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bonnybedlam

Bonnie Read a Book Today

Reader, writer, cat tamer, and Tiny Communist.

Currently reading

His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright

That house is SO haunted...

The Haunted - Michaelbrent Collings

...other houses consult it on how to get rid of the living.

 

So here's what happened: I could not put this book down. It's everything I want in a haunted house story: fast-paced, tense, a little confusing, but with all the loose ends tied up by the last page. I bought this after stumbling upon the brilliant little gem Darkbound, and it's secured Michaelbrent Collings' place as my favorite living horror writer.

The Haunted reads like an ode to Shirley Jackson's Hill House, with a hint of The Shining, minus the misogyny and with a better scrapbook. It is, in short, the haunted house I've been waiting for all my life.

This product is guaranteed to be 100% animal-cruelty free. Not recommended for women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, first time mothers, young husbands, or new home-buyers. Consult your doctor if you have problems blinking, breathing, or entering your attic without a priest.

If you've seen the movie, this is different

The War of the Roses - Warren Adler

Really, really different. The way Faye Weldon's Lives and Loves of a She-Devil is really different from the wacky film starring Roseanne and Meryl. You can enjoy both because one is a comedy and the other is a dark, twisted story that you just can't look away from. It's not supernatural horror, it's the much more pedestrian type of horror that people are consumed in and sacrificed to daily with no fuss at all.

 

Barbara and Jonathan Rose are those people. It's easy enough to see their points, but both are selfish, wrong-headed, and cruel. Barbara wants an entirely different life than the one they've led together for 18 years, while Jonathan wants exactly that life, whether she's happy playing her role or not. Or, more correctly, he wants her to be happy with it, period.

 

Of such mundane things are horrific tragedies made.

 

The last third of the book held me completely enthralled as I began to see another story emerge as both Roses assumed the house was not only sentient, but siding with each against the other. Neither feels truly endangered because each believes the house won't let the other hurt them. However, when it is observed through the eyes of a third party, she sees it as a thing that has been brought to life by the boiling hatred of its occupants, sentient, perhaps, but protecting neither. Perhaps even hoping the lure the observer inside.

 

So what began as a story about two people going through a bad divorce kind of turned into how haunted houses get their start. It was like watching The Overlook Hotel practice with its first set of puppet people, and I, for one, would love to see a series of books based on the unfortunate adventures of the Rose House's stream of future owners.

Taking dark tunnels to a whole new level

Darkbound - Michaelbrent Collings

I wouldn't call Darkbound a great horror novel, but I don't know when I last enjoyed one as much. At 280-some pages, the plot clips along at a nice pace, and while I figured out some of the twists I still couldn't put it down until the very end.

 

The gore is very gory, but as detailed as it is, the author doesn't spend pages and pages spelling it out complete with the victim's every feeling of fear and pain. It doesn't have the richly endless bloodbaths of Clive Barker or the luxurious suffering-every-paper-cut detail of Stephen King, which is a plus for me. Normally I try to skim over those bits, and while you totally can here (it's easy to do--any important story bits you might miss will be explained later), I didn't find it necessary. YMMV.

 

It might've been a mistake to pick it up as bedtime reading, but it's great quick, light, delicious horror that's easy to digest in one sitting, and not so easy to forget.

Yeah, I'm done with this

Odd Hours  - Dean Koontz

Odd Hours might be even worse than Forever Odd. It introduced new characters that did nothing except be even more pretentious than Odd, and spent at least 50% of its over-abundance of words retelling events from prior books and waxing redundant about Odd's personality. I say redundant because not only does Odd tell us the same things about himself that he's told us in insufferable detail 3 times already (though it felt like 5), he uses the exact same words. It feels like Koontz pasted his 200 page "Odd Thomas Template" into a new document and then inserted story bits every few pages until there were enough words to satisfy his publisher. 

