Category Archives: Reading

Review: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

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I’ve been struggling with writing for an overlong time. When I finished this book, I started to push myself harder. I know I’m this little, barely important voice, but the book was so good I wanted to sing its praises anyway.

The Paper Magician is the story of a 19 year old girl named Ceony Twill. She’s fresh out of Tagis Praff Academy for the Magically Inclined and about to start her apprenticeship. Most graduates get to choose the method of their enchanting: metal, glass, paper, etc. Ceony didn’t get that luxury. Paper magicians (called Folders) are few and far between, so a handful of graduates got assigned to that craft. All in the name of balance. Ceony wanted to be a Smelter, that is, to work with metal and is more than a little annoyed.

Though she is resistant, she is quickly intrigued by her teacher, Magician Thane, and the work he does. With and without paper. It is apparent to her that there is more to him than meets the eye. Before she can figure him out, however, a sudden and scary event catalyzes a fantastical adventure.

I have previously extolled the virtues (and groaned at the follies) of Young Adult fiction and this is one of those books. It does not, however, fall prey to all the pitfalls of your standard teen lit. Yes, there is a love interest but no, there is not a love triangle. Not as such. Yes, there is a hard-headed lead character but she is not so willful as to be dangerous to herself. She is intelligent, measured and strong. She rushes to save the day when needed but doesn’t do so at the cost of anyone else. What’s more, she doesn’t completely fall apart at the first sign of trouble and seek someone to help her.

The writing is sublime. Simple enough to digest for younger readers and complex enough for hold overs like myself. You could scoff at some of the well-worn metaphors and over-reaching analogies, but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be too engaged to manage it. This is a hearty, heartfelt recommendation. Do you like books? Books about magic? Books that are awesome? Read this book!

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Every Book is a Movie

I hate how nearly every movie is a remake or “based on” a book. It’s hard to translate the subtlety of the printed word to the big screen and these movies are often terrible. YA books seem to be the most likely to be given this treatment. Likely because their stories are already watered down and made highly digestible for teens (and weirdos like me). The bad bit is that YA fiction needs its readers to not have that easy out. Teenagers are the most likely to opt out of a book in favor of a movie. And besides the wonderful experience of reading, these kids will lose out on so many tiny, immeasurably important details.

You might think I have a list of exceptions for you. I do not. I loved the Harry Potter movies but they compare not at all to the books. One simply cannot stand them side by side and expect the movies to hold up. The amount of things that needed to be dropped (or just were, for one reason or another), added on, and watered down, cheapened the world they were based on. If you read the books, you might see the movies as a supplement. That’s fine. But if you only saw the movies? To say you were missing out would be a gross understatement.

The Hunger Games have, so far, been worse. I enjoy those movies. They’re good movies. But if you haven’t read the books? You have no idea what’s going on in a lot of parts. The film makers chucked a handful of bones to the book-reading audience that leave the uninitiated audience mystified.

The Giver. Oh, man. I’ve loved this book since I was twelve years old and using one of my electives to be a librarian’s assistant. Its orange cover caught my eye, I opened it up and was immediately ensnared. This book. This book. They ruined it! That movie was a damned nightmare. Important details changed to fit the new story that they wrote. I guess because they original one wasn’t commercial enough? I have no idea. What I do know is that book had a simple, workable story, that they could have added to in order to make a movie. They declined that option. Instead, they took the basic premise of “guy gives memories to kid” and then wrote a whole new story. Ridiculous.

Some might argue it gives teens and kids a reason to pick up the books. I’ll accept that premise. It does raise awareness of the existence of the books. But it’s laughable to suggest that all or even most of the kids who see a movie are going to then read the book. They know the story, they’re done, they didn’t have to do any work. That’s the human condition, to seek the easiest way to accomplish a task. Kids are just worse about it.

Look, I just want kids to read books. Any roadblocks thrown up in front of that goal really ticks me off. That’s all I’m saying.

OK. I might also be saying that I hate movies based on books. For the record, if you ever see “based on a novel by Stephen King” and the movie isn’t Sissy Spacek’s Carrie, The Shining, or The Langoliers, do yourself a favor and read the book. King novels end up as terrible, terrible movies.

