Monday, December 21, 2009

Wishful Drinking

Carrie Fisher

Scale of 1 - 10:
Pros: Wry look at growing up with celebrity. Fisher's writing is engaging and very much like she's invited you to lunch.

Cons: Maybe a tad too glib. Fisher's sense of humor sometimes misses the mark for me, and her language is occasionally shockingly coarse. Then again, that's her style, and I'm not going to judge her for it. Some people might find it off-putting, however. This is not a book written for the prim crowd.

My take:
People who grew up with the Star Wars saga will probably find it interesting, though while Star Wars figures prominently in it, it's not a book about Star Wars. It is a book about manic-depression/bipolar disorder and addiction, as well as growing up in an unconventional home, with celebrity parents. I found myself wondering how much of Fisher's novel, Postcards From the Edge, was taken from real life and drawing parallels between that book and Wishful Drinking. Drinking is a very fast, glib, and fairly enlightening read. While Fisher does not seem to feel sorry for herself in the slightest, it made me sad that someone as beautiful as she is has such a poor image of herself and has clearly learned to put herself down to prevent hearing someone else do it first. I could see a lot of the teenage me in teenage Carrie...minus the drinking, drugs, and celebrity, of course. The only thing I think Fisher could have gone into more detail about was electroshock therapy, which she has undergone, and which she says was the catalyst for her one-woman show, upon which the book is based. She talks about it several times, but only peripherally. I would like to know what prompted her to engage in that form of therapy and how it's working for her, as well as what it's like. Regardless, I find Wishful Drinking a brave book and wish Fisher well.

Snarklet: Fly on the Wall

E. Lockhart

Oral sex references. On page 5. I'm still trying to get past that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Update & Holiday Greetings

Sorry for all the not posting full snarks/squees. It's been a really difficult year. My dad passed away in February, and frankly, stuff just mounted up. I'm hoping to get back in the swing of things after the holidays, but I'll TRY to post something before then. I certainly have the fodder for it - some books that truly sucked were Meri Strikes Back, Hardly Working, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and Pessl's opus of pretentious dreck...assuming I can still find my copies of them for reference, since I have happily been able to erase the horror from my memory. Or rather, the specifics of it. Believe me, I still remember the general horror. 2009 has been the year of reading dangerously, let me tell you.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season. Here's to all good things in 2010.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Suite Francaise

Irène Némirovsky

I'm not going to scale this book, because you can't honestly scale a rough draft, which is what Suite Francaise is. It was handwritten during WWII, in a notebook, by a woman who did not live to see the completion of her planned work. Composed of two short books, entitled "A Storm in June" and "Dolce," Suite Francaise is remarkable, both because even in rough draft form it's in very little need of polishing, and because it was written so well under dire and terrible conditions. Married and a mother of two small girls, Némirovsky was both Russian and of Jewish descent, living in France under Nazi occupation and at a time when Germany had been attacked by and was engaged in war with Russia. In addition to the obvious stress that living with the fear of interment would cause, the German government froze her bank accounts and ordered her publishers to continue to deposit all payments owed to her into those accounts (as they did with all Jewish artists), greatly hindering Némirovsky from accessing her income. In addition, publication of works created by foreigners and Jews was forbidden, effectively severing her revenue stream. She was deported to Auschwitz in July, 1942, where she died one month later. Her children kept her notebook as a memento of their mother, believing it to be a diary. It was not until they had long grown into adults that eldest daughter Denise could bring herself to read the notebook and realized that what she held was her mother's final work.

I fully expected the book to be very sad and tragic, and for it to upset me. But Némirovsky's pragmatism comes across in the storytelling. People die, but they do so dispassionately. Their deaths may be violent, but they are also matter-of-fact: this is war - people die. I regret she was unable to finish the entire work, as both Storm and Dolce are vivid works full of memorable characters one can not help but think must be drawn from those Némirovsky knew in real life. They are detestable and not, honorable and not, and all their motives are made clear - Némirovsky does not leave the reader to guess at intentions, nor does she make excuses for their being or behaviour. Things are what they are. Némirovsky is a keenly visual storyteller, and I think Suite Francaise is probably a very good description of life in occupied France during the first few years of the war. It's a great loss that Némirovsky did not live through the war to document its end as she did the beginning.  

