The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Normally, I take a couple days (weeks) between when I finish a book and when I write the review. Mostly, this is a timing issue, but it’s also a mulling period. Sometimes, I just like to get some distance from what I’ve read to really figure out how I feel about it. This is not the case with Thomas’ first Veronica Mars novel (this book actually has two authors, but I’m going to refer to Thomas because it’s easier). Do I really need to take that much time to think about a bunch of characters I already know I love and a writing style that I already know I’m sold on? Nope. I literally closed the book on this one minutes before I started writing this. I am a huge fan of the Veronica Mars franchise, so this is a totally biased review. Remember when I listed my favourite minor characters? You can only do that if you’ve spent enough time with the show to know the minor characters off the top of your head. I love the tv show. I love the movie. I rewatch both of them all the time. I even love the spotty, uneven third season and its strange twist on the theme song (which I did not hate – even though everyone else seemed to). I’ll give most of Thomas’ projects a chance (go watch Party Down, just do it). However, I was hesitant to go into the books. I tend to shy away from the spin off books for series I like – they’re rarely relevant to the story and often end up confusing the cannon. I only decided to pick up this book because a friend of mine who also loves the Mars family had read it and said it was worth it.

I trust her opinion on books basically 100% of the time. This one was no different. Because the mythos of this world is so ingrained on my fangirlness, it was easy to jump right into the story. I didn’t need to get to know the characters or the town and its cast of characters. It made some of the world building a little annoying, but new fans are good fans and they need this info. The novel picks up just months after the movie ended – if you’re planning to read the book, you must watch the movie first. It’s crucial to the story, especially if you watched the tv show. Also, if you haven’t read the book yet, stop reading reviews before you read the book, that’s just a silly order to do things in (cough cough spoilers). So, Veronica and Logan have gotten back together, but he’s in the Navy and he’s off at sea for the entirety of this novel. At first, I was a little sadface, no Logan girl, but as I kept reading, I realized it was nice to have a Logan free storyline. That hasn’t happened since what, first season? Logan and Veronica are delightful, but they often steal the thunder of the mystery. I wanted a good, noir style read. Dark alleys, girls in ice machines, stolen art, seedy motels, rich dudes gone bad. And that’s exactly what I got – not exactly, but close enough.

Veronica agrees to take a case to help the Neptune City Council fix their tourist problem when a young girl goes missing during spring break. She has to work in conjunction with the corrupt and seriously challenging Sherriff Lamb – brought to life so perfectly by Jerry O’Connell – and has to find her way around his obstacles. Mac has left her job with the devil, I mean Kane Software, and is now Mars Investigations resident background information gatherer. But money is tight, and before this job comes along, Veronica isn’t sure how much longer she’ll be able to keep the doors open. As loathe as she may be to work with Lamb, this is the only way she know to keep things going while her dad recovers. Continue reading

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen (@1turducken)

Published in 2008, this book rode in on the wave of dystopian fiction. But I didn’t get to it for several years. On its face, it seems like a pretty generic entry into the genre. I was drowning in these books when this one became available, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it. A family that’s been living alone in a bunker for years after a nuclear disaster – if there are only a few people down there, and this is a YA story, how interesting can it really be… Was I pleasantly surprised by the book? Did it supersede my expectations? No and No. It was a very fast read that helped pass a couple days.

Eli is a truly self-righteous character. For the first couple chapters, I almost considered stopping simply because of him. He is one of the most knowingly self-centred characters I’ve encountered in my reading history. However, I decided to push on and eventually, the character acquired some depth. Not much, but enough. I suppose if you were raised basically alone, what else would you think about? The only people in Eli’s life are his parents and his sister(s- I can’t remember if there were one or two, my bad). He’s lost his twin and his grandmother when they didn’t reach the bunker before it locked, and it’s mostly Eli’s fault. The kid has nothing to distract him, but honestly, he’s super annoying.

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My favourite part of the book is the father. He’s such a loon that it takes the story on a fun, albeit disturbing, little twist. The father is not a well-developed character. He’s flat and basically nutso, but in the time of Doomsday Preppers and such, he didn’t necessarily read as completely unbelievable. There are people prepping for this kind of disaster. This guy just takes it a little further than I hope most people would be willing to.

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When I first read about the room with the yellow door, I was sure that it had to be something other than what was being hinting. No way would an author actually be ballsy enough to actually go there. But then it was exactly that! The father really expected his wife to bare children so they could eat them when they ran out of protein! Cannibalism in a non-zombie YA novel? A charming turn for the dark and twisty. It gave the story just enough to be different. It’s actually the only reason I remembered this story as long as I have.

