Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Remember the spoilers notice over there on the left hand side of the page? Yeah, it’s particularly relevant to this review. I talk about the end just one paragraph from now. It’s worth not knowing if you plan to read the novel. You will either love it or hate it. That seems to be the end result of reading this book. There isn’t much middle ground – except for the people that don’t finish it. I know a surprising number of people who just didn’t finish this book. I do not understand it.

 

I was gripped from the very beginning. I needed to know what had happened – the first time I read it. I decided I wanted to give it a re-read far enough out from the movie release. I’m obviously in the love category for this book. I loved the mystery the first time. Did Nick do it? Did he not do it? What happened to Amy? Wait, Amy is still alive! She’s still alive and she’s framing Nick! What the hell is going on here?! And the second time, I loved the layers of complexity.

 

Re-reads are great with this type of book because you get to put all that what’s happening stuff aside. You’re no longer trying to figure out the mystery. Now you’re looking at the characters. You get to read fake Amy’s diary entries from a new perspective. You can feel the sarcasm dripping from the entries. And here’s where the underlying thematic content starts to arise. The really interesting part of the book – what makes a person a person. Both Nick and Amy touch on this idea at different parts of the book.

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What makes you you? What happened to form you into the person you are? Are you genuine or have you just adopted roles presented to you to form a personality? And if that’s what we do, is it a bad thing? How else do we figure out our likes and dislikes if we’re not exposed to multiple options? Is that putting on airs? Nick and Amy display the two sides of this argument pretty perfectly, and not in the way you might expect. Nick feels like the guy we should hate, but he’s a much better example of adopting personality traits and turning it into a persona – a flawed person, but a person none the less. Amy adopts personas, but switches them whenever she wants to fit her needs. She has no understanding of how to own her personality. She’s a righteous bitch, or more accurately a sociopath, because she never absorbs the things she observes. She simply takes the things she sees and figures out a way to use them against the people who have pissed her off.

 

By looking at how Amy manipulates not only her husband but the police, the media, and by proxy, the entire country, we’re forced to consider how the spread of media – written, visual, and social – influences crime and our perceptions of it. This is referenced when Nick’s lawyer is discussing their case. In crime fiction, the husband is always a suspect and almost always the perpetrator when a wife goes missing. Every time an episode of Law & Order/Criminal Minds/CSI airs, they show evidence that’s used to capture the criminal, techniques that are used to hide evidence, and ways that criminals get away with, or are caught for, their crimes. However truthful or fictional these actions are, they change the face of how criminals act. They allow people like Amy to manipulate the system to achieve the outcome they want and the entire system becomes a game of chase. The more people like me watch/read these – the more of shows/books are created – the more opportunities there are to learn to hide a criminal act. This isn’t a new trend. Crime fiction has existed for decades, but it’s so much easier to access now that it’s created a very strange ripple.

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While I hated Amy, I enjoyed the Flynn chose to make the villain the female character. I’m not saying Nick is the good guy. He’s a scumbag, but in the regular way. He’s cheating on his wife. That’s regular bad guy, not deserves to be framed for murder villainous. But Amy is a flat out villain. She is spiteful. She holds in every slight and when she can’t handle it anymore, she turns on the people who ‘hurt’ her. She became friends with Hillary in high school because it was someone she could easily control but when Hillary started to gain other friends, Amy used her powers of manipulation and turned her friend into an unbalanced stalker. She accused Tony of rape because he started dating someone else after their very short term relationship didn’t work out. And the worst one, she uses Desi’s infatuation with her to get her out of trouble and then kills him and accuses him of kidnap and rape. And she does it all in order to make sure that other people continue to look up to her and love her, even when she doesn’t like the people she wants these reactions from. She breaks the lives of the people around her. She continues to do it after she returns home and finds a way to convince Nick to remain in her life and under her control. She has no redeeming qualities, but she’s a great character to read.

 

More than just a who-done-it, this is a character study in social and personal manipulation. It forces you to take a step back and look at your own actions, and the actions of the people around you. Do we do what we do in order to get what we want, or because we know who we are? Can any of us ever really be genuine or are we so influenced by the broader society that we simply adopt the roles we think we need to – cool girl, good guy, sexy, smart, etc, etc, etc – until we’ve reach some goal set by people we’ve never met and don’t need to care about?

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The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff (@joshuabraff )

A couple months ago, John Green put out a list of book recommendations in one of his vlogs. I’ve tried 3-4 of the books from the list, but haven’t finished any of them. They just didn’t grab my attention. But, I’d had my library order Joshua Braff’s (yes, that family of Braffs) The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green for their collection, so I felt like I should give it the old college try. I read it in its entirety in one sitting. It’s a very fast read. It’s not easy content, but it is fast. Based on the vlog, I was sure this book was a comedy. And parts of it are extremely funny, but other parts are heartbreakingly sad.

