Book Review: The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Um. Like, whatever, or something. [Insert half-relevant literary quote here.]

Let me preface this by saying that i cry at everything. Every movie makes me cry, from Disney movies to romcoms, and everything in between. I don’t even watch dramas anymore, because i just can’t handle it. The feels. It gets me right there, and i never recover.

I cry pretty often when i read books, too. And i often avoid books that sound like they’re going to make me cry. Which is why i hadn’t read this one until now, when one of my fellow book club members has chosen it as her pick. I readied myself for it; i saved my last serving of Ben & Jerry’s and strategically waited to finish it until my husband would be out of town and i could just spend the evening alone, feeling sad.

But… i didn’t even cry. I think there was one moment early on when i almost did, and toward the end my eyes got a little moist, but no actual tears were shed.

Nor did i laugh, mind you. I mainly did a lot of eye-rolling. I know one of the points of the book was that most people are just ordinary people even if they die young, and glorifying someone who dies doesn’t do all the other schmucks a lot of justice. And so the characters in the book were meant to just be ordinary, flawed people. But i get irritated when “flawed” characters are nothing but annoying. Hazel is an unappreciative, cynical brat, and Gus is smarmy, arrogant liar. And they have these conversations throughout the book that are half uber-teenager, half Gilmore Girls. Zero real people talk like that. I don’t buy it.

And the insufferable author VanHouten that they interact with, he just felt to me like an altogether odd character to have in this book. He’s there so that there’s a story, but it’s a weak one. It’s a short book, and the little adventure they go on is weird, and the twists that happen near the middle are predictable and don’t hit with much impact. And the end isn’t wrapped up very neatly—or maybe it’s too neat. It should’ve gone farther in one direction or the other.

Kids dying of cancer is of course sad, and the philosophizing they do is mildly interesting, but this just wasn’t the great impactful life-affirming story that i was expecting after all the heaps of praise it’s gotten. At the very least, though, it’s a semi-relatable look at life and mortality from the point of view of nonreligious people. So i do appreciate it for that.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! That was an amazing book. I have so many thoughts about it that they’re going to be difficult to organize. This is easily my favorite of the HP books so far.

First, a quick recap of my HP adventure. I read the first HP book back when i was a tween, then i saw the first movie and decided it was close enough to the book for me and went back to my Star Wars novels instead of continuing on with the HP book series. I saw all of the movies as they came out, and promptly forgot them for the most part. But i liked them a lot, so recently i decided it was time i read all of the books and re-watched each movie as i finished them.

So what i remembered about this fourth one from watching the movie long ago was that there was the tournament which Harry competed in, and Robert Pattinson also played someone who competed in it, and there was one task that involved rescuing people who were underwater and another task in a maze-like thing in which some boy died. I pretty much forgot everything else. My memory for movies is terrible.

Because my memory of the story was so poor, i enjoyed the book immensely. There were many surprises for me, especially at the end. I feel like i’m the last person on Earth to read these books and actually be surprised by them, and it’s kind of an eerie feeling. Like i’m stuck in the past while the world is decades ahead of me. But i digress.

I loved the little hints about Ron & Hermione’s jealousy, even if it was borderline annoying how they bitched at each other incessantly. And Hermione’s sudden political-mindedness was definitely obnoxious, but thankfully it faded out for the last third or so of the book. The focus of this book is a little more squarely on Harry; Hermione and Ron played bigger roles in the previous books, and i liked that. But i also love Harry, now more than ever. So, i’m not complaining.

I loved the little romance Hagrid had, and the drama with Cho and Fleur and Krum and all that. The ball was delightful. I did kind of remember that from the movie, because i love relationship drama. I thought it was a little far-fetched that the Beauxbatons and Drumstrang students just hung out at Hogwarts for an entire year doing nothing because the tournament tasks were so spread out, meanwhile their respective schools were without their headmasters. But it worked so well for the story that i don’t really care anymore.

I’m amazed at how many characters Rowling is able to invent and create compelling stories for within the Harry Potter world. Rita Skeeter, all the Weasley brothers, Hagrid, Ludo Bagman, Neville, Snape, Mr. Crouch — there were so many little stories within the bigger story of this book, which itself is within the bigger story of the series, and each one of them was important and interesting.

And Voldemort. Lord Voldemort is terrifying. Poor Harry. Brave, amazing, wonderful Harry. What a perfect end battle. But that was just the beginning of the end. There was another fascinating twist that i didn’t see coming at all, and all of the loose ends and little mysteries and stories were tied up so neatly into one marvelous package. I’m almost afraid to go on in the series, though, because this is clearly just the beginning of Voldemort’s second reign of terror, and i know things get even darker and sadder and more difficult from here on out. I think i’ll read a different book before i start the next one, as i had been doing in between the previous books.