 

Koontz continues to write Odd with all the realism of an old man who's spent five or six decades accumulating a ridiculous vocabulary and is out of touch enough to apply it to a 21 year old high school dropout who shouldn't have time to write these manuscripts in between adventures, let alone sift endlessly through thesauruses and dictionaries to bloat said manuscripts to their maximum possible ridiculousness.

 

I wanted so badly to like this character--and I genuinely did in the first book--but he's just completely insufferable now. Koontz has already let it slip that there will be 10 novels (why not keep reprinting that template if people want to buy it), and that he "knows what will happen in the last one, just not how". Subtle, dude.

 

So I've already got a couple of the graphic novels from the library and I'll probably go ahead and look at them. After that I'm out. Maybe I'll come back for that 10th book and let him drag me through the interminable template one more time so I can see it finally end.

I laughed, I cried. Mostly I cried. Like, a lot.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is an improbable story, but it doesn't feel like one when you're reading it. It feels exactly right.

 

Maybe it resonates so strongly because of my life as a sick child and then a sick adult who lost most of her sick friends in childhood. Our lives were more predictable because we didn't have cancer, which is unpredictable pretty much all the time, but we were still surprised sometimes. We loved each other and sometimes we fell in love and once in a while the person who died was the one who wasn't supposed to.

 

What I'm getting at is that it's really weird being a kid and having a mental list of which friends are supposed to die first. Green captures that feeling, all of those feelings, better than anyone I've read who wasn't somehow one of us. I was sure that he had lost a child or a sibling to cancer, right up the point in the acknowledgements where he says he didn't. It's that good.

 

So it's also that bad. I felt Hazel's pain and joy and fear so completely it was frightening, even as I was jealous of her strength. Hazel is a beautiful creature, as is Augustus, and their love is a privilege to witness. 

 

Bonus points to Green for making up a book for them to bond over rather than using an existing one and turning it into a half-assed lit class. That was a real stroke of genius and made their world all the more real for being wholly fictional.

Spoiler: It sucks to be gay in Iran

If You Could Be Mine - Sara Farizan

This book wasn't what I expected, which isn't a bad thing. It slowed down my reading a bit--that and being hardcover--but once I got the swing of the story it worked pretty well.

 

I thought it was going to be a fairly simple story of young lesbian love overcoming all obstacles. Well, I won't spoil it, but there was a lot more going on. Farizan uses the basis of two girls in love to explore the secret lives of LGBT people in Iran, a world of payoffs, corruption, and the ever-present possibility of a police sanctioned stoning. Or just a random police-inflicted torture/beating.

 

Knowing that this is the way whole countries operate--because I read Daily Kos; I know what's going on--somehow didn't prepare me for experiencing it from another's POV the way Farizan enables us to do.

 

Although ***Mild Spoiler Alert*** it has a happy enough ending, there's just no substitute for a country where freedom is technically legal, often achievable, and most of all expected. 

Not really readable but I did my best

Forever Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel - Dean Koontz Good thing I just learned the word threnody, while translating an old, old German lullaby, so I could be prepared for this book. If only Koontz had met me halfway by remembering at least some of what it was like to be 20 years old. Odd would be 100% more believable if he were 50 and these books were his memories on the past, because he's thoroughly incapable of sounding like a 20 year old, no matter how hard he tries. Or maybe he’s not trying at all. Either way, we’re expected to believe that this tortured and bloated narrative is that of a boy barely out of high school, whose life is so deliberately simple that he frequently passes for retarded even among people he’s known all his life.

Odd also has the misfortune of coming off not so much as a cheerful simpleton, which I know he’s supposed to be because he’s constantly telling us so, but as a judgmental old tight-ass. For instance, he inexplicably raises the subject of the local high school recently changing their mascot from the Braves, even though the local Indians never objected, to the Gila Monsters. Later on, when describing an incompetent jury that convicted a cold blooded murderer of manslaughter rather than second-degree-murder, he states his certainty that the same jury would approve of the high school mascot name change. How are these two things related? Because reasons! Or something.