Suite Francaise is translated from the French by Sandra Smith, who seems to have done an excellent job. My only quibble with her work is that she left uncorrected a few things which Némirovsky would obviously have chosen to correct. She says she did so out of the desire to demonstrate the circumstances of its writing, but I feel it was a disservice to Némirovsky and her work to leave them as they were. I strongly recommend you read both appendices and the Preface to the French Edition of Suite Francaise, located at the back of the book. I started with the first appendix, which contains various of her notes on the writing and what she hoped to achieve, as well as her final journal entry, 2 days before she was taken. I then read the book and finished with the second appendix and the preface, both of which deal with the end days of Némirovsky's life and its effect on those who knew her, itself worthy of a book. I feel sad Némirovsky was unable to finish her opus and that her life was ended as it was. She was a gifted storyteller. And as a human being, she deserved better.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blog Disclaimer

The FTC, in all its infinite wisdom and glory, has decided that every blog, large or small, needs to tell you whether or not it gets payola for stated opinions like book reviews.  So here it is:

Some of the books reviewed here might be books we received for free as Advance Reader Copies (ARC's).  Publishers sometimes send those out to bookstores so that booksellers will read them, like them, and recommend them to customers.  A Guide To the Birds of East Africa was just such a book. Katie got it when she still worked at B&N and felt it was the best book she read all last year.  She would have felt that way even if she'd paid for it.  Sadly, most of the ARC's she read sucked it hard.  But that one was awesome.  The rest of the books reviewed here will have been purchased with hard-earned cash.  Cash we earned at actual jobs, not here for writing about books.  

No matter how a book was acquired, the opinions expressed in this blog are the honest opinions of the reviewer.  We are all strong women who hate bad writing and crappy books, in no small part because we write ourselves.  Since this is a tiny little review site, it's pretty hilarious to think anyone would bother paying us to write anything, especially since it's not like we're called Literary Squee.  We're called Literary Snark for a reason, which is mostly to save you from having to read bad books, but also to call out the publishing industry on some of the junk it prints.  By our very nature, we don't tend to say nice things about the books discussed here, but you can bet that if we ever do, we were not paid to say it. 

If the day ever comes when publishers actually start sending us books to read, we'll let you know, but frankly, the coming of said day would probably cause us to keel over in shock.  We'd be happy to have free books though, so if any of you are publishers, please, feel free to send those ARC's this way.  (Katie especially loves teen fiction, fantasy & science fiction and chicklit.) We promise to be absolutely fair in our reading, and if we like it, we'll say so.

So there, FTC. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

(Disclaimer to the Disclaimer: No one here advocates smoking.  Smoking is bad.  It was just an expression.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Currently Reading: Hardly Working

Betsy Burke

Like a bad Harlequin romance, only twice as long and with so much dreary exposition about fundraising and the environment that it's less than half as interesting. Help.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Poison Apples

Lily Archer

Scale of 1-10:
Pros:Strong female leads, enough conflict to make it interesting and unpredictable, decent character development, and solid writing all make this a book both teens and tweens can read and enjoy, though I'd only recommend it for tweens if they read above their level. Moms who vet their teens' reading can also rest assured this is a healthy read.
Cons:Archer chooses to write in the first person from different points of view, and while I find nothing wrong with that, all three girls sound pretty much alike, despite coming from very different backgrounds and being of different ethnicities and ages. Her geeky, younger character from the sticks sounds exactly like the affluent hipster with literary star parents, who sounds very much like the trendy, nouveau riche Beverly Hills daughter of an Indian heart surgeon. Had Archer given her characters each their own distinct voice, this would have been a much better and stronger novel. It's still a good one, but it could have been much better, and it's a shame Archer missed the boat.

Synopsis: Basically, the plot boils down to three young girls whose fathers have recently remarried, to stepmothers who are not the sorts of women many of us would appreciate as a parent, step or otherwise. Lives are upheaved, conflict ensues, and each of the girls ends up either choosing to go or being shipped off to boarding school, where they all eventually run into each other and plan revenge on the stepmonsters who have absconded with their formerly happy lives and paternal relationships.