Brava, J. K. Rowling. You really are a skilled writer, and deserving of quite a large portion of your mountainous heap of cash. I’m really starting to get it now.

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Book Review: Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you like clever political maneuvering and don’t particularly care if a book has any other substance to speak of, you’ll like this one.

I can’t understand why this is considered to be one of the best sci-fi books of all time. There’s nothing enjoyable about this story except for those moments when someone has done something exceedingly clever without the reader’s noticing. There was a moment of interesting action in the middle of the book, and the rest was just slow drifting about, talking. The characters were almost wholly unremarkable. There were two females in the entire book: one who mooned over a pretty garment and then was gone, and a horrible acid-tongued wife who only made a brief appearance.

The fact that it was set in space was just coincidental. Other than the one intriguing city-planet in the beginning, the rest of the worlds were not even described. There were no aliens. The ships weren’t really described. The weapons and other nuclear-powered doodads sounded sort of interesting but were really only glimpsed.

I just don’t get it. Even the story wasn’t played out to my satisfaction, but i’m sure as hell not going to be reading the rest of the series. I can pretty much guess that it’s just going to be a lot more of the same.

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Book Review: The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If i hadn’t been reading this book on my Kindle, i very well may have chucked it against the wall at the end. There were so many things about it that bothered me, but let’s see if i can write them all out coherently.

I didn’t believe the relationship between Lyra and Will. Why would the strong, independent-minded girl from The Golden Compass respond so positively to being bossed around, threatened, called names, and generally disregarded by a boy she knows nothing about except that he’s killed someone? It takes Will a long time to warm up to her, and that makes sense, but Lyra likes him immediately, which doesn’t.

I love Lyra. I was disappointed that the focus was no longer on her in this book. I’m not sure how i feel about Will. He’s a bit flat, and a touch psychotic. I do kind of sympathize with him, but the way he reacts to things is very strange and hard to relate to. I miss Iorek Byrnison. I’m pissed about what this book did to Lee Scoresby. And i hate Mrs. Coulter much more now than i did at the end of The Golden Compass, which is fairly amazing. How is she suddenly so powerful?! And how is Asriel suddenly so powerful? This book takes so many strange leaps that i didn’t see coming, even knowing that The Golden Compass was just the beginning of the story.

So many of the characters make dumb mistakes in this book that have terrible consequences. And that sort of counteracts all the overly-serendipitous stuff that happened in the first book, but it’s frustrating to read. The witches all act like stupid whores—and i’m sorry to say that, but their behavior just makes me angry. The one exception was Serafina’s first scene. Every other scene that included witches in this book made me roll my eyes really hard, or worse.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Ancient Aliens meme ANGELS

The whole Dust = dark matter = ANGELS part made me want to puke. All this build up with the Dust was so interesting, and then ANGELS. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it bothered me, it just seemed really dumb.

There was some interesting action in the middle of the book, but everything else was either boring or frustrating or gross. The monkey-stroking-the-snake scene made me feel yucky, which i’m sure was intentional, but even before that happened the whole book kind of made me feel yucky. I don’t particularly like this series, but i’m going to have to read the last book at some point. I can’t leave off here; there are so many unanswered questions both big and small—which is part of the reason that this book just utterly fails to stand on its own. For example: if there are so many doorways to the other worlds, why did Asriel have to blast a new one? Why was his gateway up in the sky when the others seem to be on the ground—i.e. the multiple worlds overlap in space, don’t they? How is Asriel manipulating time? Why does the subtle knife only cut doorways between two of the millions of worlds? How does Mrs. Coulter communicate with the Specters? How do they suddenly start flying at the end of the book? What ever happened to those two adults from Cittagaze? Who the hell is this Sir Charles, other than a plot device? And on and on and on.

This middle book just felt like a hurried exposition of how complex the characters have supposedly always known this multiverse to be. I think it was really poorly executed in comparison to the first book. I don’t care about any of the characters. I just want to see Mrs. Coulter meet some sort of satisfying fate—she’s the only one i feel strongly about anymore. But i need a few cold showers and less confused books before i can move on to The Amber Spyglass and see this stupid thing through.