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The surprise ending reveal that there had never actually been a bombing was not a surprise. I suspected this from the very beginning. Really, what else could this be leading to? With only one main character possibly in their right mind, there’s only so much story available. There’s a lot of extraneous information about the bunker in the novel to cover up the fact that there’s not really much of a story. It needed a few more revisions and a content editor. It needed more weight. The author clearly had a strong idea of what this world looked like and couldn’t wait to tell the reader all about it. It’s a common problem in early drafts when an author has put so much time and effort into creating a world and feels like everything is important. Without enough editing, it ends up creating a book that suffers from expositionitis. Eli walks us around the bunker for no reason other than to take up pages in the already short story with little substance.

It’s a fast, easy read, and for fans of dystopian teen fiction, it might be a nice variation on the norm – as long as you can get past Eli’s look at how hot and amazing I am attitude. He talks about himself in the same way the insipid teen girls in generic YA novels talk about the super hot boys in their beloved love triangles. It may just be annoying enough to make a reader skip it. Personally, I know I won’t be reading the second book in the series.

Total Eclipse of the Fickle Heart

I’m one of those people whose viewing decisions are greatly influenced by casting choices. If a movie/show contains an actor (male or female) that I like, I’m more likely to watch it, and vice versa. So, what does this have to do with books?

Books into movies, right? Yes, that a thing that deserves discussion, but right now, I’m talking about the trend of books into tv shows. Talking a limited amount of source material and hoping to stretch it out for years. It’s not a new thing, but it seems to be happening a lot right now.

My dad received the Song of Ice and Fire series for Christmas. He’s been struggling to get through the first book ever since. I told him that the shocking reveal at the end of A Game of Thrones was worth the read. It took a while (and he’s a devourer off books) but he finally finished it over Easter.

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I know how he feels; I’ve had the first book on my shelf for over a year and it’s still unfinished. The difference is that I know this isn’t my genre, so I watched the tv show first. There are just too many characters with too many names for me to care to keep them straight while reading. Now I have faces to help with the super wordy text.

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Never having read the books, I base my opinion soley on the tv show. It is excellent! And my friends, who are obsessive about the books, agree. This is one of those cases where, even though there are changes and poetic license taken with the tv show, most people seem to agree that it’s really well done. Good books. Good show. Good for everyone – except children, don’t let your kids watch this!

This isn’t true for all of these book to tv show pick ups. If you’ve been reading the blog, you’ll know how I feel about Kelley Armstrong. I love her books. So when I heard Bitten, the first in the Women of the Otherworld series,

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had been picked up by Space Channel, I was stoked. Like countdown to the premiere kind of excited. Best case scenario, it goes really well and they pick up the entire series. Each book makes one season and we’ve got thirteen guaranteed awesome seasons. Then the cast was announced and that uh oh feeling began to percolate.

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While I think Laura Vandervoort is beautiful, her acting peeked in Instant Star – and if you’ve seen it, you know what that means. And the guys… They just don’t got with what I had pictured in my head either, but okay, that’s always going to be true for someone who loves the books.
I pushed down my instincts and hunkered down for the first episode. I didn’t even make it through the whole thing. It was boring, and I was already sold on the backstory. But another friend kept watching, even though she wasn’t totally sold, until about halfway through the season, when everyone I know had stopped watching. Somewhere along the way, the show had veered off track and forgotten it’s source material. To the point where Armstrong used Twitter to distance herself from the show.

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My love for the books could not overcome the problems with the show.

But it does occasionally go the other way. I hated Orange is the New Black as a book.

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It was boring, whiney, and privileged. It felt like a spoiled child complaining that she was being blamed for something she’d clearly done. She was pouting. Chapter after chapter. Just complaining. And she never learned anything about anyone – including herself.
But everyone loved the tv show. They were raving about it. I didn’t give in right away, but Natasha Lyonne was in it, and I like her.

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So I gave it a shot and my fickle heart was won over. The whinging is still there. Actually, it might even be worse, but in a good way. Piper is such a waspy character, she plays off the other women and makes then more real. In the tv show, we have breaks from her self absorption and get to learn other backstories. And the first season ended halfway through the book. It left room for more. I haven’t watched the second season yet, is it even out, but I’m liking forward to it.

Converting books into a visual format is never going to work for every fan, but it’s about finding the ones that work for you and not letting the bad ruin the good – whichever way that flows.

Guilty Pleasure, Shmilty Pleasure

In the book IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, Chuck Klosterman addresses the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure’. We’ve all got them. You know that thing you hate to admit you love because it might make you look exceptionally uncool? Yeah, I’ve got them. You’ve got them. They’re evidence that we live up to that onion metaphor. But Klosterman suggests something entirely different– You should never feel guilty about something that gives you pleasure (you know, in that lighthearted, doesn’t involve crazy law breaking or hurting other people, etc, etc, etc kind of happy).
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Should I feel bad that I’m a grown ass woman and I still regularly watch Degrassi? Hell no. I am proud of my love of all things Degrassi.
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My love of KD? Nope, no guilt.
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My driving need to collect all the V.C. Andrews books published between 1979 – 1996? Maybe, just maybe. I should feel guilty about that one.
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These are not good books. They are the Twilight of their time. Horrible relationships. Forbidden love. Barely veiled abuse. And yet, I still love them. Dawn (from The Cutler Series) is the first book I remember staying up all night to read. Wrapped up in my blankets, reading through the sleep until I’d gotten that second, third, fourth wind. Scandalizing content! There was sex, guys. Sex. With a main character that was my age. My junior high self could barely stand it.

