Let’s Talk Books! — Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

Warning: Spoilers!

Kurt Vonnegut was someone I’d heard great things about since high school. I knew a few people that swore by him back then, and one of my friends even went so far as to wish he was her grandfather.

Despite the high praises and interest to check him out myself, I never did pick up one of his books back then. It wasn’t until my creative writing courses in the second half of college did I hear his name mentioned again with the same praises as before. A lot of my classmates were surprised I’d never read anything by him before and instantly recommended Slaughterhouse-Five.

After graduating and having more time to read for myself, I went on a reading spree, trying to catch up on a lot of books I felt I should have read but never did. Checking out Kurt Vonnegut was on my list of things to do, and I checked one of his books out of the library soon after. This book was While Mortals Sleep, a collection of unpublished short stories released after his death. I loved it — maybe it was because I was just coming out of an environment that taught me how to critically analyze and take away valuable experiences from short stories, but I felt a big connection with the book. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy almost immediately after finishing it.

I tried Cat’s Cradle next, but it didn’t hold the same punch for me. It was okay, but… that’s about it. Just okay. It never really left much of an impact on me.

Slaughterhouse-Five came fairly shortly after that, and I’ve got to admit: I didn’t like it. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Maybe it’s because Cat’s Cradle left a disappointing taste in my mouth after loving While Mortals Sleep, but Slaughterhouse-Five didn’t captivate me at all.

It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, either. I always heard Kurt Vonnegut, particularly Slaughterhouse-Five, was terrific at dark humor, which I normally enjoy. But nothing in Vonnegut’s work really felt like humor to me. It reflected real people and their experiences well enough, certainly. But all three of his books never felt like they were supposed to be humorous. Was I missing something?

After that, I felt I kind of had my fill of Kurt Vonnegut. I wrote While Mortals Sleep off as the one book I genuinely enjoyed by him, but otherwise felt he just wasn’t for me. Didn’t hate him. Just not my cup of tea.

A couple of years later someone recommended Welcome to the Monkey House to me. At first I wasn’t interested in reading another Kurt Vonnegut book, but then I learned it was a collection of short stories. Since While Mortals Sleep was the only book I enjoyed by him, I thought maybe his short stories are just more appealing to me then his novels. I added it to my to-read list and finally got around to reading it during the past couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really do anything for me either.

To be fair, I enjoyed it more than Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. I definitely feel like I can invest myself into Kurt Vonnegut’s characters more when they’re presented in 10-20 page chunks instead of an entire novel. Still, as a whole, the stories in this collection for me were okay at best, and pretty uninteresting at their worst.

Among the more interesting stories are “Harrison Bergerdon,” which is about a world that has devices on people to make everyone have relatively the same intelligence and capabilities, and shows a pair of parents watching their son tear away from the shackles and get shot as a consequence; “Who Am I This Time?,” a story that tells of a girl that moved constantly as a kid and becomes enamored with an actor (or rather, his character) in a play she’s participating it; “Long Walk to Forever,” a love story between two childhood friends, one who’s about to get married and one who went AWOL to come back home and tell her how he felt; “The Foster Portfolio,” which was about a financial advisor consulting with a meek and humble man about what to do with a recently inherited fortune; “Miss Temptation,” a story about an attractive girl a town falls in love with until a returning soldier comes home and lashes out at her for dressing like a whore; “Next Door,” which is about a kid who stays home alone and tries to fix a troubling marriage he can hear from next door; “D.P.,” a story about an young boy living in an orphanage that believes his real father is a soldier camping out nearby; “Deer In the Works,” tells us the story of a man leaving his small business behind to enlist in a much larger corporation and how he struggles with adapting until he eventually runs away from the place; and “Adam,” which is about a man whose wife just had a baby and his feelings regarding how happy he is and how little everyone else cares.

I feel like these stories do a good job identifying many different aspects of being human. The other stories, while they certainly do the same, don’t hold the same kind of punch for me. I think one of the reasons why is because so many of them involve war and history, something I don’t really have much of an interest in. Looking back, this may be one of the reasons I failed to connect with Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, as both had similar themes.

But further than that, I feel like a lot of these short stories, even the ones I listed above, had pretty weak endings that hurt the overall experience for me. For example, in “Miss Temptation,” after the man harasses the attractive girl and causes her to lock herself in her home and eventually plan to move, he comes by to give her something when she lashes out at him for judging people by appearances and criticizes him for taking his frustrations out on her just because he thought she was attractive, and therefore, a shallow person. It’s a really great scene, but unfortunately it feels diminished when immediately after, she says he can take her by the arm and walk her into town to show everyone he’s fine with how she is. I’m not sure how this was supposed to be interpreted , but it felt too much like the setup for them becoming a couple and it really crushed the themes of the consequences of built up frustration due to loneliness that the story was expressing. Many of these stories seem to abruptly switch to a “happy ending” situation that feels too separate and out of place from the rest of each story.

And then some stories just completely bored me. “All the King’s Horses” in particular was my least liked. It was about a group of POWs forced to play in a chess game by their captor, with all of his players as the POWs. While an interesting setup, it lasts way too long and feels like it goes nowhere. The ending itself feels especially weak, as the captor lets them go and basically has this conversation:

“I was never gonna kill you guys. You’re free.”

“Thanks.”

“Let’s play again sometime. But just normal chess.”

“Yeah umm maybe. Probably not, tho.”

In the end though, is it something I could recommend? Probably not. I personally feel there are better short story collections out there, and plenty of authors better than Kurt Vonnegut.

