Archive for the ‘books’ Category
my life in books: The Lie
I must admit I was unfamiliar with Chad Kultgen. His previous and first novel The Average American Male seemed to be well-received and when browsing the bookstore, I stumbled on his second title, The Lie. Intrigued by the blurbs by the novel’s characters on the back cover, I bought it.
The novel is an oversimplified examination of life in college and written in first person, told through alternating viewpoints of the three main characters. There is Kyle, the optimistic medical student looking for love. There is Heather, the selfish sorority girl craving a man who will bring her wealth and status. And Brett, the rich playboy with a sadistic streak and an abhorrent view of women.
There is very little story here. The long and short of it is that Heather hopes to land Brett but settles for his best friend Kyle, thinking that proximity to Brett may help her chances. Kyle falls in love fast and hard and Heather sort of falls for him too. The “lie” of the book’s title is an engagement ring that turns out to be a Cubic Zirconia. Heather is enraged, Kyle is crushed and he concocts a special form of revenge.
Kyle starts off as sweet and perhaps a little naive. He doesn’t have a world view that is tainted the way his best friend Brett’s is. One of the fundamental flaws of the novel is that one finds it difficult to believe that Kyle would have a best friend such as Brett. Brett is so disgusting and disturbed, so perverse and infantile. He has an unmatched amorality and a gross sense of entitlement. His core belief is that women are whores who want nothing more than what his money can offer. That they will repeatedly debase themselves in outrageous sexual scenarios. And that they will do so for the mere and minuscule chance that he will choose them to be a girlfriend or wife.
Moreover, the most shocking thing about this story is that every female character will succumb to Brett’s perverse whims. They perform whatever elaborate or disgusting sexual act that Brett demands. No woman has a glimmer of self-worth or respect in this novel. (Well, there was one that rejected his demands but that took about a sentence in the book and she was gone.) When viewed as a satire, I suppose it’s easy to forgive these glaring generalities. But I never got the sense that it was a satire at all. The three main characters are little more two-dimensional loosely-formed caricatures.
What I can say, however, is that each character has their own distinctive voice. There is never a question of what chapter belongs to which character. That said, Heather’s chapters are littered with “likes” and other language that make her seem dumb and uncaring. She openly admits that she is majoring to be a teacher, but plans to land a husband before she ever has to work. As if this is something to be proud of. I simply don’t find this to be a believable attribute. I mean, don’t people try to at least self-censor a bit? To try and not cast themselves in bad light?
I raced through this book. I found it hard to put down. That is an unusual response to have to a novel you don’t like very much.
Bottom line: The Lie is lacking in literary merit. The core of it lies in descriptions of sexual decadence and prose about the depravity of the soul. And there are other stories (and writers) that can tackle these motifs better.
my life in books: various titles
Here’s a few words on some books I have read in the past year but never got around to writing anything about.
I like Nick Hornby. He has an accessible and conversational tone to his novels and he is filled with a bitter wisdom all the while showing us the hope that lies just beyond. His books read easily and his quirky, introspective characters could be any one of your friends. So when picking up Slam I had some reasonable expectations.
First off, it’s not a bad book. However it does lack some of the charm of his other works. In some ways, Slam feels like a natural place for Nick Hornby to go; after years of writing about the twenty-something experience, about men discovering just how to grow up, it seems only prudent to explore where such men may have started. And so this novel follows Sam, a sixteen-year old skater whose hero is Tony Hawk and whose first encounter with love finds him becoming a teenage father.
There are some odd elements to the story. One is that Sam “talks” to a poster of Tony Hawk, and Tony talks back by quoting portions of his autobiography, a book Sam has read countless times. Another is that in two separate instances, Sam is jettisoned into the future. Twice. He gleams what his life is like from the other side and then he returns back to the present. The third thing is not so much odd as it is an eye-rolling narrative device: Slam ends in a silly Q&A with the reader in which Sam answers the story’s lingering threads. It’s more superfluous than fulfilling.
If you’ve never read any Nick Hornby, I wouldn’t recommend this title to start with. Check out High Fidelity or A Long Way Down instead. ★ ★ . 5 /5
Charlaine Harris isn’t going to go down as some great author of literature, but I enjoy her style nonetheless. It’s very direct and linear. It gets to a point, doesn’t linger on any one thing for too long and reads quickly. She’s a good author to read for pleasure. Popcorn entertainment, if you know what I mean. I’ve read all of her series: Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, Lily Bard and Harper Connelly.