During his adventures at the abandoned casino—you know, where the poor Indians got screwed and had their community destroyed by gambling, insuring their eternal victimization—he tells us that he’d never visited the place while it was operational because when he’s not counseling the dead he prefers silence and books and friends and blah blah blah. It doesn’t even cross his mind that the place was destroyed when he was about sixteen years old. Was he such a judgmental little prick then, or is it new? Or maybe he really is stupid, although that makes it hard to understand the constant use of words so obscure they aren’t even in the Kindle dictionary. Or any dictionary less than 50 years old. I have a collection. I checked.

But Koontz, being an old man who must have had his own memories of youth erased by extensive medical intervention, also had Odd freely acquiring and openly drinking alcohol in the first book, when he was supposed to be 20 years old. Seriously. Even the police chief gives him beer at his home. So underage drinking is nothing, and underage gambling is an option, but sex with the girl he was with for 4 years and intended to marry was off the table because she just wasn't sure, even though she was—and now she’s dead but he’s still planning to be with only her forever, because he’s certain, based on, I guess, her word, that the random theory she totally just made up at some point about how (she hopes) the afterlife works is absolutely and completely true and he’ll finally get to marry her after he’s dead.

Yeah, Dean Koontz really gets how people work. That’s totally romantic and reasonable, and not at all creepy or sick.

I’m also going to point out that, based on the endless references to Ozzie Boone’s weight, Koontz knows no more about obesity than he does anything else, except maybe Elvis. A four hundred pound man does not require a specially built house with reinforced floors. Homes are naturally built to hold several thousand pounds of furniture and people. Nor would he require custom furniture, and if he did have it made, I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t creak and groan with every movement. I mean, what would be the point? I’ve known quite a few people who weigh that much and more and they sit on regular furniture that doesn’t make any more noise for them than it does anyone else. They also live in mobile homes and drive cars that aren’t reinforced or specially balanced, because again, vehicles are built to carry people and their stuff. If you can fit into it, it can carry you, is the general rule. At least for things built after 1970. Mr. Koontz has been sleep-writing for a very, very long time.

One of the best parts of this book is that Ozzie plays a considerably lesser role here than he did in the first book, so we aren’t forced to endure as many repeated descriptions of how fat he is. Although Ozzie himself does bring it up in conversation at every opportunity (Hi, I’m FAT! Did you forget? Lemme make a lame FAT joke here so you continue to focus on how FAT I am) lest he begin to seem more dignified than an overweight person deserves.

Unfortunately, Ozzie more or less replaced by Danny, a different lifelong best friend, more like a brother, really, who also knows Odd’s secrets (well, the dangerous ones; after ten years of best-friend-brotherhood he didn't know Odd was still a virgin), and whom we’re just hearing about for the first time. Now we learn that Odd was totally there for Danny 24/7 right up until the events of the first book, he just didn’t mention it. Not even when there were bodachs all over town and he was worried about literally everyone he knew. There was no deformed and grieving orphan on his mind then. Nor was this “brother” included in the list of people who knew about Odd’s gift, in either the first book or the third.

After this, and the convent school children in Brother Odd (yes, I read them out of order; and no, it doesn’t matter; they pretty much all have 150 pages of story and 250 pages of vague references to the first book, intermingled with Odd’s ramblings about himself), I seriously hope we’re done with Brave Little Cripples Who Bravely Overcome ALL THE THINGS With Heartwarming Bravery. Because Koontz handles disability exactly as well as he does obesity and young love (read: grotesquely), and this little cripple, for one, is all pandered out.

Still thinking about reading it? Hey, it’s your life. But it’s also a lot of mangled similes, tortured metaphors, and just plain too many words for the little bit of nonsensical plot scattered here and there. Think it over and maybe read a couple of the spoilerific reviews. I did and now I wish I’d taken them seriously and not spent a whole day finding out for myself.