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YA Problems

I enjoy reading Young Adult fiction. I know, I know, I’m a grown woman. It’s not for me. But it feeds into my two greatest pleasures: quick, easy reads and complaining about stuff. Oh, man, do I love complaining about stuff.

The biggest problem with YA is of course that all the characters are teenagers. And teenagers are stupid. They’re hormonal, self-absorbed and completely unable to see the bigger picture. Not unwilling, mind you, unable. They seriously don’t get it because the only way you can understand certain things is by experiencing it. Gaining wisdom from it.

A prime example is the series I’m currently reading, Maze Runner by James Dashner. There are going to be slight spoilers in this example but I will be as vague as possible. It’s not an amazing series but it’s definitely not bad, so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. The main character had his memories taken away by a group of people and then subsequently had a bunch a terrible things done to him by the same people. Now those people want to give him his memories back so he can understand why they did what they did.

A smart adult might think, I’ll get my memories back and make my own decision with both sets of memories. He thinks, I don’t want those memories back because I think I used to agree with these people like I used to. I have these new memories and these ones must be right. Refuses the memories of his entire life because he’s 16 years old and he can’t possibly be wrong about anything ever. So. Very. Frustrating.

Percy Jackson is much the same way. Katniss Everdeen. Harry Potter. Oh, man, the 5th Harry Potter book is the very bane of my existence. I love so many parts in it but I can’t ever read it because of the dozens of short-sighted teenage things that young Mr. Potter does. Just open the package Sirius gave you! It would fix everything! DAMN IT!

Moving on.

My love of YA fiction is coming in handy as my little reading buddy gets older. I can pre-read books to recommend to her (or tell her to never read ever, in the case of Divergent). I’ve already compiled a list of books I’m going to insist she read when she gets into high school. Hunger Games and Beautiful Creatures and possibly Maze Runner. So, at least, out of my complaining comes something nice. Let’s all pretend it evens out.

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A Review of Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer

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I was so happy to find I enjoyed this book. Immediately after claiming I found it impossible to hate books I managed to read several books that I hated. So, glad to be back on the right path. Disclaimer of sorts: Are you a fatter-than-you’d-like-to-be woman? You will love this book. Don’t even read the review, just go read the book. You can trust me on this. I would never lie to you! But actually, read the review anyway, I was being dramatic.

Conversations with the Fat Girl primarily deals with one of the most common problems of all women and generally most men, as well: body image. The main character, Maggie Thompson, has been fat since adolescence. She can hardly remember who she is because all she can identify herself as is fat. For many years she found solace in the friendship of Olivia Morten, a fellow fat girl. Olivia isn’t quiet or self-effacing. She ignores her shape and tries to rise above the taunts of her peers. They hurt her, but she internalizes them until one night, one insult, pushes her over the edge. Olivia decides to get her stomach stapled and loses all of the weight in a hurry. Four years after that is when the story opens.

Olivia is a size two, getting married to a gorgeous doctor, and is a colossal bitch. Maggie, meanwhile, is bigger than ever, has a Master’s degree in museum studies (focusing on restoration), works in a coffee shop, and lives alone with a dog named Solo. Their friendship has endured their lives following completely different paths. They’re planning Olivia’s dream wedding together, an event they’ve both been looking forward to since childhood.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. What you really need to know about this book, however, is that it isn’t your typical accept yourself and your life will be perfect self-help nonsense. I was sure that was what I should expect and I was dreading it. I can’t take my heart being warmed. Maggie is easy to relate to but she isn’t one dimensional. She has flaws and she’s brazen about them. She’s unlikable sometimes. Mostly, she’s fun to follow. She has a great voice.

Anyway, if I could end this as unprofessionally as possible, read this damn book. Do it tomorrow. You want to borrow it? You totally can. It’s kind of wavy in the back though. Koshek knocked over a glass of water on my bookcase.

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Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

My first review was fantastic. But you’ll never see it, because WordPress ate it. I don’t know why and I can’t find a shred of it. So instead you get a truncated version of my rage.