My take: Despite a lack of strong, individual voice for each girl, Archer tells a good yarn and weaves the girls' stories and lives together well. I could see each character and the people in their lives clearly in my head, and nothing about the story was too horrendously outlandish, penguins notwithstanding. I liked that lessons were learned and the characters all grew and developed as the book progressed. There's no Mean Girl Syndrome or sexual conquest in the book, but there is plenty of Girl Power, and the story stresses healthy relationships. Archer left room for a sequel, and if she writes one, I will most likely read it. Despite what seems to be a deploring trend in first novels these days, The Poison Apples is a solid, dependable read, and much better than most teen fiction currently sitting on the shelves at your local Big Chain Bookstore.

You can find Lily Archer on MySpace.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Snarklet: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl

Pessl apparently wanted to show off her education with this exceedingly erudite first novel. Unfortunately, she must have napped all the way through her writing classes, since she does not seem to have noted that when one is writing a mystery, one does not spend the first 200 pages dillydallying with introduction...or citing one's sources - real or imagined - in parenthetical asides. And pop quizzes at the end of the book? Sooooo passé.

Despite my dog's heroic efforts to save me from the horror of Pessl's exceedingly long-winded and tragically hip prose, I slogged on to the end and finally - after a month of monotonous struggle - finished reading the thing. I really shouldn't have bothered. Pessl's writing is affected, pretentious, and vain, and none of her characters are even remotely likable. They are rich, brilliant, and disaffected nearly to the point of nihilism. Yawn. Bret Easton Ellis did it better in Less Than Zero, and with much less verbosity.

Like Ellis' first novel, Pessl's freshman opus has also been optioned. I find that mind-boggling in the extreme, but it does support my theory that most film execs have the mentality of rabid ducks. I wish the producers luck.

And a much better screenwriter than Pessl is a novelist.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bras & Broomsticks

Sarah Mlynowski

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Mlynowski's sentences do not suck, and she does a decent job of setting scene and showing her characters to the reader.
Cons: Mlynowski actually plagiarizes Spiderman (yes, the comic book superhero) and gives us a main character who is not only shallow, self-absorbed, immature, and stupid, but arrogant about it. As well, the implausible device of a high school "fashion show" in which everything has to be choreographed and danced a la the Corny Collins Show drove me up the wall, not to mention the incredibly predictable outcome.

Synopsis: 14-year-old Rachel wants 4 things out of life: popularity, fashion, hot guys, and boobs, and she isn't much concerned with earning them. So when she finds out her younger sister is a witch, she immediately begins scheming to use it to her advantage. Despite repeated and very stern warnings from the girls' mother (who naturally used to be a witch but decided to forgo her powers years ago), Rachel convinces her little sister Miri to put a spell on her so that she can dance and be in the fashion show her high school puts on every year. A more lame device does not exist in the entire annals of teen fiction, but that's what we're stuck with, so here we go. And on a personal note, I would like to say that a) I am very tired of books written in the first person, and b) I will never again purchase any book whose cover proclaims it "Screamingly funny," courtesy of Kirkus Reviews. Those Kirkus folks obviously have painfully low standards and a vastly differing definition of "funny" than the one I use.

My take: OMG, how did the totally awesome sparkly green suede shoes my mom told me I could not have end up on my feet? I thought I wore my crappy Docs to school today - how weird is that? You know what, I don't care; I wanted these shoes more than life itself - or maybe big boobs - and now they're mine! If I gave much thought as to why, that'd stress out the few brain cells I have that have not yet atrophied from non-use, so nevermind. This is my 2nd best friend, Tammy. She uses scuba diving hand gestures for everything, which is totally not weird and does not make her a social outcast in high school, at all. I'll just borrow Tammy's phone to thank my mom for buying me the shoes even though she said I couldn't have them, and we couldn't afford them, and even though I can't remember actually putting them on at any point in the day today, and Tammy has never seen them before in her life. To any normal teen, that might send up a red flag, but you know what? I totally deserve to have these shoes, so I don't care.