But that’s just me. So many people love him and chances are, if you’re reading this review, you probably love him too. And that’s fine. He’s just not my kind of author, I guess. It’s a shame, because I’d really like to enjoy him more. But I’m either missing something pretty important from his works, or as I mentioned earlier, he’s just not for me. Although if you’ve got a recommendation of one of his other books you think I might enjoy based on what I’ve said, let me know. It won’t be anytime soon, but I can still see myself wanting to revisit him in an attempt to like him.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

504470

 

Info for my edition of Welcome to the Monkey House:

Published 2006 by Dial Press Trade Paperbacks,

Paperback, 331 pages

ISBN 9-780385-333504

 

Let’s Talk Books — Other Broken Things by C. Desir

I’ve got another young adult book to talk about today! And that book is Other Broken Things by C. Desir. I’ve been getting a little sick of YA novels lately (especially the last one I read), but I more or less liked this one. It had a couple of common YA issues that prevented it from being better, but I’ll get to those in a little while. For now, let’s get right into the story.

Other Broken Things is about a recovering alcoholic named Natalie. She’s 17 and after a car accident, she needs to attend AA meetings, do community service, work through her struggle with a sponsor, and, well… recover.

She has a boyfriend, Brent, who keeps trying to talk with her about something but she doesn’t want to deal with him. Brent’s kind of a weird character, because he acts like he’s only interested in Natalie for sex and partying but then does a 180 and gets serious about the two of them when he’s done flirting or joking around. He came off as a douche at first, but I wasn’t really sure what to make of him by the end of the book.

Natalie also only has two other friends, Amy and Amanda. Apparently the three of them were intoxicated at all hours of the day, bringing vodka and orange juice in water bottles to class and partying immediately after school. They’re not really good friends, and keep pressuring Natalie to go back to her old ways.

Her parents hooked up some kind of breathalyzer to her car so it won’t start without her passing the test. Her mom is a housewife who tries to help Natalie as best she can with positivity and support, although naturally Natalie finds her overbearing and obnoxious. Her dad is a rich doctor or some other wealthy profession who’s embarrassed of his daughter and the bad reputation he’s bringing to the family.

So aside from her mother, Natalie doesn’t really have anyone to rely on to help get her through her recovery. Which naturally frustrates the crap out of her and makes everything she’s trying to accomplish even harder. The only two people that really help her are fellow AA members: Kathy, her no-nonsense sponsor who meets with Natalie for weekly “therapy” sessions, and Joe, a 38-year-old man that acts more like a friend than any of the other people her age. Natalie is attracted to Joe, despite being twice her age, and flirts with him but he keeps his wall up and tries to be her supportive friend rather than a fuck buddy.

Most of this book involves Natalie physically and mentally struggling with her recovery while dealing with her relationships with these other characters. We discover more about her as new details are sprinkled throughout the plot. For example, she got into the accident because she was driving Brent home because he was drunk, even though she was too. We learn that she was really into boxing when she was younger, and that it began as a bonding experience with her father, but he forced her to quit when she became too good and that’s why she started drinking. We also learn she has a very addictive personality and is the type of person to either give all or nothing.

Which brings us to Joe. She falls for him and eventually convinces him to sleep with her. Joe had been developing feelings for Natalie too, but had kept his cool about it until she advanced enough. He immediately regrets it because he knows a relationship with her would never work because of the age difference, but Natalie has convinced herself that they belong together. Her parents find out and naturally flip out and ban her from seeing him again. Joe disappears and falls off the wagon for a while. Natalie eventually sees him again, but he tells her he’s going to accept a job overseas. Natalie’s heartbroken, but she’s taken up boxing again and is doing better in general so the book ends on a hopeful note.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Other Broken Things. I really like how the book explored alcoholism, especially with a teenage character. I also liked some of lessons explored in Natalie’s AA sessions, like how you can’t waste energy trying to change things out of your own control. Sometimes they’re really great universal pieces of advice in general, and I like how they’re used in the context of the book. They’re for Natalie in the context of overcoming her addiction, but I think people outside her situation can get something positive from here as well.

There were, however, some noticeable issues that ultimately became a little distracting for me. And they’re all universal YA literature problems. For starters, let’s start with the parents. They’re two extremes of typical YA parents. On one side, the mother is almost blindingly supportive of her daughter on almost every single thing she does. And while I don’t think it’s unrealistic for a parent to be extra supportive of a child going through what Natalie’s going through, I think the way she’s portrayed is still too much on the optimistic side.

To her credit, she shows some character development as she learns to stop acting blind and stand up to her husband, who’s the no-nonsense, only-cares-about-money, “villainous” parent. He treats Natalie like crap and only shows frustration and embarrassment towards his daughter’s struggle. But I don’t really understand why. I mean yeah, some parents are like that but in a work of fiction I need some additional or better reasons for his actions. He honestly just feels like an antagonist plopped into the story in the event Natalie’s alcoholism wasn’t a good enough one.

The side characters also aren’t particularly interesting. Amy and Amanda are literally interchangeable; they’re both heavy drinkers and partyers that only want to enable Natalie. I like how the book tries to show how toxic enabling friends are, but they’re not very important. Natalie honestly talks about them more than we actually see them.

Brent’s a little more interesting I guess, but he seems more like a way to talk about Natalie’s other issue. For the first half of the book there were a lot of allusions to some big, stressful event between Natalie and Brent. Usually this kind of thing in YA literature ends up involving a baby or rape. Here it’s an unplanned pregnancy. The accident killed the fetus and Natalie refuses to talk about it with Brent, who really wants to talk about what happened and why she didn’t tell him about it until the night of the accident.

This doesn’t feel like unnecessary drama in a story where Natalie already had enough to work through, but it did feel kind of weak. Since I kind of saw it coming the reveal didn’t have much of an impact on me. But beyond that Natalie honestly doesn’t seem bothered by it. It’s only Brent that cares, and Brent’s such a minor character. So why include this subplot at all? If it was more developed into Natalie’s character this would be a different story, but as it is it seems… meh.