The Lily Bard Mystery Series (Shakespeare’s Landlord. Shakespeare’s Christmas, Shakespeare’s Champion, Shakespeare’s Trollop, Shakespeare’s Counselor) is one of her darker works. The heroine is a survivor of a vicious and brutal rape. As the series begins, she has relocated to a small Arkansas town and takes up work a house cleaner for the various residents. Murder and mystery seems to always be in her path and while she would rather keep out of it, her position in the community enables to know secrets about the town’s denizens and it gives her a unique perspective in uncovering the truth of the crime.
I was intrigued by the series because of the character. Once upon a time when I was working on my own novel, my protagonist was also a rape victim and worked hard to ignore her past. It was an interesting experience to read another writer’s take on this idea. Generally, the mysteries unfold a bit slowly and the reader is able to gain a sense of the killer’s identity as the suspects weave in and out of the narrative. But there’s some surprises too and usually a strange twist or two as well. ★ ★ ★ /5
The Harper Connelly Series (Grave Sight, Grave Surprise, An Ice Cold Grave, Grave Secret) follows a woman who was struck by lightning and then left with an ability to locate corpses as a result. She and her stepbrother travel to various locales and hire out her ability. She can not only find the dead, she can also get a sense of their last moments of life. She can see how the died but if they were murdered, she cannot discern who killed them. The series focuses on those cases where she inadvertently–and unwillingly–becomes a part of the investigation.
She’s a pretty interesting character. Generally, people regard her disdainfully. They are mistrusting, suspicious and rude. I find the real moving force behind this series is Harper’s relationship with Tolliver. It’s the bright spot in the darkness of the series. There’s a respect and sweetness and it really is the backbone of the series as whole, especially since none of the novels share the same location. They are the only true constants to one another, as well is to the reader. ★ ★ ★ /5
The anticipated tenth installment to Charlaine Harris‘s Sookie saga is Dead in the Family. This novel finds Sookie struggling with the events of the previous one, healing from the wounds of her brutal torture. She’s a bit of a different character from where she first started. She has a slight edge of cynicism, she’s more guarded the ever. And she’s willing to confront harsh truths she may have shied from in tales prior, such as: she wants Victor dead. A very different Sookie indeed.
Dead in the Family is a significant slow-down from the break-neck pace of Dead and Gone and as such, the novel winds up feeling a bit lacking in flavor and substance. It does, however, open up some very interesting story threads as well as close some others. Nevertheless, this book series is compulsively readable and Charlaine Harris, as always, has her wit and charm infused in the pages. ★ ★ . 5 /5
I starting enjoying Lauren Kate‘s Fallen as the book neared the climax. Everything before was quite slow and predictable. I feel like the story only came to life when the author stopped keeping so many secrets from the reader and started inviting them into the world instead. I suspect the follow-up to this YA novel may be better and more lively.
It is another tale involving angels and a teenage girl with a tragic past. It takes place at an old boarding school called Sword & Cross in Savannah, Georgia. The girl, Luce, is drawn to a boy, Daniel, though he goes to great lengths to avoid her. I am sure you can see why many occurrences in this novel might be predictable. I also found much of it tautological in nature; I felt as though I were reading the same things over and over and just wanted to story to move toward something already. There was just a little too much time spent on set-up. ★ ★ /5
I actually had no intention of reading L.J. Smith‘s The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle. It was sort of happenstance that I did. My mother loaned me a few books she thought I might like and I was waiting to get a new book, I just popped this open to kill some time. It reads incredibly fast. I had both books completed within hours. I don’t have anything particularly positive to write about this series however. I was rather underwhelmed.
First off, I find Elena unlikable. A couple characters accuse her being of selfish. Well, she is. I also hate this whole thing in YA fiction where teenage girls become so absorbed by some guy that everything else ceases to matter. This guy becomes their only reason to exist. They are obsessed and neurotic and always feeling unworthy of undeserving of his devotion. And it’s irritating that these are the role models for young girls and women. I understand that these are teenage girls in these books and that teenage girls are often petulant and self-involved and reckless. But the girls in so many of these books don’t feel real to me. I was once a teenage girl with teenage girl friends. Guess what? They didn’t act like so many of these YA heroines.
Sorry for the rant but I just got really irked by Elena in these books. The CW show is awesome though! I really look forward to it and I am anxious for September. If I had read these books before I saw the show, I don’t think I would have given it much of a chance. Thankfully, the show is only a shadow of these books. It’s veered quite far off the path in lots of different ways. And I, for one, am thankful for that! ★ . 5 /5
my life in books: The Stand
I’m not a huge Stephen King enthusiast; I don’t care much for the horror genre. But to be fair, I haven’t actually read much of his catalogue. In fact, before re-reading The Stand I hadn’t picked up one of his books since I was a kid. I’ve read Misery, Cycle of the Werewolf, Eyes of the Dragon, the short story compilation Four Past Midnight and perhaps one or two others. In my admittedly myopic view of King’s work, I think his talent lies in creating characters and seeing how they react in extreme situations. That’s what keeps me turning the pages.