Some Words Not Totally About A Book That's Not At All About A Dog

From Baghdad To America: Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava - Lt. Col. Usmc (ret.) Jay Kopelman

Don't be fooled, this book isn't really about a dog. It's about the weirdly defensive Marine who brought him home from Iraq and how that Marine is better than a: everyone who's never been in combat because we all watch reality tv and drive SUVs, apparently; and b: everyone else, because reasons. Although he, the Marine, has PTSD and hates therapy, he seems to be advising therapy for all other service members. Probably because he's so much better than they are, if he's aware that he needs help, they must already be on a ledge somewhere.

 

Anyway, there was a dog involved. But he already wrote a book about the dog, so maybe read that one. I don't know if it's better, I haven't read it. I just know that, other than a few pages about Lava getting hit by a car because Lt. Col. BTE apparently couldn't afford a leash to walk a skittish dog that was literally in a war zone three days ago* this is just another book about some dude's ego, packaged to sell with a cute puppy on the cover.

 

*Really. He took Lava out for a walk with no leash ON PURPOSE. Then chased the dog into the street when he bolted. And then made all kinds of misogynist assumptions about the woman who hit the dog. Because it was clearly all her fault, seeing as how she was driving an SUV and had obviously never been in combat. If she had been she'd be a better person, driving a smaller car or chasing dogs into the street herself. Or something like that.

Captain Philips Goes to Sea and Saves the World

A Captain's Duty - Richard Phillips

People who loved the feelgood story of a courageous sea captain fighting against pirates and heroically sacrificing himself for the greater good will probably want to skip this review.

 

People with a low tolerance for high-handed arrogance would do well to skip this book.

First off, I read it because I saw the movie and wanted to know how it compared to the true story. The first problem, however, is that Captain Philips is no Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks has a sense of humility that keeps him grounded, and a sense of shame that should have kept him out of this mess.

 

The second problem is that this isn't really a true-true story. But I'll get to that in a minute.

 

First, Richard Philips comes across here as a self-righteous, inconsistent, one man PR firm, and he's his only client. The book opens with the tensest moment in the lifeboat, pirates panicking, a gun to his head, but he's inconsistent even here, unable to keep straight from one sentence to the next how he was sitting or standing or kneeling or whether his hands were tied in front of him or stretched up over his head. Even while describing a single incident spanning a matter of minutes, his position changed so much I wondered if he wasn't so much tied as on a leash. A long leash.

 

Later, when he tells the entire story again, this problem will be much worse. He repeats a lot of things, but the confused bits don't get any clearer from it.

 

Then it goes back to his childhood and how tough he was, not like those "milquetoasts" and "bookish nerds" who just "hid their rooms until it was time to leave for college" due to not being able to walk down the street in his neighborhood. Not that good old Rich wasn't smart enough for college, because he totally went, he just quit after a year because it wasn't--physically challenging enough? Or something.

 

So he drove a cab until he decided to join the merchant marines, and don't be fooled, they're the only true heroes in the armed services. Most ships sunk, most deaths, moved all the weapons, don't get any recognition, no one cares about the guys who do all the work. He's always the guy who does all the work in his stories because all of his stories are about how awesome he is for doing all the work.

 

The marine academy was super tough when he went, but don't bother going now because it's probably all politically correct with no one even being allowed to raise their voices, which is probably why all the other sailors on his ship sucked so bad. Except for the ones who were so old they should be retired. All his former captains sucked, too (except one, who was, you guessed it, really really tough), so he learned from them how to be a better captain than anyone ever had been before, making him the captain everyone loves and respects and begs to work with.

 

There's a huge amount of padding here while two authors try to spread about 30 pages of material over 289 pages. He tells enough about his wife and their families for us to learn that their unique sense of humor is juvenile and horrible, and enough of his dating life to know that he's a complete stud who "got around plenty", but is at heart a romantic with lines from love letters that made me wonder at his IQ. And his wife's, for not only marrying him but also saving the letters as proof that she'd been warned. I can't fathom what would make either of them release their personal dreck in print, to the public.