This book is the story of a woman kidnapped and held prisoner in a fancy shed in a guy’s backyard. He’s a truly shitty guy who rapes and abuses her regularly. Eventually, she has a son, Jack. I guess the author thought that story wouldn’t be good enough so she decided to tell it from Jack’s perspective. Which is a stupid idea on its face. Jack is 5 at the start of the novel and goes from kind of precocious and adorable to insufferable in a hurry.

After this point there be spoilers. But it doesn’t matter because if you read this review you won’t want to read the book anyway, with or without spoilers. But I’ve bolded all instances of the word spoilers, in case you don’t take good advice. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

PS: Spoilers!

I didn’t finish this book so I can’t actually ruin the ending for you. At least there’s that. The mom is simply known as “Ma”. Maybe they tell you her name in the last 60 pages or so, but I didn’t get that far so I’m sticking with Ma. Ma was snatched from her college grounds after falling for the oldest trick in the kidnapper’s book. The guy, Old Nick, tells her his dog is sick and can she come over to his truck and help him. This was 7 years before the opening of the story.

In the five years Jack has been alive, Ma managed to give him a sense of normalcy. From his point of view, he has happy life. All his needs. Ma, however, grew up outside of Room (as the two of them refer to the shed where they live) and knows that this is not a way for anyone to live. She wants to escape, he’s resistant, ultimately they escape. In my opinion, that’s where the book should end. They get out, Old Nick goes to jail, happily ever after. But no. The author has yet to impress upon us what is really important in life. So it goes on.

There are two main things that make it impossible to suspend disbelief while reading this book. They are Ma and Jack. Ma has been a prisoner for 7 years, raped and beaten regularly, completely under the control of this horrible man. While still in Room, it is made clear that she’s falling apart mentally. However, as soon as she’s out, she’s just fine. The police put her up in a psychiatric facility which she insists she doesn’t need. She wanders around the place, totally self-assured. She’s strong enough inside to not shy away from the stares of strangers when she nurses Jack. She even tells them off. I’m calling shenanigans on that. She should be experiencing learned helplessness at the very least. The fact that they managed to escape should have exhausted every ounce of her reserves. But no. She’s superwoman.

And Jack. He’s portrayed as a super smart little kid and that’s believable enough. With unlimited time and his mother’s completely undivided attention, most kids at 5 could be that advanced. I mean, it’s not like the two of them have anything else to do. But there are several instances where he’s unbelievable. For one, his mother drills him with proper names for things and even regularly corrects his grammar and yet, he doesn’t ever refer to nursing. He calls it “having some” and it comes off really creepy. It took me reading about 3 different sessions of nursing before I actually figured out that that was what he was doing. The slow burn of figuring it out made it more weird. I’m pretty sure, from the rest of the book, that the author was trying to make it seem commonplace but she failed spectacularly.

Another time, Ma is talking to a lawyer and the lawyer spells the word “feces” so that Jack won’t know what he’s talking about. Except, Jack does. So, I’m meant to believe that Jack recognizes the word feces when it’s being spelled out loud. A word he never had cause to know, since bowel movements are referred to as poop every time they’re brought up. So he magically knows the word feces but only recognizes milk as the thing his mom pours into glasses for herself. That doesn’t follow.

The worst thing, though, is the constant talk of God. I feel like the author thought she could get away with being ham-fisted about it because the narrator is a child and no one is a true believer the way a child is. But it comes off as an intentional message put in to try to teach the reader. The part that irritated me in particular was when Jack says a prayer over his food to baby Jesus in a cafeteria and everyone looks at him strangely, he thinks, “I guess they don’t have him Outside”. I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they would fall out of my head.

Ultimately, I think this book wanted to teach me about the evils of the world and let me look at the wonders of the world through the eyes of a child. Besides the fact that it failed at the aim, it was a stupid idea to begin with.

I feel a bit bad, because this second review was more venomous than the last one. But really, this book deserves it.

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Review: Bone House by Betsy Tobin

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I can’t tell you what exactly about this book held me captive. I spent the entire story trying to figure it out. The characters are engaging but not breathtakingly original. The setting is one most regular readers know very well: an English village in the 1600s. Disease, witch burnings, peasants and aristocracy. It’s nothing groundbreaking. It’s a pretty straightforward Gothic novel that I couldn’t stop reading.

