Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: February 15 to March 06, 2013
Read count: 1

All hype and all gimmick.

I finished this book mostly because I had to, and I have never wanted to burn a book more than I do now. The last time I felt this way about an assigned text was when I slogged through Atlas Shrugged in high school.

Scratch that. Not too long ago Defending Jacob inspired a similar book-burning feeling for about a week, but then it passed on. This book will soon follow.

The title Gone Girl should’ve been enough of a warning. Bestsellers that have gimmicky titles are often gimmicky themselves.

Anyhow. It started out slow and rambled on for about a hundred pages, and I was indifferent for the first half. Then it got a little interesting, though I stayed indifferent because, honestly, how involved can a reader be when the story is about a “first world problems” married couple who set out to ruin each others’ lives?

The title should’ve been First World Problems Girl.

[ETA]
OK, I concede. The prose is actually not that bad, which is consistent with Flynn’s style. She really does have a way with words, though not so much with story.

* * * * *

Still can’t get into this book no matter what, but I don’t hate it like I used to. Maybe it’s because I know what to expect this time around and don’t care about the outcome. Or maybe the narration makes much more sense this time around because I don’t care about the outcome.

Of course Amy’s “cool girl” monologue still holds a lot of truth. But also, these

It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.

[…]

There’s a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.

[…]

Love makes you want to be a better man—right, right. But maybe love, real love, also gives you permission to just be the man you are.

[…]

She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment–that just anyone could like you.

Gillian Flynn does words very well. I really like the way she handles them and the way she edges about as close to the truth as fiction would allow. It’s almost surreal, what she does with prose.

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Review: Unwind (Unwind, #1) by Neal Shusterman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: March 02 to 03, 2013
Read count: 1

Surprisingly enjoyable… for a YA dystopian book. It surpassed what I expected for books in this meager genre, which isn’t saying much.

Pros:

  • concept of unwinding
  • interesting plot
  • believable society/world
  • characters with actual problems
  • existentialist crises

More pros:

  • no awkward nonsensical “dystopian” society
  • no awkward angsty pseudo-love triangle
  • no awkward evil Big Brother with plans of vengeance either
  • no awkwardness

A thoroughly enjoyable departure from all the usual flimsy YA “dystopian” series indeed.

Although this is a refreshing departure from YA fiction, it’s still YA fiction in the sense that many interesting aspects of the concept of unwinding were simplified, and as a reader, I’m left hanging onto oversimplified explanations. I would have liked to know more about the science of unwinding and the medical procedures that were developed to make organ transplant so easy. (brain transplant?) And then there’s this other problem: an unwind is neither dead nor alive… so how does the science of unwinding make that possible? I also would’ve liked to read about how and why laws and policies of unwinding were passed. What government would pass these laws / put these policies into effect? (Wouldn’t they just filibuster until someone can’t hold it in anymore and has to pee?) Is unwinding available just in the US or is it worldwide?

All of these questions and unexplained concepts leave me with the conclusion that perhaps Unwind would have been better had it been written as contemporary science fiction, instead of YA.

Original review to be found here.

Review: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: February 25 to 28, 2013
Read count: 1

This is the first book I’ve listened to without having read first. It was a strange experience to say the least, but fitting for a strange children’s book.

Since not having actually read the book, I can’t comment on the text itself. The story, however, is very weird, very enjoyable, and I very much like Mieville’s world building scope, vibrant cast of characters and their meandering journey through not-London. It’s a tale for both children and adults who still enjoy reading children’s books.

I’d like to think of this experience as my first peak into Mieville’s crazy worlds, but I don’t think it counts because I didn’t read it. I will have to return to this book at a later time.

Original review to be found here.

Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: February 02 to 10, 2013
Read count: 2

So much hype, so little to back up that hype.

I still don’t see what all the fuss is about with this book. The writing is good for contemporary fiction, the prose poignant at times, the characters OK, but the story overall could have been dealt with better. It could have had more nuances since this is a novel about mental health. There could have been more emotional consequences for the main character and those close to him.

Too many novels these days that deal with mental health and the mental health systems deviate to having passive narration and passive main characters who just float through the story while not really doing much of anything except take in their surroundings and everything that’s happening around them. The point is things are happening around them–not to them, not even at them–and so not much affects them. This is pretty far from reality. People who have been institutionalized don’t return to their lives and live passively.

If this book had been my first foray into fictional accounts of psychological health based on actual accounts of the author’s experience, then I would have been impressed with Quick’s writing, comedic timing, self-deprecating humor, and engaging narration. However, (un)fortunately, this was not my first book of this kind, and so I was underwhelmed.

The whole story seems flat, and the characters are too narrow in scope and emotional range, with one minor character in particular coming off as stereotypical. It makes me wonder if Quick has ever had a lasting relationship, or even a meaningful encounter, with a person of color, or maybe he’s one of those writers who have few firsthand experiences and so he on media representations to draw out his story. You know which character I’m referring to, people who read the book.