 

When it comes to the actual pirate situation, Cap is all over it. He's been running drills, ordering up extra security, and bitching non-stop about his "great bunch of guys" crew's inability to get a single thing right, ever. Much as he complains that Navy standards are too high for a merchant ship, tries to hold half the crew and all of the ship to Navy standards, and dismisses certain unnamed men as being unable to reach any standard at all and therefor not worth training.

 

Then he can't figure out why the ship is taken in about 5 minutes.

 

This is the lack of consistency I'm talking about, which is also funny because in the course of repeating every compliment he's ever been paid, he includes one applauding his consistency. He has more personal philosophies, mottoes, moral codes, and words to live by than anyone I've ever encountered, and seemingly doesn't notice when they flat-out contradict each other. I know two people worked on the manuscript, but didn't he read it?

 

Oh, and according to his wife, he survived because she prayed for him. Even though she's a "bad Catholic" and "a bit of a heathen". See, she woke up Easter morning with a GOOD FEELING, and she heard her husband's voice calling her! So she started thinking about their "family motto"--one of possibly several hundred--"God is good, all the time. All the time, god is good", and got her friends saying it and they sang it in a church, so god rescued him. Because of course he did.

 

Naturally no one asked her if she'd have been singing "god is good, all the time" if she'd woken up with a bad feeling. And why should we? She had lots of bad feelings over those four days and not a word of praise or "thy will be done" passed her lips then.

But at least giving sky daddy some credit provided a break from Philips grabbing it all and grinding it in our faces.

 

Oh, and after bashing the Navy in really weird ways for literally the entire book, he ends by slobbering credit all over them in a whiplash-inducing reversal as soon as he's in physical contact with one of their ships. And then ever after. Though he gets the name of one of the ships wrong. And the name and nationality of one of his crewmembers, And just a whole pile of other little facts that apparently didn't matter because they were about other people.

 

Meanwhile, back in reality, this happened:

http://nypost.com/2013/10/13/crew-members-deny-captain-phillips-heroism

 

Since I've read the book and seen the movie, let me walk you through the high points.

 

Anonymous sailor says Phillips had a bad reputation for at least 12 years prior, known as a sullen and self-righteous captain. “No one wants to sail with him.”

 

Flies in the face of the movie version of Captain Courageous, and Philips' statements in the book about being strict and casual and calm and tough and reasonable and in charge and just the best mix of all possible personality traits.

 

However. While Philips doesn't write himself as sullen, and maintains that all of his (decent) crew members love him, his own words and descriptions of his actions show him to be self-righteous and bizarrely immature. Like, 14 year old immature.

 

Worst moment for me? After agonizing throughout the entire trip about a joke his now college-age son once made as a child about not having a father because his dad was gone all the time and didn't love him, what does he do upon seeing his son again and vowing to himself that he'll never again feel the way he did when he heard those words? Does he tell his son he loves him, always has and always will? Does he retire from sea?

 

No, he tells his son how much the joke hurt and orders him not to ever say it again. It never even crosses his mind that his son is probably being haunted by those words, too, and that they might be hurting him, too. Instead, he basically tells his son that those cruel words from childhood were on his mind the whole time. Like, last thoughts material. And they might've been, he certainly harped on them enough.

 

“The crew had begged Captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast,” said Deborah Waters, the attorney who brought the claim. “He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.”

 

Now a well known fact, Philips never mentions being told to stay off the coast. Instead he stresses how, with motherships, pirates can be literally anywhere anyway, so one may as well sail through their front yards as make any effort to avoid them.

 

Phillips had taken command of the Maersk in late March 2009. Left for him, says the crew member, was a detailed anti-piracy plan now used by all ships per the International Maritime Organization. Should pirates get too close, the crew should cut the lights and power and lock themselves below deck.

 

“He didn’t want anything to do with it, because it wasn’t his plan,” says the crew member. “He was real arrogant.” Phillips says he knows nothing about such a plan.