 

The funny is easy. Jacob is a young Jewish boy growing up in the late 70s- early 80s, starting when he’s ten and going until he’s fifteen. He’s at the height of his sexual awakening in an era when all things sexual weren’t available with the press of a few keys. He’s getting his knowledge from his older brother, Asher, the family boarder, Megan, and his school friend, Jonny. We experience a London’s Blitz of slang terms for genitalia. It’s funny. It should be crude, but Braff’s skilled writing turns it into innocent discovery. The bar mitzvah thank you letters, the letters to Megan, and the family rules are a great vehicle to glimpse into Jacob’s thoughts without a lot of exposition or forced dialogue. Entertaining and informative.

 

Jacob’s relationship is Megan is far from innocent, except that it’s not. For him, it’s an attraction to an older girl. It’s a crush that he’s allowed to act on in seemingly innocent ways. He gives her back massages. They lay together while watching tv and movies. They hang out together. She gives him emotional support. But she’s not a teen. He’s thirteen when this is happening. She’s in a nursing program and at least somewhere in her 20s. Her questionable behaviour starts by going braless during massages and eventually leads to letting him grind against her until he blows his first precious load against her back. We should hate her. Rightfully, we should. If this was the opposite way and older man with a younger girl, we would. It’s such a double standard. I know that. And I have such mixed feelings about her character. She allows these things to happen, even encourages them, but she’s the only one really looking after the emotional needs of this kid. And when she disappears from his life without even a goodbye, she becomes the place he takes out his anger.

 

This is where the heartbreaking stuff comes in. Jacob’s family is messed up! His mother is clearly embarrassed by her husband. His brother is an artistic hard rocker straying as far from Jewish tradition as possible. The younger two children are too young to know what to do or which side to take when the family starts to disintegrate. But the worst part is Jacob’s father, Abram. The Green patron is a terror. He terrorizes his family with niceness. At first he seems like nothing more than a slightly overbearing father, but it quickly becomes clear that he’s a monster – using his family to overcome his shortcomings.

 

The terrorizing reaches a peak when Jacob getting so angry he punches a mat so hard he breaks his wrist. His father picks him up to go to the hospital and while his son is sitting in the passenger seat, cradling his broken arm, in pain, and covered in vomit, Abram becomes furious when Jacob isn’t excited about having a movie night. He barely seems to register that his son is hurt. He’s so caught up in his own mania; he can’t see how he’s hurting the people around him. He is the epitome of keeping up with the Jones’ or Bittermans – as the case may be. The movie night comes to a head in the kitchen when Abram loses his shit trying to rip Asher’s pants apart. There are a lot of examples before and after this scene, but for me, this is the moment that was the most painful to read. It’s clear that the Green patron has some type of mental disorder or chemical imbalance that isn’t being treated. I’m not saying mental disorders make people into terrors – I am definitely not saying that. But this is a prime example of what can happen when said disorders/imbalances are not treated (whether through medication or therapy or whatever).

 

This entire family suffers for years and eventually crumbles under the weight of Abram’s manic swings. Had this story taken place in a different time when his actions may have been recognized, a lot of broken people could have been saved, but it wasn’t. Instead we see how a family that appears perfectly normal on the outside is destroying itself on the inside. It’s a heavy story, but Braff couches it in coming of age humour that allows the reader to get through it without feeling like their drowning in the sorrow. It is absolutely worth reading.

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.

The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens (@AmandaStevensTX)

First off, this is the second book in a series – The Graveyard Queen. A co-worker recommended it. I liked the title, so I picked up the first book. I had already taken it out of the library when I realized it was published under the Harlequin banner. Normally, that would have sent me running for the hills but I was going camping. I wanted something super fluffy. The Restorer totally filled this niche. In the first book, we meet Amelia, a renowned cemetery restorer who can also see ghosts. There are some murders. There’s a cop. There’s sexual attraction made more complicated by the ghosts tied to him that drain her energy. You know the kind of story I’m talking about. Check out the book trailer to see what I mean.

The Graveyard Queen series is definitely popcorn reading. Much like a summer thriller, it’s a creepy read where you occasionally roll your eyes at the dialogue and the protagonist’s poor decisions. Also like a cheezey movie, you see the plot twists coming from very early on, but somehow, you find yourself totally entertained.
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The Kingdom picks up with Amelia running away from her feelings to work a job in a cut off little mountain town. The creep factor in this book is excellent. A flooded cemetery. A waterfall with mysterious symbols. A hidden grave. A wealthy evil family with no heirs. How could this not combine together to create a marvellously eerie world to get lost in? While I figured out that Amelia was the long lost heir to the family very early in the book, I still read on expectantly. For me, this book was damned creepy. The lake… shudder… even know, I can remember how that felt.

Book two was superior to The Restorer in both creep factor and characters. Thane is a much more interesting and complex character than Devlin, and it made me a little insane that Amelia doesn’t give in to that connection. However; I also hate when female characters bounce back and forth between the convenient male characters in a series. So, while I’m glad Amelia isn’t a fickle boy hopper. It’s a conundrum. The secondary characters were a totally predictable – the evil grandfather, the spoiled uncle, the vain trollops who covet money and witchcraft – but they were delightfully selfish and evil.

