I adored her. I loved the strange name she gave her taxidermied owl (Dr. Hoo), I loved her strange glass unicorn collection, I loved her relationship with her adopted mother, and thought her narrative voice was compelling.

Then, without warning, her character falls down the rabbit hole into Tropeland and she becomes less and less like a real teenage girl and more like a fanfic version. I know she’s supposed to be more into old things than the normal person, but it was really off-putting to hear a 21st century girl say “gollly” or “gosh” unironically.

Also, I’m sorry, but Sunshine is a stupid name.

There, I said it. They explain in the book why she was named this, but I’m sure there are plenty of female names that mean “sunshine” or “light-bringer” so actually naming her “Sunshine” makes it sound like her mother was a hippie. Which, if you’ve read the book, is very much not the case.

Nolan. I like Nolan, but I can’t help feeling he is criminally underdeveloped. I appreciate that he isn’t your traditional hot jock, or jaded loner, but I wish there was more to him. Most of what we learn about him revolves around his grandfather in some fashion. We don’t know what his home life is like, what his hobbies are, what his social status in relation to his peers is, nothing.

Also, I groaned a bit when Victoria reveals Nolan is destined to be Sunshine’s “protector” now so they’re forever bonded. Can’t people just be people who do things because of their own motivations and character rather than because of “destiny”?

Yer a wizard, Sunshine. Unquestionably, the most annoying part of the book is when Sunshine fervently denies being a luiseach, prompting a completely unnecessary argument between her and Nolan.

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The chapter “Why Are We Fighting?” was very aptly named as I couldn’t find a single justification for it. It’s not even an actual fight, Sunshine just hurls unwarranted abuse at Nolan and he deflects. Evidently, the answer to the chapter’s question is: Because the writer says we’re supposed to.

I can’t think of an explanation as to why she would dismiss Nolan’s claims either. Hell, they have proof that ghosts exist and are capable of manipulating the living’s environment and even possessing people. Taking all of that into consideration, why is the fact that she’s a psychic so hard for her to believe?

Honestly, the logical gaff isn’t what gets me with this scene. What bothers me is that I’ve seen this a million times before, and it’s not even done well in this case. The writer makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the only reason they are having this argument is so she can get Nolan out of the way for a chapter or so.

When they finally reconcile, Nolan all but blows the event off like it was never that big of a deal. I thought this was a wasted opportunity to give him some character development. I guess their fallout really did happen for no reason. Well, damn.

Final thoughts: 

Based on this lengthy diatribe, you probably think I hated this book. I didn’t. Actually I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just wish I would have liked it more. If I were to give this book a grade, I would say somewhere between B and B-.

I recommend this to anyone looking for something to read on a cold, rainy day.

Thoughts on “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it was recommended to me by a creative writing major at my university so I thought I’d give it a read.

I am so glad that I did.

This is, unquestionably, the best book I’ve ever read on writing.

And, yes, that includes Stephen King’s On Writing.

In retrospect, it’s so strange that it’s a mere 237 pages because every inch of it is jam-packed with wisdom and personality.

The latter brings me to one of my favorite aspects of this book: It does not read like a manual.

It’s like you’re talking to your cool aunt from across the kitchen table. In fact, I wish Anne Lamott was my aunt. She’s hilarious and passionate without coming across as hammy or pretentious. I can tell she genuinely cares about helping writers improve in their craft.

She has made several of the mistakes she lists in the book (and sometimes continues to make them), so she knows what she’s talking about. She understands rejection, jealousy, and wanting to be successful.

Her honestly can be a bit discouraging, but hope is a theme that resonates consistently throughout the book.

If I still haven’t convinced you to read this, here are reasons you should:

  1. It’s hilarious.
  2. It’s honest
  3. It’s short
  4. It’s personal.

If you want to write, read this book!