Oh, man, my mom says I have to come home right now, so I won't get to go have pizza with all the cool kids. One of them invited a friend who invited a friend who invited a friend who invited Tammy, so we're in! Only I can't go, because my stupid mother said I have to come home. My very, very best friend, Jewel - the one I call Bee-Bee, for Best Buddy, which totally isn't annoying to read at all - is one of the cool kids now, but she totally blew me off when she became one, and we never hang out anymore. This was totally my chance to use Tammy to get close to Jewel - and all the other cool kids, of course, of which there are many, many superhot guys, one of whom I deludedly tell myself is going to take me to Spring Fling this year. So as you can see, I really need to go have pizza and pretend I'm a cool kid too. Too bad my mom is so unreasonable.

So like, I get home, and it turns out my little sister Miri is a witch, and she magicked up the shoes for me. Awesome. My mom is a witch too, which totally sucks, because all this time she's been making me study and stuff, I could have had excellent grades, clear skin, trendy and expensive clothing, fabulous hair, and boobs. I really want all of those (except for the grades part, really, because what's the point of that?), so I'm really mad that not only does she expect me to get all of them the old-fashioned way, but she forbade Miri from getting them for me either. Something about how "with great power comes great responsibility," the laws of the universe, and rule of three or something, blah blah blah. Doesn't she realize that only losers do things the old-fashioned way? Jeez! I am so mistreated. You know what? I'll con Miri into doing them for me, anyway. She totally owes me on accounta I'm such a wonderful, caring big sister. I'll guilt her into doing it for me. And while we're at it, we'll break up my dad and his new fiance, whom we both hate. What good is magic, if you can't totally use it for personal gain? Consequences, schmonsequences. Who does my mother think she is?

So, cool: I got Miri to cast a spell on me, and now I can dance! Yay! She refused to do a boob spell, but I'll get her to do one later. Look at all that junk in my trunk! Watch it jiggle and move and shimmy and shake! I can moonwalk! I can dip and vogue, and I don't even have to practice or try or anything! I rule! I tried out for the fashion show my school puts on every year, and I won a place! Now Jewel will have to pay attention to me again and stop calling that other girl in the fashion show her Bee-Bee. I'm her Bee-Bee, darn it, not that cow who actually has to practice dancing. Shuh. Oo, and boys are talking to me! Hot, cute, popular boys! It's the Spring Fling for me, baybee! All I have to do is break up my dad's wedding, which should be pretty easy, now that I've convinced Miri we should do it. Or rather, she should do it, since she's the one with the power, and I'm way too busy with all my new, popular friends and dance rehearsals to bother helping. I know I promised, but what I want is more important, and anyway, I have a dance to cajole an invite to, and pizza to eat with the cool kids. My little sister likes books and learning and working hard, so it's not like she has any right to expect me to help her with it, no matter what I promised her I'd do. And ugh, why is stupid Tammy bothering me all the time? She actually thinks I'm going to hang out with her and her other stupid loser friends instead of practicing my hot dance moves all the time. And okay, I know she's my friend and all, but you know, she's pretty goofy, and her hair is really lame, and she can't dance, and neither can any of the other girls I used to call my friends back before I got cool, so it's really embarrassing that they expect me to slum and hang out with them. I mean seriously, how would that look to Jewel and the rest of my cool posse? I just can't do it. I'm sorry, but it just does not befit my new status as Dancing Queen. Plus, I'm having guy issues, because Raf, the guy who is supposed to ask me to Spring Fling, just isn't paying the kind of attention to me that he should. I mean seriously, doesn't he get how hot I am and that I have moves? What is wrong with him? And my dad is just not cooperating with Miri's spells. He's supposed to fall out of love with his wife-to-be and fall back in love with my mom, but it totally isn't working, and if he gets married the weekend of Spring Fling, it is totally going to crimp my style. I can't be in two places at once, and my school dance is waaay more important than any stupid wedding. Where are his priorities, for crying out loud?

Okay. So my dad is finally in love with the right woman and blowing off my stepmother-to-be. Raf finally asked me to the dance, and the fashion show is in less than a week. Of course, Tammy figured out that I'm a beyotch and hates my guts. It kinda sucks, but I got bigger fish to fry, so while it sort of upsets me that she doesn't think I'm totally awesome, I don't have a lot of time to think about it. Miri's mad too, because I've been blowing her off and not keeping any of my promises to her, but you know, whatever. I have a dance to plan, my father's wedding to destroy, and a stepmother-to-be to frame for it. Wait. That's The Princess Bride. But you know what I mean. Life is too good to worry about the little people.