As for the book vs. movie issue, it’s no contest that the movie is better. This is one of those rare instances where the movie is better because it’s better made. It’s composed with more emotional depth that is not present in the book, and so the overall impact of Pat’s dysfunctional problems are shown and felt, rather just happening to him. The movie also shows character growth, which again I did not see in the book. Pat changes with each obstacle he’s faced with and overcomes. I did not get a strong sense of any emotional growth in the book because the growth mostly happened in Pat’s mind.

The characters, their problems, mental illnesses, and everything else in between are more alive, for lack of a better world, in the movie.

Original review to be found here.

Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 31 to February 08, 2013
Read count: 1

Harlequin-esque in story (evidence: cover), but well-written overall. The physical descriptions of pain and other sensations are well done (pun not intended), but they weren’t enough to hold my interest.

This is one of those trending books that everyone reads and talks about for weeks, and so you either wait until the trend passes or pick up the book and join the conversation, if only to see what all the fuss is about, which I did. Now I wish I hadn’t.

[ETA]
The more I think on it, the more I think this book is a poor man’s rehashing of The English Patient.

[ETA]
Maybe this is another case of “wrong book, wrong time.” I’m willing to give it another try.

Review: Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

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Rating: (abandoned)
Date read: January, 2013
Read count:

I got as far as the first rape and pillage scene and that was quite far enough, and then I was told by a friend, who wanted to save me the trouble of reading, that that scene was only just one scene of its “sort” and that more like it were littered across the series. I couldn’t thank this friend enough.

Every year, I stumble over a horrible fantasy book and I’m beginning to believe it’s a quota I have to fill. Good thing I got it out of the way early this year.

— — — — —

I don’t read about rapists, especially not from the rapist’s POV.

This story begins with violence and then it expects sympathy–or at least empathy–for the main character, a vile rapist who goes on to lead a band of equally vile characters. I just don’t buy it. On top of that, the vile rapist is a child, barely a teenager, and readers are supposed to believe that one day he’s going to rule the land. May that day never come.

— — — — —

It was hard to read this book without comparing it to Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, the first installment of a similarly violent fantasy series which really impressed me. It was Abercrombie’s sense of humor and strong writing capabilities that held the series together and kept it from becoming another dismal violent fantasy. That is the sense that I did not get from Mark Lawrence’s writing, and coupled with what I saw as a writing gimmick–violence for the sake of violence–made this book an unbearable read that I had to abandon (never to return? probably).

Original review to be found here.

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 13 to 15, 2013
Read count: 1

* * * spoilers below * * *

Friends and acquaintances who work in IT recommended this book to me with rave reviews–“best book I’ve read in a while” and “you’re got to read THIS.” So naturally I had to take a look to see what all the fuss was about and… I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s an IT thing that only people who worship Google understand because I did not get it.

This is the description on the book page:

Global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, young love, and the secret to eternal life

Hyped much? Which makes this book possibly the most hyped up book I’ve read this year.

The writing is similar to that which you’d find in current YA fiction, not contemporary (grown-up) fiction. For the most part, the story is bland and forgettable, like the mystery/conspiracy. Are we to believe that a several-century-old mystery can turn out to be so dull? And it all comes down to fonts? This is what passes for “complex” and “the secret to eternal life” apparently. I don’t buy it, but apparently a lot of people did/do. Maybe it’s a matter of taste. Or maybe it’s a matter of the book being over-hyped.

The Cover glows in the dark. As much as I hate gimmicky novels, I love gimmicky covers. The gimmickier, the better.

Original review to be found here.

Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: December 29, 2012 to January 08, 2013
Read count: 1

After putting off this book for the a very long time–two decades actually–I finally had time to read it. I liked it. That’s all, just like. Perhaps I’d put it off for too long and the threshold to enjoy this book has passed me by.

Original review to be found here.

Review: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: January 01 to 05, 2013
Read count: 1

I read the book and watched the film simultaneously for a film theory class. Every little piece of both media were taken a part and looked at. That’s not just to say I didn’t enjoy either as much as I would have had I read and watched them on my own. It was a lot of work, but well worth it for a great book and beautiful film.

If this is your first Isherwood novel, you might think it’s amazing–amazingly honest, amazingly forward, amazingly foreign. And then you pick up his other works and find similar narration, style, observations, POVs, etc. He does what he does best and that’s bringing this sense of being a stranger or outsider appreciating the foreign-ness of his surrounding that everyone else takes for granted. That’s what I like most in his stories, a sense of not really fitting in but making an effort to do so anyway. That and the fact that you never forget that he’s an Englishman bumbling around in sunny California.

Original review to be found here.