Finally, there’s Joe. Joe brought me a mixed bag of feelings. There’s definitely visible chemistry going on between him and Natalie, but since the book was more or less playing it safe I honestly didn’t think they’d hook up. But they did. I really didn’t think Other Broken Things would make such a risky move like pairing up a 17-year-old girl and 38-year-old guy, but it did and I have to give the book credit for taking it that far. I was really excited to see how everyone in the story was going to respond to this. I thought this was where the most interesting parts of the book would be.

But sadly, it wasn’t. I mean her parents rightfully flip out, but… that’s it. Not only that, Joe sort of disappears from the plot for the rest of the book. I can understand the reasoning — he just slept with a teenager and that’s definitely not good — but he also kind of turns into a jerk. The supportive, older role model part of him just sort of disappeared. Like I get how awkward and guilty he feels, and that’s going to affect how he behaves but… I dunno. Something felt off about him after they had sex.

I didn’t expect them to stay together, but I believed they really did have feelings for each other. A while ago I talked about a book called Lolito, which had an adult woman and teenage boy have sex and become involved in something of a relationship. And despite it being morally wrong, I admitted that I ended up believing their feelings were real and was unsure how wrong it ultimately was since they both wanted what they were doing. I also wondered if it was because the teenager was a boy and questioned how I would feel if the genders were reversed.

But in the case of Natalie and Joe, I can feel the same way as I did with the couple in Lolito. They’re not nearly as well developed or portrayed as the characters in Lolito, but I honestly did believe their feelings and was rooting for them. Like I said though, I didn’t think it would work. Feelings aside, I know the age difference is going to kill the relationship at some point. But since the book took things as far as sleeping with each other, I really wanted Natalie and Joe to at least try dating for a while. Have Natalie see firsthand why they wouldn’t work out, you know? But Joe just disappears, shows up again to say they can’t be together, and leaves again. And it felt really weak.

I know I’ve been bitching about problems more than singing its praises, but I did enjoy Other Broken Things enough. I think it was a good YA novel, but it was one of those books that I really wish did more so it could be greater. I’d give it a read if you come across it. It’s pretty short and reads fast, and there’s enough in it to enjoy. But if you’re not into YA, then I’m not sure if you’d get much from it.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

25785726

 

Info for my edition of Other Broken Things:

Published 2016 by Simon Pulse

Hardcover, 256 pages

ISBN 978-1-4814-3739-4

Let’s Talk Books — Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter

Warning: spoilers!

A couple months ago, I read Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter and fell in love with it. It was (and still is) easily my favorite book I’ve read this year. It was her first novel, though, so unfortunately I’m going to have to wait a while before I can read another by her.

However, she’s published a couple books containing short stories she’s written. And I’m always up for more short story collections. So today I’m going to talk a little about one of those collections, Don’t Kiss Me.

Unfortunately, it’s always a little difficult to talk about short stories because they’re, well, short. It’s hard to talk about them without giving away the entire plot. They’re like songs: better off just experiencing them first and then listening to someone talk about them. But I’ll try.

Most of the short stories in Don’t Kiss Me are only a few pages. A good deal of them feel like flash fiction, so if you’re interested in reading but don’t have a lot of time, Don’t Kiss Me is good for short, digestible bursts.

Like Ugly Girls, Don’t Kiss Me shows us many broken people and snippets of their lives we can relate to. Whether or not you’ve hit the same exact experiences her characters have, I think we can all at least see parts of our past (or current) unsuccessful relationships, abandoned dreams, disappointment in others, or disgust with ourselves in these stories.

As much as I loved Ugly Girls, I can understand why some people were disappointed with it as a novel. The setup feels more appropriate for short stories, and I think more people would end up appreciating Lindsay Hunter with her short stories in Don’t Kiss Me than with Ugly Girls. Which is unfortunate, because again, I loved Ugly Girls. But whatever.

Many of the stories in Don’t Kiss Me feature women of varying ages, but most fall either in their teens or what I’m assuming is the late thirties/early forties range. But there are also stories about men (one in particular about an old man mourning the death of his wife kind of got to me), and regardless of gender I don’t feel like these stories specifically cater to men or women, just people that can relate to messes they find themselves in throughout life. Which, of course, I appreciate.

I don’t want to give too much away about the stories, but I do want to mention some of my favorites. “Brenda’s Kid” was about a mother that stops by her son’s house before work to help with some chores that he should be doing on his own. The story does a great job showing when a parent should let go and how lazy and selfish some kids can be if you cater to their every whim. “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula” tells us three events regarding isolation and bad relationships about the titular character that make us empathize with loneliness. “Leta’s Mummy” draws a parallel between the behaviors of the narrator’s friend’s undead mummy that lives under her house and the narrator’s own mother.

“You and Your Cats” is a lonely cat lady story, but it still holds up for me because of small comments throughout the piece that show the narrator’s frustration with loneliness. “My Boyfriend Del” is an interesting piece about a woman of an unspecified age (at the very least old enough to drive) who has fallen in love with a little kid that treats her like shit. “Candles,” despite being written in all caps, read like a collection of entries in a notebook or even in a Twitter feed describing an almost stalker-like obsession a woman has with the manager of a candle shop. And finally, “Me and Gin” shows a possible unrequited love, possible toxic friendship between two kids.