Oh noes! My mom found out about the magic and undid all of it! I can't dance! I have zits! My father called off his wedding, but Mom knows it's because we put a spell on him to love her, so she took that off too, and now my father is getting married the day I have Spring Fling. How inconsiderate. But I can't think about that now, because I have to get to the Fashion Show and shake my booty on the catwalk. I'm kinda nervous about doing it without the magic, but whatever. I can't back out because the girl who planned it said she'd kill me. I've been practicing for forever, so I'm sure it'll be totally cool and nothing embarrassing or awful will happen, right? Right!

Well, that plan took a dive. I very predictably destroyed the entire fashion show. Literally. Like, the set, the dresses, the catwalk, everyone. I even caused the girl leading us all to break a leg or something. I mean, I humiliated the heck out of everybody, not just myself. Didn't see that coming from the moment I got cast, did you? So now all the cool kids totally hate me, Raf probably doesn't want to speak to me ever again, let alone dance with me, and Jewel turned her back on me when I needed her to tell me everything is going to be okay. It's the worst day of my whole life. And my mom guilted me into fixing the mess with my dad, so now I have to re-plan the wedding Miri managed to destroy. Which means I'm totally going to miss Spring Fling, so I may as well get my dad back together with my stepmother-to-be and get the wedding back on. Which Miri and I do, and even though my new stepmother was a real snot nearly the whole book, it turns out she's really nice and just wants us to like her, and Tammy totally forgave me and came to the wedding anyway, so even though I'm not a witch and everything went wrong when I tried to manipulate the world to my will, all's well that ends well. Which is good, because it turns out there's the tiniest chance Raf might actually still like me, and there are more books in this series, which means that I totally have at least 3 more books (to date) in which to finally learn that self-centered manipulation does not fly (or that there's more to life than looking good, having big boobs and great hair, and hanging with the in-crowd), so why bother to learn it now? Oh, Miri...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cross My Heart & Hope to Spy

Ally Carter

Loved it. Adorable read. Carter is knockin' it outta the park with her Gallagher Girls series, and I can't wait for the next one, Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover. Stay tuned for the full squee. :)

Currently Reading: The Poison Apples

Lily Archer

Solid so far.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Currently Reading: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl

OMG, YAWN. It's not a good sign when your dog destroys the book you're reading and you feel a sense of relief about it. The last time my dog chewed up a book I was reading, it was John Grisham's The Client, and I felt exactly the same way, like, "Oh, thank GOD, I don't have to waste anymore of my life wading through that DRECK." And back then, I was only 7 pages away from the ending. I'm currently on page 156 of Pessl's 514 page first opus - in hardcover - and I could kiss my dog for risking his digestive track to save me from the horror. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite as thorough as he could have been, and the damned thing is still readable. As I am a glutton for literary punishment, that means I must keep reading. But I don't know how much longer I can last. I've already reached the skip-mass-portions-of-text angry reading phase, and generally when that happens, there has to be something about the text to motivate me - an oft-repeated word or gimmick I can distract myself by counting its number of occurrences, for example. Unfortunately, Pessl isn't annoying in that way. I could count constructs in pretention, but the universe doesn't provide a number that goes that high, so I'll just have to keep pushing through the jungle of holy-crap-does-this-stink-or-what until I can't take anymore.

See you then.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Update 2: Bras & Broomsticks

Well, I finished it.

Now I need time for the awful to sink in.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Update: Bras & Broomsticks

It's been weeks, and I'm still slowly ploughing (or plowing, if you will) through this thing. If Mlynowski had put half as much work into plot as she did into trying to be clever, it'd be a much better read. As it is, I'm forcing myself to get through it. I seriously weep for teens, that books like this are what they have to choose from.

Note to self: stop reading books the covers proclaim screamingly funny. Srsly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Golfwidow in da house.

I'm stoked to have Sondra Harris onboard as LitSnark's newest reviewer. Sondra is also known as Blogger of International Renown Golfwidow, and is a published author in her own right. Check out Sondra's book, Getting My Think On, at Amazon now.

(For more on Sondra, please visit her profile.)