I didn’t remember much of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition though I did read it when I was 14 or 15 and also saw the miniseries. (I even have it on DVD.) But since it is such a huge influence on Lost and I am a crazy Lost fan and this is the final season, I thought I would give it another go.
Wow. This is one of my favorite books of all time.
This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death. And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides-or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
Book I. “Captain Trips” — It starts with a sneeze here and a cough there and within weeks, nearly everyone is dead. As the world is dying, chaos reigns. The military attempts to maintain order but even those in charge are unable to control themselves. People scramble to flee cities and die from the flu, creating massive traffic jams and pile ups. The reader is introduced to various characters, most of which we follow on their journeys toward the end. Each watches in terror as everyone dies around them and they are bewildered as to why they don’t become sick themselves. When all the world seems dead they have strange dreams and venture out to seek out the truth of them.
We follow several different characters as they trek across the country, most using motorcycles because it’s the most efficient way to travel as it allows them to circumvent all the backed up traffic. They find other survivors along the way. And sometimes, that’s not always such a good thing. The epidemic leaves more tragedy in its place. There are brutal people out there. Guns and other weapons are just waiting to be picked up, as is the food on all of the grocery shelves and clothes in a department store, drugs in the pharmacies. Anything you want, it’s yours. The world as it once was is gone.
There is a chapter in this section that succeeded more than any other in painting Stephen King‘s new world view, one that illustrated what becomes of the people as the world they know disintegrates and to those who are left behind. It’s a chapter without any of the main characters. It’s a chapter that in concise and heart-wrenching vignettes shows us little peeks across the country. Of suicides. Of accidental drug overdoses. Of lost and alone children who die because there is no one to take care of them, like a 5-year old boy who strolls along picking and eating berries until stumbles into a deep well and remains there, helpless with a broken legs until he dies because there is no one to rescue him. It’s these tiny stories–some a few paragraphs, other a single sentence–that effectively show the scope of this story, of how far-reaching and impacting it truly is. In other words, it shows us a world outside of the characters we have so far come to know.
Book II. “On the Border” — The most lengthy of the sections, finds the survivors coming together in small packs as they venture across the country. Generally the story follows the “good” guys, though we do at times meet up with those aligned with the dark man. Along the way, there is camaraderie and fear, mistrust and genuine affections. Eventually they arrive at their destinations. One of the characters, Glen Bateman, was a sociology professor and through him we are familiarized with the concepts and theories he has about societies and how they are formed. His ideas are interesting and often correct as well.
It’s here we follow what is happening in what the survivors have dubbed the Boulder Free Zone. They clean the community of dead, return the electricity, move into homes and create new lives and relationships, where the new government forms. Some become complacent; this reality is better than thinking about Randall Flagg who they know rests just over the Rocky Mountains. Others, the new government (which is really just a committee at this point,) is constructing a plan about how to handle the dark man. It’s in the back of everyone’s mind and they know something must be done to stop him.
Book III. “The Stand” — This section finds the story pushing toward the final confrontation. It takes place largely in Las Vegas where some of the “good” guys are heading to see Randall Flagg. To do what, they are not sure. The final battle is, to many readers, a disappointment as well as unsatisfying, but this epic story is not about this final “stand” so much as the journey toward it. And the way I see it, just how can you write a satifying climax? In a sense, Stephen King wrote himself into a bit of a corner. When everything leading up to the moment is so powerful and thoughtful and compelling, how could he top himself? So I can easily forgive this minor issue. It only lasts a few pages out of 1100 plus pages anyhow.
One of the profound successes of The Stand is in the characterization. Stephen King manages to create a compelling and believable cast. One of the difficulties in crafting a tale that basically comes down to good and evil is in making the characters identifiable. There’s two instances that impressed me where he nailed this task. One is in Harold Lauder, a teenage kid who was picked on relentlessly. He’s in love with Frannie Goldsmith who is not in love with him. She’s taken up with Stu Redman. He is also overlooked in being chosen to take part in the new government. He feels a deep sense of betrayal and an utter desire for revenge. He becomes seduced by the idea of aligning himself with the dark man. Yet through it all–despite his irrational behavior and failure to amend his outlook–you understand his rage because his inability to simply “let go” and start anew–his hubris, in other words–has been properly attended to in the writing. By being burdened by his past, despite the fact that his past is now irrelevant, Harold has doomed himself.