 

Also not mentioned in the book, but plausible by Philips' own account. He refused to discuss possible piracy for as long as possible and berated a crewmember for asking what they should do if pirates board the ship. Philips writes that he didn't want to talk about it because it scared the men, that there would be nothing they could do anyway, and in a last self-serving dig says the sailor should have asked in private <i>before they left port</i>. Presumably because fewer men would have heard and been scared, but he also makes it clear that a man who even considers the possibility of being boarded by pirates isn't fit to sail in pirate water. (Having previously made clear that there was no time to discuss anything with anyone between arriving at the ship and leaving port.)

 

He sounds like a man mystified at carrying a spare tire because everyone knows if you get a flat there's just nothing you can do. Crewmembers suggest things, like safe rooms, and Philips writes that he agreed and was pleased to see them finally thinking for themselves. Later he will repeat many of these things as his idea, as if he hadn't already written the other part.

 

Phillips has admitted that, on board, he got seven e-mails about increased piracy off Somalia — each exhorting ships to move farther offshore by at least 600 miles.

 

Again, no mention of warnings in the book.

 

The Maersk was 235 miles off the coast, says the crew member, though Phillips has since rounded that number up to 300. [Confirmed now to be 240 miles.--ed]

 

“I couldn’t tell you exactly the miles,” Phillips tells The Post. “I don’t know.”

 

Really? You don't know? After bragging through several pages about being the best guy with the charts and compasses on another ship and always, always getting the numbers right?

 

Phillips ignored every missive and later admitted he didn’t share these warnings — though they were not sent exclusively to him.

 

Certainly doesn't explain to the reader why he didn't tell the crew he was deliberately sailing them less than half the recommended distance off the coast.

 

In fact, says this crew member, the Maersk veered off course by 180 degrees south — this was during the first attack, on April 8. Phillips denies this, and says the boat only picked up speed.

 

He may deny it now, but it's in the book. He wrote about doing it.

 

“We said, ‘You want us to knock it off and go to our pirate stations?’ ” the crew member recalls. “And he goes, ‘Oh, no, no, no — you’ve got to do the lifeboats drill.’ This is how screwed up he is. These are drills we need to do once a year. Two boats with pirates and he doesn’t give a s- -t. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
At first, Phillips maintains this is a lie.

 

Again, that's how Philips wrote it. They were doing a fire drill when they saw the pirate boats and he ordered them to finish it. Took over an hour, by his own account.

 

The Maersk eventually made a narrow escape, and Phillips ordered it back to its original route.

 

Original route, as opposed to the deviation he says in his book that he ordered, but now for whatever reason denies.

 

“Phillips didn’t say what he wanted to do,” says the crew member. “His plan [was], when the pirates come aboard, we throw our hands in the air and say, ‘Oh, the pirates are here!’ The chief engineer said, ‘We’re going downstairs and locking ourselves in.’ One of the mates said, ‘Let’s go down. We’re on our own.’ ”

 

They hid in the engine room, in 130 degree heat, for 12 hours. Phillips and three other crew members were held at gunpoint, yet Phillips tells The Post things weren’t that dire. “The ship,” he says, “was never actually taken.”

 

According to his book, Philips ordered the crew to hide in their safe rooms, secretly radioed coded messages to them by talking into a radio right in front of the pirates, and mercilessly bashes in print a sailor who didn't understand the newly invented (on the spot, by Philips, because why prepare and have one in place?) code and actually obeyed his captain.

 

He says several times throughout that the ship was "taken", "seized", "in the hands of pirates"--the word "hijacked" got thrown around a lot. It was dire enough when he was writing, apparently.

 

Chief Engineer Mike Perry, who has a small presence in the film, was perhaps the most heroic. He led most of the crew downstairs and locked them in; he disabled all systems; he attacked the chief pirate, seizing him and using him as a bargaining chip for Phillips.

 

This guy gets no credit. He's just tough and doing what the captain would have done, if he wasn't SO busy doing everything else all by himself. Though, unlike all but a couple of other men, he at least gets his name mentioned.