Currently Reading: Bras and Broomsticks

Sarah Mlynowski

*sigh* Teen fiction can not possibly be that difficult to write.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Remember Me? Snark Revamped

Sophie Kinsella

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: one overspends. No cutesy overdraft letters from earnest, unrealistically patient bank managers. Though there is a bill for a glass leopard. I guess Kinsella just can't help herself.
Cons: Meandering plot and the same staggeringly irritating heroine utterly bereft of common sense who persons every single one of Kinsella's novels and constantly makes bad decisions, plunging herself into ever-increasingly hot water until the hero arrives to save her from herself.

The original review I wrote of this really ripped it apart. My problem with Kinsella's books - and it's a big one - is that all her heroines are simpletons. Shopaholic Becky never learns anything and is the same idiotic spendthrift every single book. She never grows as a character even the tiniest iota...though I've only managed to push through the first 2 books in the series, so I suppose it's possible Bloomwood wakes up and smells the bankruptcy sometime in Book 3 or 4, but I wouldn't hold my breath. And I hated the Wickham-penned novel The Gatecrasher because most of the characters were vapid and bland, and those that weren't were not at all likeable, while the title character was a complete and utter bitch.

For 3/4 of it's meandering, soul-sucking way, Remember Me?, follows standard Kinsella formula, which is to say that nothing happens. There's no character development and no real discernible plot. The whole book just lollygags around while it's main character, Lexi Smart (boy, talk about your misnomers), shops and goes to tea and just generally whines about life as she gets into utterly ridiculous and unrealistic scrapes, until suddenly, in the last 1/4 of the book, a solution to everything falls neatly into her lap and every problem she has is miraculously solved in one fell swoop. In fact, the final 1/4 of the book is true to form as well, but for one small detail: there is actually character development and growth in the final chapter(s) of the book.


Sure, most of the book is all, "Oh, I have amnesia. Oh, I'm married. Hurray, I have money; I think I'll go shopping! Oh, I'm a bitch and nobody likes me. Oh, I can't remember anything of the last 3 years, and my old friends all hate me - I know: I'll buy them presents! Oh, I just can't do anything right. Hurray, my friends figured out I really do have amnesia and I'm not a bitch anymore, but no one knows why I turned into one. Oh no, my company is phasing out my department - all my friends will hate me again. What's that you say? I knew this was coming and I put together a supersecret plan to stop it? I have a file? A blue one? Where is it? You don't know? Oh no! What will I do?! Gasp! There! I found it! I shall brandish it over my head and proclaim loudly that as god is my witness, I shall never go--wait. That's too long. I shall just sing gaily, 'Here I am, to save the day!' Oh yes, sweep me off my feet my handsome hero and carry me away! We'll always have Paris!" (Some leeway taken there, but it mostly follows the actual plot.) However, in the final pages, Lexi does actually learn something about herself. And she grows a bit of a spine. More, she actually takes responsibility for herself and her destiny, and GROWS UP. That's right, a Kinsella book which ends with an actual adult heroine. I hardly knew how to react.

I'm not saying it's an awesome book. But it doesn't suck like I thought it did when I wrote my original review (having put it down in disgust) the day before I finished it, and frankly, it needs to be about 100 pages shorter, because if I weren't a literary die-hard who is bound and determined to finish even the crappiest books, and a masochistic reader who will doggedly punish myself by continuing to plough through books I abhor and despise until the very final word, I never would have discovered the pleasantly surprising ending. I'm still absolutely finished with reading any Kinsella book again ever, but by the end of Remember Me? I was over my hatred and happy enough to actually recommend this to lovers of mindless chicklit...with the caveat that it really is 75-100 pages too long* and that it's perfectly okay to skip over mass sections. But that's enough to raise my score of it from a 2 to a 4. And apparently, that's all I can ask from a Kinsella novel.

* For the record, it's worth noting that were the book shorter, this would be a much happier review with a higher score.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best Read of 2008

I read a lot of books last year, and by far the best-written (and my favorite) was Nicholas Drayson's "A Guide to the Birds of East Africa," a quietly vivid and charming novel about love with an unlikely hero. It's really been too long since I read it to review it now, but I refer you to this blog entry by a birdwatcher who also dug it. I agree with his review wholeheartedly, except for the ornithological stuff, since I'm not a birder and couldn't comment one way or the other on that aspect of either the novel or his review. :)

Currently Reading: Remember Me?