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories and am very glad to add another one to my collection, although I think I still enjoyed Ugly Girls just a tiny bit more. Maybe it’s because I’ve already formed some sort of nostalgia for it by being genuinely surprised at how much I loved a new author, especially during a weak reading year. But there were also some writing-related issues I had with some of the stories in Don’t Kiss Me. Many of the characters would use a lot of slang or slurred talking, which itself isn’t a bad thing. But there were times it was used a bit much or too extensively, and it admittedly became distracting. And while I enjoyed most of the stories, there were a few that just didn’t strike a chord with me. One in particular took up almost thirty pages and was told by multiple POVs, but with each page separated into columns for two characters. It was visually distracting and honestly pretty confusing; I read it three times and still had difficulty taking much away from it. I appreciate the experimental layout, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

But it’s natural for a few stories to not stick out in a short story collection. As a whole, I really enjoyed Don’t Kiss Me and am excited to read more of Lindsay Hunter’s work. I definitely recommend finding yourself a copy to read, especially if you’re into short stories.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

16059557

 

Info for my edition of Don’t Kiss Me:

Published 2013 by FSG Originals

Paperback, 175 pages

ISBN 978-0-374-53385-4

Let’s Talk Books — Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Warning: Spoilers!

I… um…

… huh.

Carry On is a book that, honestly, I was baffled over. Why does it exist? Who asked for it? Lots of people, apparently. For those that aren’t familiar with Rainbow Rowell, she writes young adult novels about nerdy, particularly flawed characters and their romances. Carry On is an expansion on an idea from one of her previous books, Fangirl. In Fangirl, the main character Cath writes fanfiction about Simon Snow, which is more or less the Harry Potter equivalent in that novel. We’d see segments of her fanfiction throughout the book, most of which focused on shipping Simon and Baz, the equivalent of Draco Malfoy. Carry On is Rainbow Rowell’s own take on writing fanfiction of the world she made up and was briefly explored in Fangirl. And if that sounds like a little much to you, then you’re not the only one.

If you read my post about Fangirl, then you might remember that it hit pretty close to home. It came so close to becoming one of my favorite books of all time and spectacularly derailed midway through. But if you haven’t read it, I basically loved how accurately Rainbow Rowell portrayed a college experience that I and many others went through. It was refreshing to read something about a college setting for a change, and the fact that Cath took a creative writing course only hit closer to home for me. But halfway through, all of that dropped for a shallow, boring romance that the book mostly focused on for its remainder. It was a couple hundred pages of basically a honeymoon phase of a relationship and, well… if you don’t like seeing other people go through it, you certainly won’t like reading about it.

So it’s not surprising that the parts with Cath’s fanfiction of Simon Snow were the absolute least of my concerns. When I found out about Carry On, my main thoughts were, “Really? Of all the things to come out of Fangirl, it was the Harry Potter knockoff fanfiction? Was this what readers took away the most out of Fangirl? Not the confusing as fuck time period that is the transition to college, not discovering what you’ve always wanted to do may not be what you’re capable of, not drowning yourself in a romance to the point where anything else interesting in your life is immediately discarded, but the fucking Harry Potter fanfiction?”

I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’ve read by Rainbow Rowell. Some books were definitely better than others, but overall it was a good time. I was going to check out Carry On eventually, despite not having an interest in it at all. Reader reviews are praising the shit out of it, which I was honestly surprised to hear. But now that I’ve finally read it, did it turn out better than I expected? Does it hold up to the praise, justifying the endless screaming fangirls in love with Simon and Baz’s relationship on Goodreads?

Eh. It was okay.

I guess.

There’s a couple of things you should know before reading Carry On. First, you don’t have to read Fangirl before this. Carry On has literally nothing to do with Fangirl. This story isn’t Cath’s fanfiction, it’s Rainbow Rowell’s own take on her own made up characters that weren’t explored too deeply to start with. Second, if you aren’t familiar with the Harry Potter series, Carry On is probably going to feel like a confusing mess. I feel like too much of Carry On relies on the reader already knowing the world of Harry Potter and being able to see which character from this book is the equivalent of another character from Harry Potter.

That being said, here’s what’s happening in Carry On.

Simon Snow (Harry Potter) and his best friend Penelope (Hermione) return to their magical school, Watford (Hogwarts) after the summer. It’s their last year and they want to enjoy it, but the magical world is on the brink of war between the Mage (Dumbledore), the Insidious Humdrum (Voldemort), and the elitist magical families that want to change the world back to what it was before the Mage took over (like the Malfoys).

To make things more awkward, Simon’s arch nemesis and roommate (sitcom, anybody?) hasn’t shown up to school. That’s Baz (Draco), and he’s also a vampire (because I guess Twilight influences will never truly die out). Simon spends too much of his time trying to prove that Baz is a vampire while Baz torments Simon because Harry and Draco hate each other, so why not these two?

And to make things even more awkward, at the end of the previous year Simon caught Baz holding hands with Simon’s girlfriend Agatha and hasn’t talked to either of them for the whole summer about it.

Baz eventually returns to Watford, acting like he’s cool as shit and up to mysterious things, but in reality he was kidnapped by numpties (which I’m just finding out is slang for a stupid person, but I think they were supposed to be some kind of creature in this story) for six weeks. Simon thinks Baz has been up to something sinister, but first he has something important to tell him.

While Baz was away, the ghost of his mother visited their dorm room looking for him. When all she found was Simon, she told him to tell Baz to look for someone named Nicodemus so she can find peace in the afterlife. Baz’s mother is a hot button issue for him, so naturally he gets pissy when Simon tells him of her visit.

Baz tells Simon that he’s going to help him avenge his mother. Simon naturally thinks this is a plot to kill him, but they make a truce to solve this mystery. Baz wants Penelope in on this too since she’s the brains behind their adventures, and the three attempt to solve the mystery.

At some point a dragon arrives at Watford and starts making a scene. Baz tries to fend it off but he doesn’t have enough magic. Simon discovers that since he’s a magical bomb that can go off at any moment, he can transfer some of his magic to another person by touching them. He does so with Baz and they save the day.

Agatha and Simon break up at some point, and since Simon usually spends Christmas break with her family, he’s got nowhere to go (Penelope’s family is pretty hesitant about Simon coming around because of his magical outbursts). Baz invites Simon to stay with his family, and although he initially refuses, he eventually goes.