 

For some of the crew, it was too much. In their version, Phillips was the victim of a botched exchange. In 2009, he told ABC News he was taken after promising to show the pirates how to operate their escape boat. His book was packaged as the story of a man who gave himself up for his crew, which Phillips later said was a false narrative spread by the media. Today he tells The Post, “I was already a hostage,” but remains vague on the exchange.

 

The book tries to have this both ways. Everyone was a hostage on the Alabama, only Philips was a hostage, he wasn't a hostage until he left the ship, he wasn't a hero, all he cared about was his crew and he was willing to die for them--and everything he now calls "the media's false narrative" is based on his own words. He's vague on a lot of stuff, but not how brave and humble and better than you he is.

 

Not all of the crew cooperated with the movie, and those who did were paid as little as $5,000 for their life rights by Sony and made to sign nondisclosure agreements — meaning they can never speak publicly about what really happened on that ship.

 

And now Sony's bought the truth from the other witnesses so Philips, with his inability to think for a minute about anything but himself, or be at all consistent while doing that, gets to tell the official story.

 

But even now the truth is leaking out. Save yourself this horrible book and just read about what happened online. I'll be over here trying not to speculate on why he made such a point about the pirates being aged 22 to 28, for sure no younger than 22, when it had been proven by the time he started writing that they were all 18 and under.

Sia, wouldn't wanna be ya

Sia - Josh Grayson

I'm just going to start off by saying that this book is terrible. In pretty much every way. But it's the kind of terrible where, after a hard week of challenging reading (and, you know, actual work), you can just sort of shut down your brain and skim through it.

 

Like everyone else, I was sucked in by the premise of spoiled rich girl turned good after losing her memory. But it was all so trite and pat and perfectly pointless. The characters where one dimensional, and though they changed, they never gained depth. They just went from one dimensionally awful to one dimensionally good. Except for the requisite Magical Negroes, Carol the homeless guru, and Beatriz, the technically Mexican housekeeper. Between the two of them it takes about 2 weeks to transform Sia from queen of the bitches to queen of the fundraisers, but not one word of it was believable.

 

I got it on special from Amazon for less than a dollar, but I still returned it. My day, however, I will never get back. 

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath, Karen V. Kukil I tried a hundred times and just couldn't. Plath's already overly oblique writing style combined with the apparently random assembly of the pages leaves us with largely undated work, no sense of how much time has passed, where she's writing from, or of whom she is speaking. Characters are labeled by first name, if at all, and the rest of their identities are buried in the notes at the end--marked in the Kindle version with unclickable " symbols rather than anything that could be useful for finding the notation if one did want to skip to the end and back twice on every page.

Maybe it works in print, I don't know. A third of the way in, I no longer care enough to find out.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune - Paul Clark Newell Jr., Bill Dedman Really well researched, beautifully done portrait of an extremely wealthy family and its most eccentric member, Huguette Clark, who lived nearly 105 years. And still didn't spend all of her hundreds of millions of dollars, though she certainly tried.

I thoroughly enjoyed the details of her father's rise to fortune and her relationship, however odd it might seem, with her mother. I'm even glad she took her strangest secrets (seriously, wtf happened with her marriage?) to the grave.

However, if you set out to read it, be aware that the book was published before the battle over the estate was complete, so you'll have to do a little Googling to get the very end of the story.

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #4

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #4 - Tom Neely, Keenan Keller, Noah Van Sciver Not totally a four star zine, so lemme explain. Issue 4 of a 4 part series, it begins with the final chapter of a genuine 4 part story. A really good story, each chapter able to stand alone yet forming a coherent whole. And this chapter especially was laugh out loud funny.

Story 2 is short, plotless, poorly drawn, and interest-free. If it didn't appear in a H&G zine I guess it could be taken as a vicious parody, and maybe it still is. I don't know. I thought it was stupid.