As I’ve aged, I’ve maintained a little place in my heart for Andrews’ stuff (not the newer stuff, it’s just not the same – yes, I know she died a long time ago, but there came a point that they just weren’t ‘good’ anymore). I even love the original movie version of Flowers in the Attic. It’s awsful (honestly, the more I think about it the more this explains why I actually found a cheesy love of the Twilight crapstravaganza). So, when Lifetime announced the revamp of Flowers in the Attic, I was stoked. I haven’t actually watched it yet, but I’ve heard exactly the right kind of feedback.

Then yesterday, I stumbled across this announcement. They’re doing movies for the rest of the Dollanganger Series? That’s pretty rad. They’re doing My Sweet Audrina! Amazing! This is the news that made my March. I mean it. That was my favourite of the books. It’s the only stand-alone under the Andrews’ umbrella, and it benefits from that. I read it dozens of times. It’s one of the few I’m missing, and I haven’t been able to locate it in my scouring of used book stores. Is there a better indicator that people love a book than that it remains in a collection? I think not.

I was recently complaining that Hollywood is actively trying to ruin my childhood (yes, I’m talking to you Jem Movie announcement), but this announcement gives me hope. As long as they’re as trashy and fluffy as the original books, they will be perfect. While wandering around the internet, looking for pictures for this post, I found the ‘Read the Good Trash Movement’.
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It’s a few years old now, but I love this idea. I might just decide to take this up next year. Would you participate? I think you should.

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan (@ryansara)

There’s a hole in popular young adult fiction, specifically romance. I’m so tired of the typical boy girl-boy love story that is so pervasive in YA lit.
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Where are the teen lgbt stories? Not the one where the hetero girl has the flamboyant, all-knowing, gay, male friend that helps her through her romantic crisis, but the one where the protagonist is experiencing their own crisis, with someone of the same sex. I’m not saying that these stories don’t exist (Will Grayson, Will Grayson / Blue is the Warmest Colour/etc), there just aren’t enough of them. A good coming of age story is a good story, regardless of the central characters. Empress of the World looked like it was worth a read.

The teens in the book are realistic enough: they are insecure, confused and scattered, but man, are tey shallow. And I don’t mean in a self-centred way, but in a they-have-no-depth way. The writing is so one dimentional. There is almost no character development for the two girls in question. The relationship between Battle and Nic should be overflowing with new discovery and exploration. But it falls flat. It just doesn’t feel realistic. So much of the relationship is told through Nic’s journal entries. It should be candid and genuine. You don’t lie in your journal.
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You’d only be lying to yourself. Journal entries are personal; this is where people pour out their emotions. We should feel like we’re in the centre of their relationship. But instead, the reader is left hanging at every moment of togetherness. The moments we are allowed to intrude on are brief and descriptionless. “We kissed” “She kissed me” That is the portrayal we get. It’s not enough. I’m not saying I want all the graphic details, but I want something to get invested in. How can I care about the relationship if I’m only given the Ikea instructions version of the set up?
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I felt more connected to the Isaac and Kat relationship because they struggled. They were both equally involved in what was happening and their drama became real. Nic and Battle never reach this level of believability. Battle’s guarded persona feels real because of her troubling relationship with her family, but she still lacks any real character development.

I’ve read lgbt literature before, not extensively but enough to recognize the use of vocabulary to embody power; however; I was not a fan of the way the word dyke is thrown around this story. It’s so frequent but totally lacking casual ease or intent of purpose. It felt like a shock tactic without providing any substance to be shocked by.

The book reads like it was slashed and burned by an editor in order to fit a certain length, and the areas that suffered were all the juicy parts. After doing some research into the publishing company (for totally selfish reasons), this might actually be the case. Their rules are so strict that I don’t know how an author could ever really express their own voice. There’s such a wave of publishing options available right now that I feel like authors are settling. I’m a writer. I want to be published – desperately. But, I don’t want to do it at the expense of the story. There’s always work that needs to be done. That’s why editors exist, but sometimes, it’s not the right work. And the tsunami of unedited self-published books flooding the market… well that’s a post all on its own. I’m not saying they’re all bad. I’m just not saying they’re all good.
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This could have been a great story, but ended up being nothing more than mediocre.
I want to add that I’ve heard great things about Ryan as a graphic novelist. I don’t generally read these, so that could be where she shines. As a novelist, she’s not for me.