Baz and Simon decide to go looking for answers at some sort of vampire club, where they hope to find Nicodemus. They do, he doesn’t give much help, and they leave.

Baz flips his shit in a random forest and seems like he’s going to kill himself, but Simon kisses Baz to stop him. Because fanfiction.

And unfortunately, yes, I feel this entire setup is because of fanfiction. To the book’s credit, Baz mentions being gay and struggling with his feelings for Simon during several parts of the book (his chapter narrations, anyway; he doesn’t actually tell other characters this). But for Simon, this comes out of nowhere. At no part in the story up until now do we get any insight towards Simon’s attraction to either other guys or Baz. And love works in different ways for everyone. I get that. But I think from a combination of this entire book seeming like it’s a fanfiction of Harry Potter trying to ship Harry and Draco for the sake of shipping and, unfortunately, kind of weak writing on Rainbow Rowell’s part, I don’t think this is a very good scene. It doesn’t make sense and feels incredibly phoned in.

But hey, that’s just my dumb opinion. Apparently I’m in the minority for this one.

Anyway, Simon and Baz have a few more fan service moments over the course of the book but keep it a secret. The Mage eventually reveals himself to be the bad guy. Well, a guy whose good ambitions took a turn for the worse, I guess. The Humdrum is revealed to be a part of Simon. Simon gets rid of the Humdrum by pouring all of his magic into him (it makes more sense after actually reading the book). The Mage is killed in some kind of struggle. Simon and Penelope don’t return to finish school, but Baz does. Then Simon and Penelope get a place together. Simon and Baz are still dating and… that’s it.

Despite how unnecessary Simon and Baz’s relationship is, it takes up such a small part of the story that it further adds to my confusion about what so many people are going nuts over. The majority of Carry On is devoted to Simon, Baz, and Penelope’s quest to avenge Baz’s mother and defeat the Humdrum. Simon and Baz don’t start their intimacy with each other until at least two-thirds into the book, and we only get a couple of small scenes of them together sprinkled here and there throughout the rest of it. It’s been a year so I don’t exactly remember, but weren’t the Simon Snow sections in Fangirl mostly about Simon and Baz’s budding relationship? If that’s what Carry On is supposed to be about, then why is there so little of it?

It’s especially strange because Rainbow Rowell is really good at writing about relationships. Like, really good. In all her other books, the characters and relationships all felt real. As much as Fangirl disappointed me in how the relationship worked out, the journey there was still incredibly interesting and showed the confusing side of how people interpret things in different ways when it comes to romance.

Carry On, though — man, it’s weak. Simon and Baz aren’t particularly interesting. They’re really riding on the fact that they’re Harry and Draco equivalents. And the characters in Harry Potter weren’t exactly strong personality-wise, either. But at least that series had a ton of charm and it was more about the adventure and mystery than it was about character development.

I can give credit to Rainbow Rowell for at least trying to do something different by writing a more fantasy-themed story instead of a realistic one primarily focused on relationships. But the plot was average at best. You can’t help but compare it to Harry Potter and the entire time it feels either like Harry Potter fanfiction or something that took an excessive amount of material from Harry Potter. The romance between Simon and Baz is very weak and, quite frankly, unnecessary.

You know what would have been better? If Rainbow Rowell wrote a story about a gay romance in the real world. Have two high schoolers (they can even hate each other!) fall in love and explore their relationship and feelings more deeply. Show the struggles that real gay teens would face. Show how some parents don’t approve. Show how far the rest of the world, especially the younger generation, has come by showing their support for the couple. Write a real story about a real relationship. In other words, Rainbow Rowell should have done what she’s been doing all along, only with a homosexual couple instead of a heterosexual one. I love how her characters are nerdy, but in my opinion she’s much more effective writing about nerdy characters than the things nerdy characters are into.

As much as I’ve complained, Carry On was still an okay book. It was entertaining enough in its own way, it held an adventurous plot fairly well (even if most of it was too influenced by another series), and while some parts really annoyed me (mostly the weak romance that seemed to exist solely as fanservice and the average writing that seemed a step below Rainbow Rowell’s usual caliber), I never really hated any of it. One of the minor characters, Agatha, even became legitimately interesting for me. While she’s boring at first, there’s an interesting development where she doesn’t want to be involved in magic or the dangerous adventures that surround Simon. In a way, it’s a kind of funny jab at Harry Potter. It left me thinking, “Yeah, I’m sure one of those nameless students is pretty tired of the shitstorm that follows Harry wherever he goes. I’ll bet there are some students that would like a more normal life.” It even ends with her running away from the world of magic and living a nice, normal life she’s totally content with. And I liked that. It was a nice break from… well, everything else.

But that’s all Carry On ended up being for me. Okay. Not good. Not bad. Just okay. I’ve got a feeling that this book really wasn’t meant for me in the first place. But seeing as how much I’ve generally enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s work, I really can’t help but feel disappointed. And it’s not like I was expecting anything from this to start with. But even the writing wasn’t nearly as good as her other books, and it’s that that I’m the most surprised by.

If you haven’t read anything by Rainbow Rowell, I’d strongly recommend starting anywhere else. Carry On, in my dumb, obviously minority opinion, is her weakest book. The idea of parodying Harry Potter worked in Fangirl because it was in short segments throughout the book, wasn’t the main focus, and reinforced the ideas of a fandom. But as an entire book, it just feels like a joke that’s gone on for far too long. I’m desperately hoping her next book will go back to the realistic portrayal of relationships she’s successfully written about. And I’m hoping she’ll make it about a gay couple that’s more developed than Simon and Baz.