Sidra and Ivy, the two younger characters, were by far my favourite supporting characters. I loved Sidra’s (crap, is that her name? I can’t remember and I don’t have the book with me, so that’s what I’m going with. Steven’s website is really shameful in regards to her actual books) quiet presence and lack of confidence. Her abilities mirror Amelia’s and I wish they’d had more interaction. I would have loved if she’d taken Sidra to live with her and train her, but Tilly is a good secondary option – and a convenient way to not have to deal with Amelia now having a teenager to look after. And, there’s great fodder for future stories if the series continues. Looked it up – I see now that there’s a fourth book in the works. I hope it includes Sidra. If it does, I might forgive how disappointing the third book was. Then there was Ivy, a strangely relatable character. A girl who can’t fit in this small, suffocating town, so she acts out in the most obvious way – sex and the occult. Her stalker tendencies read pretty believably, and it’s nice to have a character that has nothing supernatural about her but is still able to influence the main character.

But, I need to be honest – the writing is ridiculous. Amelia makes stupid choices. If this was a movie, someone would probably be yelling at the screen. The girl gets herself into most of her predicaments. I give this book a little more leeway for the writing style because I was expecting so very little from it – and that’s what I got. I know I’ve been hard on some authors for their writing, but it’s because I expect more. Read that like your high school teacher and you’ll understand my level of expectations. The Graveyard Queen in the kid that chews their hair and stares out the window and I’m pleasantly surprised that the work was even done.

It’s not high reading, but it sure was fun.

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A Week of Awful Books: Day 7 The Worst of the Worst

A few years ago, before its current explosion, I stumbled across the ‘new adult’ genre. New Adult? What’s that? Research brain kicked in and a frantic search of the internet began. From everything I could find, this was a fledgling genre aimed at that college/recent college grad age. Getting started in the world on your own. Struggling to figure out who you are now that there are no parents or teachers to point the way. The friends and experiences you gain with this new found freedom. The most formative period in a person’s life.
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Excitement ensued. This is the age I want to write for, but I tend to skew younger because of the market. Sparks of inspiration went off and I began composing a book that would fall within this genre. No story has ever come to me this easily. I finished up the first draft and put it aside for a little while to have some simmer time. This is normal for me in the writing process and is often a few months. I need a good chunk of time away before an edit. Distance makes the heart grow critical. And before I was ready to start farming out submissions, this week’s final awful book appeared on the market and in three little paperbacks destroyed an entire genre. Turning what could have been a great new collection of books into a cesspool of weak women, domineering men, and their sexual exploits.

Of course, I’m talking about

Fifty Shades of Grey/Darker/Freed by E.L James
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I finally caved and read these books about a year ago. I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t hate the first book. The writing is awful – I mean really awful- but I found it stupidly enjoyable. It was escapist lady porn for the mom set and if not for the excess, unpalatable plot, it could fit nicely into the erotica shelves(which are a great place to shop). I couldn’t stop reading this damn book. I got through the first one in a day. But that doesn’t mean I ever forgave the writing. It read exactly like what it started as – Twilight fan fiction. And it got worse and worse and worse as the series continues.
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How many times can a girl say holy cow, oh jeez, holy hell, or oh wow during a fairly vanilla bondage moment. For an English major, her vocabulary is sorely lacking, except for when she’s pulling out ridiculous multi-syllabic words that no one uses in normal speech. Ana is the worst example of an English major and her go to novels… come on. Sure, those are the novels of someone who loves reading, and they might even be the favourite of a certain section of English majors, but what a cliché. It’s just one hint at the root of the problems in this novel – James’ misunderstanding of the worlds she’s exploring.

People harp on the Christian Grey character as either a hero or a horror, but he’s neither. He’s wishy washy because he’s poorly written. Do I have issues with Christian and his domineering (not dominant) personality? Sure. He’s over the top and the books seem to want to drive home that anyone involved in the BDSM community simply needs to be fixed, which could not be further from the truth. It’s not something I know boatloads about, but I’ve done enough research to know that James essentially knows nothing about BDSM. Emily May does a great review of why Christian and Ana’s sexual relationship is baloney. I don’t need to rehash what’s already well written.

Grey’s unilateral decision making about what is best for Ana – that’s what really infuriates me. Ana is
my biggest problems with the books. Who is this girl? How has she been this sheltered her entire life? She has zero life experience. She knows nothing about anything. And she don’t have a computer? And she’s an English major? She’s an English Major that DOESN’T OWN A COMPUTER! Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.
She would own a computer for no other purpose than completing her assignments. Research is a major part of an English degree. Writing papers is an even bigger portion There’s no way an English major and a Journalism student could share a computer with no conflict for four years. It just wouldn’t happen.
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And then there’s Ana’s constant ‘Oh no, I’ve made him angry. I’ll apologize even though I know I haven’t done anything wrong, but his delicate, delicate psyche can’t handle it, so it must be me’. This happens over and over again in books 2 and 3. Ana makes me crazy. Like actually on the verge of insanity. And when she allowed him to directly impact her career and throw women’s progression in the workplace back a hundred years…. That’s when I stopped reading. James, you’ve insulted powerful, balanced, career women everywhere, and for that I cannot forgive you.

Happy International Women’s Day! Be strong in the office, the bedroom, the gym, the family, and everywhere.
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