Story 3 is similar to 2 except it's twice the length and appears to also be a Star Wars parody. It claims to be chapter 4 of 5 and references past chapters freely. They do not exist, nor will chapter 5. The art is so shoddy that things have to be labeled, which, again, could be intention self-parody, but with all the other forms of parody going on here it just fell flat.

So that's three stars, all of them for the first story. But it wraps up with an awesome single panel cartoon by Neely (artist of the one good story), and an additional hilarious comic on the back, so I threw it a fourth star. But that whole middle section showed a distressing lack of quality and effort, given the consistency that the other three zines in the series were able to maintain throughout.

Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale

Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale - Zack Whedon, Steve Morris, Chris Samnee, Dave Stewart, Joss Whedon Excellent story well told, fills in all the blanks as promised. But I had to take off a star because the artist cannot draw faces. Half of the people here are featureless, and canon characters are only recognizable by clothes and context. This book, and Shepherd Book, deserved better.

Reconstructing Amelia

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight Maybe I just didn't get it, but this book was actively painful to read. Virtually every aspect of it rang false, from Kate's driven perfectionism--except she's always late because that's how lawyers succeed?--to the semi-random way she accepts the official line that Amelia killed herself. Given that Kate and Amelia have standing Friday night dates, Sunday afternoon dates, and weekend field trips (which--how does this jibe with Kate's simultaneous never-home-not-enough-time-working-mother guilt?), and talk about everything (except minor matters like who Amelia's father is), it's clear that Kate knows her daughter better than anyone else.

*********ANGRY SPOILERS AHOY**********

Yet she needs her boss asking her, WEEKS later, if she's sure it was suicide to actually think about it. And her response? "Um--I--well--the police said..." Because that 9 day investigation of dead Amelia is so much more informative than Kate's 15 years experience with the live version? No. Just no. She makes her first reasonable step in seeking help from the detective on the case, but he's insistent on suicide to the point of mocking Kate based on what the ME said. Again, no. The ME can determine that she died from the fall, wasn't drugged, and didn't show signs of a struggle. That in no way rules out accident or, you know, what actually freaking happened. Maybe the author doesn't know that but any basic research would have turned it up.

Halfway through I was reduced to skimming in frustration, hoping something interesting or mysterious would happen. Instead it was just Kate over-explaining stuff followed by some texts and FB posts, and then Amelia herself over-explaining her part. That's the weirdest and, for me, most objectionable part of this whole bait and switch of a novel. It's billed as the mother of a suddenly dead child trying to construct the last few weeks of that child's life to better understand what happened to her. But the novel you get is a bloated redundancy where the mother finds some clues and vents her spleen while the reader is treated to the daughter's POV all along. Even her death isn't "reconstructed"--the reader gets to watch it through Amelia's eyes.

Personally I think the book got so much attention for being "hip" enough to include plenty of FaceBook references, as well as focusing almost entirely on the characters' sex lives, and making a considerable number of them gay. While I applaud including more LGBTQ characters in YA novels, they, and the readers, deserve a better one.

(Full disclosure: I lost a close, well-loved young cousin in a vaguely similar disputed fall scenario, which is probably why this book's crap treatment of the subject affects me so deeply. Also why I feel entitled to call bullshit on every aspect of the police investigation and the mother's reaction.)

Rascal

Rascal - Sterling North One of my great childhood favorites, the true story of a boy and his raccoon (and dog and cats and skunks etc) where no animals die. The worst that can be said of young Sterling is that he shouldn't have let his dog dig out the raccoon den, nor taken one of the kittens to raise. But it was 1916 and he was 11 years old. These things happened.

What makes it especially worthy of recommendation is the outdoor place-porn of WWI era Wisconsin, and Sterling's remarkable knowledge of the area's nineteenth century history. It would be enough to see the lakes and forests through his 1916 eyes, but he adds onto it with stories of his father's and grandfather's memories, making a virtual fantasy land of what in other hands would just be trees and water.

And, again, no one dies. Truly a remarkable attribute for what is generally considered a book for kids.