Oh well. At least there wasn’t a Ron Weasley in Carry On.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all having a great week! 🙂

23734628

 

Info for my edition of Carry On:

Published 2015 by Saint Martin’s Griffin

Hardcover, 522 pages

ISBN 978-1-250-04955-1

Let’s Talk Books — The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Warning: Spoilers!

I don’t run into many people that read a lot, let alone people that can recommend a book or author that not only do they like, but think I will like. So naturally I was pleased when someone told me about an author I’d never read, Jodi Picoult, and some of the books she’s written that sounded interesting to me. I wrote a bunch of them down and added them to my reading list, and kept an eye out for one in particular whenever I visited the library. And that’s today’s book, The Pact.

Unfortunately, I never saw The Pact at the library. I could have picked any other book by Jodi Picoult instead, but considering the premise of this book, I really wanted my first impressions of this author to be from this particular book. Luckily, a friend of mine just finished reading it and was nice enough to let me borrow it.

The Pact is about a supposed suicide pact between two high school students, Chris and Emily. Emily dies, but Chris is held in jail because the police think he murdered Emily. Chris and Emily have also been friends for  all of their lives and, after middle school, lovers. Not only do I think the premise is interesting, but those of you that have followed me for a long time know I struggle with depression and am particularly interested in stories involving depression.

Unfortunately, The Pact wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I sort of had my doubts when I looked at the cover; it kind of had a Nicholas Sparks vibe to it and I was sort of wondering if this was going to be more melodrama than realistic. Seeing “a love story” underneath the title also raised a red flag for me. I seriously hoped this wasn’t going to be a book that romanticized depression and suicide.

First though, more about the plot. The book opens with four people gathering at a restaurant for dinner. We can tell immediately that they get along well and meet up fairly often. These are the parents of Chris and Emily. Surprisingly, they’re just as much, if not more, main characters than Chris and Emily. And I don’t want to start off negatively right away, but it took me a good fifty or sixty pages to even tell these people apart. None of them have much in terms of personality (no one in this book does, really), and perspectives will jump around quickly and randomly. So for the sake of quick reference for whoever wants it, here’s a simple chart of the characters and their relationships.

James (father) + Gus (mother) –> Chris (son)

Michael (father) + Melanie (mother) –> Emily (daughter)

I know I must look pretty stupid for not being able to juggle four characters, but when they’re all introduced at once and the only identifiable trait of each of them is “parent,” and the perspective of the story changes as often as it does so early, it legitimately confused me.

Anyway, moving on — the four parents have their dinner and return home. Late at night, they get a call from the hospital. Their kids were brought there, and when they arrive they learn Emily is dead from a gunshot to the head and Chris had to get stitches for something. Everyone is naturally upset, I guess even more so because Chris’ family and Emily’s family have been neighbors and friends since the kids were born and they all look at each other as one family.

Chris reluctantly explains that he and Emily were planning to kill themselves that night, but for whatever reason Chris didn’t. This eventually leads to the police suspecting and finally arresting Chris for murdering Emily. Melanie, Emily’s mother, declares her hatred for James, Gus, and Chris. James is embarrassed because his son is suicidal and a criminal and believes their family name is tarnished, so he tries to ignore the situation for most of the book.

Gus and Michael are the only two parents that seem to be handling anything maturely at all. I don’t want to imply there’s a wrong way to react to this sort of situation, but the book obviously wants to set up James and Melanie as the antagonists of the story and Gus and Michael as sympathetic. They’re grief-stricken, but at least they’re trying to deal with the situation and discover what really happened.

I don’t want to say not much happens afterwards; it’s more like there’s not a lot of critical scenes. Chris’ lawyer interviews several characters. Melanie seems to slowly lose her sanity, even going to far as to destroying evidence that would suggest Chris wasn’t guilty. We see Chris get used to prison life. The two families run into each other several times and create more drama.

We also see several chapters focused on the past, highlighting moments from Chris and Emily’s childhood up until the night she died. We find out that as a kid, she was molested by a fast food employee when she went into the boys’ bathroom as a dare by Chris. This affected her willingness and enjoyment of sex with Chris after they started dating. Chris also pressured her into having sex before she was ready many times, resulting in even more stress for her. (As a side note, Chris himself is kind of an asshole in general. For someone that’s supposedly in love with Emily, he doesn’t even take her seriously when she tells him she wants to kill herself the first two times. I think he literally laughs the first time she tells him.) She felt stress from everyone, who expected her to be perfect, and she began to feel more and more worthless as time went on. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she starts developing her suicidal feelings.

Eventually, Chris’ court date approaches. I’m not a huge courtroom drama nut or anything, but I do love getting swept up in a good one. This was easily the best part of the book for me because of that. Anyway, the defense and prosecutor go back and forth for 100 pages or so and eventually Chris is pronounced not guilty. He goes back home, Emily’s parents move across town, and… that’s kind of it.

I wasn’t expecting a satisfying ending. The death of Emily, destroying both Chris and the two sets of parents’ lives, pretty much guaranteed that. The book’s main conflict unexpectedly focused on proving Chris’ innocence. But the problem with that is that he’s either guilty and spends the rest of his life in jail, or he’s innocent and… well, everything’s still tainted. There’s this half-assed “glimmer of hope for the future” thing to close out the book, but overall I thought the ending was pretty boring. At least the courtroom stuff was entertaining enough to make up for it.

Honestly, I hated the beginning of this book. Between trying to keep track of the parents (who didn’t have a lot going on personality-wise except for “parent”) and… I don’t know. Something else I can’t pinpoint? Between those things, the beginning really dragged for me. It took me almost a week to force myself through 50 pages.