The story is almost agonizingly slow. It starts with the death of a woman in the village, Dora. She was a prostitute, the only one in town, it seems, but she was highly revered by everyone in the community. Her death is a tragedy to one and all but her loss is felt particularly strongly by the narrator (who isn’t ever named). Her mother is the village’s midwife and as such she and the narrator spend a considerable amount of time with Dora. They didn’t exactly have the pill in those days, after all. The narrator recalls her run ins with Dora (nicknamed “the great-bellied woman” due to her near constant pregnancies) and struggles to come to terms with her sudden, confusing death.

As time passes, Dora’s death becomes more of mystery. At first, it seems apparent that she merely slipped and fell to her death. Evidence starts to come to light that maybe something more sinister was involved. Something suspicious about the men in her life. Something odd about the twelve year old son she left behind. Maybe even something demonic is at work.

There isn’t much I can say without giving everything away. One thing this book has is a perfectly surprising ending. I was shocked but not disappointed. The ending fits even though it isn’t at all what I expected. I absolutely love a book that can surprise me.

One warning for potential readers: if you can’t stand a slow burn, don’t even bother. It was hard to stand sometimes, I kept waiting for a pay off that kept not happening. However, if you can stand the torture, the pay off is worth it.

 

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Review: Darkness at the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

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I won’t beat around the bush: I hated this book. Everything you could think of to be wrong with a book was wrong with this book. To really hammer this point home, I will admit something of which I am ashamed. I wanted to stop reading this book rather early on (23% in, according to my Kindle) but I forced myself to read the whole thing for the sole purpose of writing a bad review of it. It became sort of a point of pride for me. I read this terrible book so that you never have to read it. You’re welcome.

The book starts out on the wrong foot. Our narrator is Robbie Higgins and he spends a few pages rambling senselessly before informing the reader that he is fortifying himself with whiskey in order to write. All right. After that he gets a bit closer to the point. He starts to talk about his town, pre-darkness. It’s your standard small town with the standard residents. He details his neighbors, all nice enough people. He talks about his girlfriend, Christy. She’s an over-emotional, drug dependent, drama queen. She got on my nerves almost immediately.

Mostly, he talks about the darkness. Now, this was my biggest problem with the book. The genre of the story is a horror-fantasy sort of mix. It’s a cross between Under the Dome by Stephen King (also a terrible book, in my opinion) and The Mist, also by Stephen King (a much better short story). Basically, the town is enclosed by a cover of darkness. The sky is completely shrouded and the ways out of town are blocked by walls of living darkness. The problem for me is that the author doesn’t seem too concerned about continuity in regards to the effects of the darkness. First, he says the temperature never fluctuates. Later, he says that it’s slowly getting colder. He flirts with scientific explanations but he never actually settles on any one constant. More or less his conclusion is this: magic can do whatever it wants. I cannot abide magic with no rules. Even the Harry Potter universe had rules and that was a story for children. Come on, man.

Since I brought up Harry Potter, let’s discuss something else that bugged me. For fully 2/3s of the book, the darkness is the bad guy. Towards the end, though, the author tries to put a name to the darkness. You might have already guessed it, since it’s related to Harry Potter in some way. He Who Must Not Be Named. Said with no irony, with no nudge and a wink, with nothing to suggest that this guy comprehends what he’s saying. This story is about magic, witches, and a dark force that can’t be named. The connection is so obvious that ignoring it has to be a conscious choice.

The last thing I want to complain about is the narrator himself. The story is told in first person, so, to a certain extent, I expect and accept a casual writing style. However, I think Brian Keene overdid it. Robbie Higgins is not an educated man and so the over-use of profanity in his writing makes sense. Particularly due to the truly messed up situation he’s in. But the extent to which Keene worked in swears instead made it look like he was the one who couldn’t think of a better way to emphasize his point. Through the magic of the search function on my Kindle I counted that Keene uses variations of the word “fuck” 210 times in a 306 page book. That’s damn near a fuck on every page. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I call that excessive.

Incredibly long review made short, the story was rambling and clumsy and wasn’t a pleasure at all to read. I suppose you can read it if you like being frustrated and annoyed. Otherwise, skip it.

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