Trashcan Man is the other example. A schizophrenic pyromaniac, “Trash” has nothing but supreme devotion to the walking dude (aka the dark man, Randall Flagg.) Ostracized, abused and discarded his whole life, the walking dude accepts him, praises him, has a place for him. It’s a feeling he has never known. When he meets up with other folks in Las Vegas, they accept him too. It’s a happiness he didn’t know was out there for him. Because Stephen King has given proper weight to this character’s past and his struggles, his loyalty to side of evil is easily understood. In a sense, you can’t see Trash anywhere but here.
Many say that this novel is an examination of the struggle between good and evil, the war of all wars. But I don’t see it that way at all really. It’s allegory, something I am learning Stephen King seems to like a lot. The Stand is a powerful narrative, a very rich and poignant story with a deliberate profundity peppered with both nuance and flair. It’s about the human condition, the psyche of individuals and the pathos of a society when the world has fallen away. And how fitting. I suppose you only know who really are when you are put under such fear and stress. That’s the real you. It will bleed out whether you want it to or not. And The Stand is an examination of that more than it is of “good and evil.”
An 1100+ page book may seem a daunting read to some. And it certainly could be. But if the story and the characters are riveting and complex, page count doesn’t mean a thing. This is an incredible novel and I would recommend it to anyone.
my life in books: Under the Dome
To be honest, it took me like 3 weeks to get through the first 300 pages of the 1000+ page novel, Under the Dome. But after that, I finished up the next 700 in a mere 2-3 days. I was compelled to read this mammoth of a book after recently re-reading The Stand. (Review of that to follow.) I was so thoroughly impressed with The Stand that I thought perhaps Under the Dome might impress me equally. (If you’re wondering, it doesn’t quite measure up.)
What took me so long to get through the first fourth of Under the Dome is paradoxically why it took me no time at all to get through the entirety of The Stand in almost no time at all: the constant juggling of the huge cast of characters. As The Stand begins, we are introduced to the main characters one by one; they don’t yet know one another and so their journeys and experiences are easily distinguishable from one another. Under the Dome takes place in the small New England town of Chester’s Mill, and as such, the characters are already interacting with one another and have established relationships we are not already privy to. So as you read, it is easy to get everyone confused; you have to kind of pause and think about who is who as the scenes shift and alliances form. But after the initial 300 pages, I started to know the characters myself and the story became more interesting.
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day, a small town is suddenly and inexplicably sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and rain down flaming wreckage. A gardener’s hand is severed as the dome descends. Cars explode on impact. Families are separated and panic mounts. No one can fathom what the barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away. Now a few intrepid citizens, led by an Iraq vet turned short-order cook, face down a ruthless politician dead set on seizing the reins of power under the dome. But their main adversary is the dome itself. Because time isn’t just running short. It’s running out.
The greatest fault I can find in this novel, however, is actually in the characterization. It’s rather black & white with little shades of gray. Either a character is “good” or “bad.” Shades of gray are what make people interesting, if you ask me. For example, while the big villain of the story, Big Jim Rennie, often rationalizes his behavior or tries to justify his actions to even himself, he still recognizes an inherent quality within himself: he just wants what he wants, that he is an unapologetic and selfish power monger. Simple as that. Without any redeeming quality he–and most of the other characters–has very little dimension and thus, he doesn’t seem all that believable.
On the other hand, if the novel is viewed as largely allegorical–which it most certainly can be–the black & white tendencies of the characters become understandable. After all, allegory is a way of illustrating a message–whether it be political, religious, environmental, or otherwise–about the state of circumstance and choice, about human nature. Stephen King himself stated that he wrote Under the Dome with his view of the failures of Bush-Cheney administration in mind, as well the state of the environment. (If there is one thing the Dome in the novel demonstrates, is how quickly the air becomes polluted and contaminated when it is enclosed, much like the atmosphere encloses the Earth.)
Much like The Stand, the climax of Under the Dome fails to be as compelling as the events that precede it. But that’s okay. The joy of reading both books lies in the journey of the characters, in their struggles and their triumphs.
If you are wondering about the “secret” of the Dome, I won’t spoil it for you here. Is it a fascinating reveal? That’s up for the reader to decide. This reader was sort of apathetic to it because that’s not what the story is really about. The Dome is merely a device to get the characters in this situation. A MacGuffin of a larger sort. Is it worth the read? Sure. I really enjoyed it once I was able to get acquainted well enough with the characters. But if you are a slow reader, this one may not be for you.