But once I sat down and really started to dedicate time to it, I got more invested. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of melodramatic moments for most of the book; scenes will end in a way that feel like the end of an episode of an ABC Family drama, like their only purpose was to create temporary drama that ultimately had nothing to do with anything. For example, one of the prisoners is built up like he’s going to be a great obstacle for Chris to overcome in prison, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The molestation scene I mentioned earlier is never brought up again, and I was really anticipating it to play more of a role in the story but unfortunately it ended up feeling like a shock value scene. Chris’ mother and Emily’s father start to form feelings for each other when they begin meeting in secret and sort of start an affair, but this too leads to nothing and I have to wonder what the point of anything was.

Ultimately, though, I think the most disappointing thing about The Pact is that it puts the subject matter of depression and suicide on the back burner while the drama with the parents takes up most of the book. I was actually pretty disgusted with the way the parents made this entire situation and book about themselves. Emily’s story would have been great if that’s all this book was. It could have really shown the trauma and effects feeling depressed and suicidal can leave a person. But the book was more about the parents and what they were going through rather than the suicidal daughter and how she felt. Which… I don’t know. Maybe if it was advertised more like that I wouldn’t be as disappointed, but I was really expecting this to be more about Chris and Emily.

The Pact wasn’t bad, but I honestly couldn’t really recommend it. The writing isn’t terrible, there’s just a lot of unnecessary scenes and pointless drama to not make it feel worth the time. If it was shorter I could maybe see it as a guilty pleasure of sorts, but at close to 400 pages I was expecting something more concrete.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

526467

 

Info for my edition of The Pact:

Published 2002 by Harper Perennial

Paperback, 394 pages

ISBN 978-0-688-17052-3

 

 

Let’s Talk Books — Life of Pi

Warning: Spoilers for the book and movie!

Just when I thought the backlog of books I collected last year was almost done, I found something on clearance in Barnes and Noble that I wanted to add to it. I didn’t want to read it at the moment, but for five bucks I Thought I may as well grab it and visit it later. God. What a first world problem.

And it was Life of Pi, no less. Waaaah! I found a book I wanted for five dollars and now adding another book to my stack of things I want to read has made it bigger! You know, never mind that this book was about a starving boy trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger for nearly eight months — my problem was clearly bigger.

Luckily, it didn’t stay on that shelf for too long and now it’s read. You can all rest easy. Well, not really. I found more books at a flea market and someone lent me even more. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Let’s just get on with this, already.

So for those that didn’t see the movie a few years ago or remember the promotions for it (or the comparison to my life two paragraphs ago), Life of Pi is about a boy named Pi trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger (and a handful of other animals that quickly kill each other). And… that’s kind of it. I don’t mean to make the book sound so simple, but the basic premise of the book is kind of it.

The first hundred or so pages documents the events leading up to Pi’s shipwrecked status. They include a lot of biographical background information about Pi’s childhood, like classmates teasing him because his full name “Piscine” sounds like “pissing,” thus leading Pi to reinvent a new nickname for himself; life growing up in a hotel’s zoo, where his family worked; his spiritual life as a Hindu, and his desire to also practice Christianity and Islam alongside his original faith; and of course, his father’s decision to sell the zoo and move his family overseas to Canada, where they’ll be taking some of the animals, which results in Pi becoming shipwrecked.

Initially I was a little impatient going through that part. I’m not sure why I was in such a hurry to get to the shipwreck. I think my line of thinking was that these were interesting insights into his life, but they wouldn’t mean much in the long run considering survival would play a much bigger role in the book and these early parts felt more like padding then anything else.

But something the book captured better than the film was Pi’s narration. Despite taking place in one setting with only one other, non-speaking character for the majority of the book, Life of Pi remained pretty interesting in its entirety. In addition to the words being arranged and flowing wonderfully with each other, all the previous aspects of Pi’s life were woven into his daily struggles of survival. Especially his faith — faith and hope play a large part of Pi’s life and it’s not in an overbearing, obnoxious way. Which is funny, because one of the earliest moments in this novel says something like, “this is a story that will make you believe in God.” Which is, in my opinion, a pretty tall, if not pretentious statement to make. But luckily I never felt Life of Pi was trying to push religion on me, but just letting us see religion’s role in Pi’s life, which I very much appreciate.

Life of Pi can also get pretty violent. Despite being a story that inspires strength in the face of adversity, some of the descriptions regarding catching sea life for food and preparing them to eat can get pretty graphic. There’s also a part early in the book where Pi’s father takes him around the zoo and describes how each particular animal can kill someone in a very specific way that’s just plain traumatic for a father to explain to his child. These parts are usually few and far between, but I’ve seen some people ask if this is an appropriate book to read to their kids, so for them I’ll just say it’s okay at most parts but if they’re squeamish, pass on it.

Pi eventually finds his way to shore — twice, actually, but the first time doesn’t end well — and he and the tiger part ways. It’s actually pretty sad; Pi points out how the tiger just leaves the boat and runs into the jungle without looking back, and he was hoping the tiger would turn back to look at him one last time as a form of closure.

Pi’s brought to a hospital to recover, which is where the last section of the book takes place. Two businessmen representing the company of the sunken ship visit, wanting to know if Pi could fill them in on why the ship sank. Pi then tells him his story, which the men don’t believe. No matter how much Pi insists on his tale being truthful, they won’t believe it. So Pi tells them a different story where the animals are his mother and two other people from the ship. The way the animals kill each other are parallel to how the people murder each other in the new story. The men notice this similarity and are eventually satisfied. Before they go, Pi asks which story they prefer, and they tell him the one with the tiger.

This is an interesting scene because for the first time, we get to see a much darker side of Pi. He ends up being the tiger, and with that information in mind we get to see a whole new aspect of the story — facing the beast within yourself. It might be worth reading the entire book again to see if there are any details one might miss if they didn’t know Pi and the tiger were the same.

Ultimately, though, the book kind of words the ending in a way that leaves interpretation up to the reader. In my opinion, from a literary perspective, everything points towards Pi’s story involving humans as the real tale. But the book wants to leave either scenario entirely possible.