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Reading Progress: Fall 2013

I’ve finished fifteen new books so far this year, and that makes for a pretty nice screenshot from Goodreads. So, here it is:

Goodreads 2013 reading progress screenshot

They are, in reverse-chronological order (with links to my review of each book on Goodreads):

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  4. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
  5. In Defense Of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  6. The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
  7. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
  8. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  9. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  11. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  12. Terra by Gretchen Powell
  13. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  14. The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
  15. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In addition to these, i’ve also re-read five books so far this year: The three Hunger Games books, The Great Gatsby and Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce.

As you can see, i’ve been on quite the fiction kick. And despite what a long time it’s been since i really read much fiction for fun, i find that i still love fantasy and science fiction dearly. I did enjoy The Great Gatsby immensely the second time around, but And The Mountains Echoed, for example, left me feeling parched for something whimsical and other-worldly. And i thought The Help was enjoyable but not terribly special. It’s not that i don’t love reality. It’s just that right now what i want books to do for me is supplement reality, not scrutinize it.

The Night Circus is, as you may have guessed, the book that i have enjoyed by far the most—not just this year, but in recent memory. And it is very nearly that time of year again when this book would be extremely appropriate to read. Read it, read it, read it. I’m going to wait until January to read it again only because i think reading the same book multiple times a year would be too often, because it would come at the price of discovering other books.

And now i’ve hyped it entirely too much. But just read it.

There are too many books listed here for me to really talk about each one, but i do want to say that Divergent left me baffled. I don’t see what’s special about this book at all. They’re making it into a big movie and many of my friends on Goodreads have read it and they all enjoyed it quite a lot, but i didn’t. Do people really just get a lot of pleasure out of girls who fight? This story is nothing new and not the least bit interesting. And i’d say the same thing about Terra. I have nothing good to say about Divergent and i am really confused as to why people like it so much.

I liked but didn’t love The Once and Future King; i was disappointed that The Vanishing Act had nothing to do with magic and was rather depressing; and The Oracle Glass was something i picked up for $2 on sale and it was entertaining enough, but weird. I’ve enjoyed reading some of the classic sci-fi books like Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Time Machine. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was a thousand-page book that i zipped through in nineteen days. I found it to be very well written and a lot of fun to read. And i loved A Wizard of Earthsea and will probably read the rest of that series very soon.

As for nonfiction, i thought The Antidote was kind of cheap, in the sense that all nonfiction books are starting to feel very formulaic and mass-produced and of very little value in the end. And In Defense of Food was also somewhat disappointing. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not an eater’s manifesto like i’d hoped it would be. It talks to much about food rules and too little about the joy of eating. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a much better (albeit much longer) book.

So that brings us quickly up to date. I’m reading a memoir right now, but once i’m done with that i’ll probably be delving into another pile of fictional stories. Perhaps i’ll even read the rest of the Harry Potter books one of these days, who knows?

Playing Catchup

I got sick of that WordPress theme, so i switched to the most generic default one available. That ought to motivate me to get off my butt (or on it, really) and design a new one. Ugh, maybe.

I really need to write more often. I feel like nothing much happens in my life and yet there’s so much that i find i ought to have written about when i take a long break.

I saw The Great Gatsby. And then i read it for the second time.
I took my mom to see the movie for Mother’s Day. I read the book in high school but i couldn’t really remember much of anything about it. I think we powered through it in just a few days and i vaguely recall being left scratching my head.

Great Gatsby poster

I really like Baz Luhrman’s movies and his style, and i thought The Great Gatsby was a perfect story for him to tell. Nobody could’ve done a better movie rendition of it, if you ask me. It was spectacular, romantic, tragic, well-cast for the most part (i could’ve done without Toby Maguire, but i just don’t like him much in general), and possibly the most enjoyable movie i’ve seen since The Hobbit (Part 1 of Eleventyhundred). It inspired me to re-read the book, and this time i loved it. Fitzgerald truly was an artist, and it’s such a pleasure to read a book that’s written with so much skill and passion. It’s not the most epic story ever told but it’s just told so well. Truly an American classic.

We went to Decorah for a weekend.
To celebrate our second anniversary and to procure a particularly excellent and rare beer, we drove 3.5 hours each way up to Decorah, Iowa, and spent two nights at a charming bed & breakfast there. Decorah, by the way, is a perfectly beautiful little place. My brother drove an even longer way for the aforementioned beer; he met us at Toppling Goliath on Saturday for the event, which was crowded but well organized and turned out really well for us because Nathan and i got our numbers early enough in the morning (7:20 a.m.!!) that we were able to garner a second bottle each. People were passing around rare beers to sample just for fun, and i had a good time visiting with my family and discovering lovely new beers. After lunch that day we walked out to what is probably Iowa’s only waterfall, and it was a very pretty sight to see. (Photos courtesy of Nathan.)

Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath

Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!
Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!

Nathan went to Seattle for a long weekend
And i was kind of lonely i missed the poop out of him. This was the longest we’d been apart since probably our second date, and being without him was totally alien and wrong to me. I went out Friday evening with a couple of girlfriends and then i was mostly at home working on a logo for a family member the rest of the weekend, but i went to my grandpa’s house for a couple hours of people time both evenings. I do not like living alone one bit, even with a dog. Does that mean i’m actually an extrovert? I prefer to be around people for at least 2/3 of every day (working alone at home wasn’t so bad).

I got stressed out about food and then remembered Michael Pollan.
All the low-fat / gluten-free / low-calorie / paleo / clean / vegan / sugarphobic / locavore / sustainable / organic / good calories, bad calories / moderation / best-body / health-obsessed food talk that pops up seemingly everywhere was starting to make me feel guilty every time i put something in my mouth, and so i bought In Defense of Food and have started reading that to try to get back to a place where food is not a tool or an enemy or a sin but above all things a pleasure. And even reading this is kind of wearying, because it says a lot of the same stuff that Nourishing Traditions and Why We Get Fat say about how the Western diet is terrible for people’s health (yeah, duh), but i think the difference will come in the latter half of the book where Pollan presents an eater’s manifesto. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And as long as you can tell the difference between actual food and laboratory-created foodlike substances, that’s all he says you really need to do. No worrying. I’ve hardly ever worried about food in my life except for when i was a vegetarian, and i don’t plan to allow it to become a habit.

Book DNF: The Time Traveler’s Wife

(DNF: Did Not Finish)

This book is extremely popular and came very highly recommended to me by someone i know and love, but after reading just ten percent of it, i’ve decided to put it aside. In the past i would’ve powered through it, but there are so many good books out there that i haven’t read yet and that i will only ever get a chance to read a small sampling of that i’ve decided to start giving up on books that i just don’t enjoy. Plus, i really super want to read Hunger Games again. RIGHTNOW.

The book is a love story about a man and woman who live in modern times. The guy, Henry, has a disorder that sends him suddenly into a different time (and space, i might add) somewhat randomly. He can’t control when or where or what time period he goes to or how long he stays there, and he always comes back to his normal timeline. It seems he returns to his present timeline plus the duration of time he was away though, rather than popping back into the moment he popped out of. Thus, his wife has to be without him much of the time, and it’s a very conveniently romantically tragic thing. Except to me it also seems quite comical. You know how narcolepsy is used as a comedic device in movies and such? Well, this chronolepsy or whatever Niffenegger decided to call Henry’s disorder seems kind of similar to narcolepsy except about ten times more ridiculous. Henry shows up after his time jumps naked and ill. So he’ll be minding his own business, reading the newspaper, and suddenly he’s flung naked and vomiting into another time and place. Absolutely silly, if you ask me. Sounds like a great premise for a British comedy.

Henry also conveniently usually happens to time travel to times and places where either he or his wife exist. This allows for all sorts of weird sexual encounters—yes, even with himself. Which is disgusting. Really, Henry and Clare’s relationship seems to be more sexually based than rooted in actual love. Middle-aged Henry informs the young version of his wife that they’re going to end up married one day, and so she loves him and wants to have a lot of sex with him. And then she gets to tell him the same thing one day when she, as a young adult, meets him—also a young adult—on the normal timeline for the first time, and he has the same reaction. ‘Hi, nice to meet you. I’m going to marry you one day, you say? Neat, let’s have sex.’

I don’t like Henry much as a character. He does all sorts of criminal things out of necessity when he time travels; stealing clothes and money and breaking into people’s houses and such. Which i guess is forgivable. But he also just seems like kind of a scumbag. Maybe because he effed himself, maybe because he unquestioningly effed Clare on the first date knowing that she would become a very important person in his life, i don’t know. There’s just nothing about him that strikes me as this is a good guy i ought to care about. And Clare isn’t my favorite, either. There’s nothing particularly endearing about her.

I read some reviews on Goodreads to try to gauge whether i should keep reading the book or not, and it seemed that people either loved reading the book and hated the ending, or just didn’t like anything about the book. So i went ahead and read a plot synopsis and spoiled the ending for myself. Meh. It is kind of an interesting premise, to be able to visit your past and future selves and partners, and i think that the loopy timeline is handled about as well as such a messy thing can be handled. But the writing is nothing special and the characters are nothing special, and i think the whole time jumping disorder is a flimsy basis for the story. Too many things are too convenient, and while that’s often the case with time travel stories, this one takes it a little too far for my taste.