Which at first really annoyed me, but then I was thinking. What if leaving the truth up to the reader is a kind of message in itself? Like, what if people that don’t want to handle horrible truths and shield themselves away from it would want to choose the story with animals, and the people that choose to face reality and live with the darkness choose the one with humans? If that’s the case, the ending just saved itself for me.

I suppose while I’m talking about the book, I should mention the movie. I rewatched it literally thirty minutes after finishing the book, and while I still liked it, I didn’t think it was as good as I remembered. As I mentioned earlier, the narration isn’t captured as well in the movie, and because that was my favorite part of the book I couldn’t help but be disappointed. There’s also a lot of computer-generated effects, which can’t really be helped in a movie like this but they did distract me from time to time, even though they look beautiful. Other than that, it stayed pretty faithful to the book and is still worth watching.

I really enjoyed Life of Pi, but I can’t recommend it for everyone. Despite my praises, there’s the huge potential issue of the majority of the book taking place in one small location with only two characters, one of which being an animal. And I can see that bothering some people. I think the narration more than makes up for it, but that’s just me.

I hope you enjoy the book and movie if you decide to check them out, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂

16056497

Info for my edition of Life of Pi:

  • Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Paperback, 416 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-544-10375-7

 

Let’s Talk Books — Watership Down

Warning: Spoilers

First thing’s first: this isn’t the post I said I was working on in last week’s update. That’s still being written, unfortunately, but hopefully next week it will be done. However, because it’s been a while since I wrote an actual post, I wanted to give you guys one last something before the year was over. So without further ado, here’s my last Let’s Talk Books post of 2015: Watership Down.

I tried explaining the plot of Watership Down to a couple of friends yesterday, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how simple of a premise the entire book is: a group of rabbits trying to find a new home. However, while the plot is basic and grounded in reality, the narrative is written like an epic journey kind of story you’d find in fantasy books.

To give more detail, Watership Down is about a rabbit named Hazel, who leads a select group of rabbits from their warren in search of a new one. Hazel’s brother, Fiver, is known to have prophetic visions. When he foresees the destruction of their home, he and Hazel try persuading their chief that they need to evacuate as soon as possible. Unfortunately, since Fiver’s prediction is little more than a hunch at this point, their pleas are ignored and Hazel takes it upon himself to leave the warren with whoever wants to come with them.

The group of rabbits travel, attempting to start a new life and home somewhere. They briefly stop at another warren, home to rabbits that live very differently than Hazel’s previous home. When Hazel’s group realizes these new rabbits live in a forced, ignorant bliss where one of them will routinely be killed by a nearby farmer, Hazel’s group flees.

They eventually find Watership Down, an ideal place to start building their new warren. The only problem is, they don’t have any does (female rabbits) in their group, and they’ll need to start populating their new home soon if they hope to survive. At a nearby farm, they’re able to persuade two pet rabbits to come back to their developing warren, but two does aren’t enough.

It turns out there’s another nearby warren called Efrafa that’s overpopulated. A small team of rabbits are sent to ask if they would like to send some does their way to help both their warrens with their problems. But it turns out Efrafa is led by a dictator named General Woundwort and keeps the team prisoners, attempting to assimilate them into Efrafa’s culture.

Hazel’s rabbits escape, and when they return to Watership Down they make a plan to break as many does out as possible. They send their strongest rabbit, Bigwig, into Efrafa under the lie that he’s been traveling the country looking for a new home after his was lost (which I guess is technically true, when I put it like that). After a complicated series of events, Bigwig manages to break out many does and rendezvous with Hazel. They escape on a small boat, of all things, effectively cutting their scent and trail off from the pursuing Efrafans.

Unfortunately, the Efrafans manage to track them back to Watership Down, and a major battle takes place between Hazel’s rabbits and General Woundwort’s. It gets pretty complicated, almost as complicated as the plan to break out the does from Efrafa, but eventually Hazel’s rabbits win and are able to start their new life.

Watership Down also builds an interesting worldview of these rabbits. They speak their own language, which only really becomes apparent from time to time, like when a made up word is introduced to refer to something (my favorite was hrududu, which refers to cars or other motorized, man-made machine) or when speaking to other animals. They also have their own religious-like view of the world. For example, they worship the sun and refer to it as Frith. They also hold a folk-hero like rabbit called El-Ahrairah in high regard, with entire chapters dedicated to telling stories of his past triumphs while drawing parallels to Hazel’s growing role as chief.

It was a really fun and interesting read, but it’s also one of those books that may take a while to get into. And I don’t mean that the beginning is boring — I just personally found myself more invested when I sat down and read for hours as opposed to, say, 30 minutes at a time. The book is also pretty long at almost 500 pages, so make sure you have some time before starting it. Normally books this length overstay their welcome for me, but I really enjoyed it all the way through.

The only real fault I have with the book is, that when it comes down to it, half the book is about rabbits trying to find girls to fuck. That’s crass, I know. After all, despite the humanization of these animals, they’re still rabbits and act entirely on survival. But I couldn’t help but notice a huge section of this book was Hazel’s group trying to include female rabbits for the sole purpose of reproducing. Maybe they could have added in more romance between certain rabbits to make it seem less animalistic.

Or maybe I’m looking too much into it. Or maybe I have a dirty mind. I don’t know. It’s a book about rabbits. I should leave well enough alone.

Anyway guys, I’d recommend it for anyone of all ages. It has a pretty general appeal, and I expect many people that give this one a try will enjoy it. With that said, thanks for reading, and have a happy, healthy new year! 🙂

12147

Info for my edition of Watership Down:

  • Published 2005 by Scribner
  • Paperback, 474 pages
  • ISBN 9780743277709