Sophie Kinsella

I don't know why I do this to myself. I don't tend to like much of what Kinsella writes, but I had an advance copy of the first 3 chapters of this last spring and was interested enough to want to buy it, so I'm taking a break from teen fic for a book or 2 and reading this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


PC & Kristin Cast

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Vampire school is an interesting concept, and the story itself is interesting in the last 1/3 of the book.
Cons: The concept is so poorly executed as to make me tear at my hair and gnash my teeth. Vampires as fluffy bunnies? REALLY?!? *heavy sigh*

I got the feeling PC Cast wanted to write a "clean" supernatural thriller, but what she came up with is so antiseptic and sheltered that frankly, I don't understand why she chose such traditionally sexy (and evil) creatures as vampires for the subject of her book, other than to grab some of the Twilight cash.

Synopsis: In a world where vampirism is a normal part of life as we know it, 16-year-old Zoey Redbird finds out she's destined to become one. She doesn't want to be one, but since it's pre-ordained by virus (which is NEVER explained), she has no choice and gets packed off to attend vampire school at the House of Night, where she leaves her old life behind and makes new friends, influences new people, and just generally has a grand old time shucking off this mortal coil until finally at the end of the book, conflict finally rears its ugly head and the story gets interesting.

My take: Ye gads. It's like the Small World ride at Disneyland, if all the dolls wore black and had crescent moon tats in the middle of their foreheads. It's vapid. It's shallow. It's...vampire bling. And on top of all of that, it's pretentious. Vampyres? Really? That's your contribution to the big scary, you're spelling vampire with a Y? I kept thinking of Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, intoning the word as "Vam-peer." Count Dracul. Transylvania. Nosferatu. If, like, Nosferatu went to high school, spoke with a hick accent, and was a 16-year-old girl who said "Hell!" and "poopie" and "boobies" all the time. And no, I'm not kidding.

*sigh* To recap:

So (cough), like (cough), my name is Zoey (cough, cough, cough), and I feel really crappy. (cough, cough) Pardon me while I hack up a lung while my Very Best Friend In the Whole Wide World babbles on about something I couldn't really care less about as we walk to my locker. Oh, look - there's a vampire standing in front of my locker. The hell, dude? I can tell he's a vampire - excuse me: vampYre - because he has a vampyre tattoo on his forehead. Plus an extra tat that means he's a Tracker. That can't be good. Somebody's gonna get it. Wait - he's pointing at me. The somebody is me? Well that just sucks. OW! My head totally hurts. Excuse me while I faint.

Okay, whew, I'm awake now. (cough cough cough) Kayla is staring at me, and my head still hurts. I feel really crappy. Mondays totally suck. What? I'm marked? I have a vampyre tat on my forehead? I don't wanna be a vampyre. I hate wearing black. I get nauseous at the sight of my own blood. I know that should be nauseated, that nauseous means I make other people feel sick, but my authors didn't take the time to look it up, and their editor totally didn't bother with it either, and since I'm really pretty vapid and feel like crap with all the coughing, which I'm not going to explain ever, really, what do you want from me? It's Monday, dude, and my day is totally NOT off to a good start. And it's not the first grammatical error to be made in this tome, since I'm pretty sure my authors made up words like "rapider", so don't bug me with details.

As I was saying, now I have this stupid vampyre tat on my face, so I should probably tell you that in the world of this novel, vampyrism is totally normal and some people are just arbitrarily destined to turn into them, but I'm not going to explain it any more than that. Do I look like a scientist to you? I didn't think so. Move along, Sparky. Where was I? Oh yeah: now I have to start going to the House of Night, where I will learn to be a vampyre or DIE. If I don't go, I will DIE. Do you get it? I will DIE. Guess I better go tell my mom. That should suck, because my new stepdad is a total jerk and religious nutbag, and ever since she married him, my mom has turned into a Stepford Wife, so basically, I'll probably end up packing up my stuff and sneaking out my bedroom window, on accounta my stepdad thinks I'm a bad seed anyway, so my turning into a vampyre oughtta pretty much hammer the last nail into that coffin, don'tcha think? Coffin! Heh, heh. I made a funny. I slay me. There! I did it again! My authors rule.

Anyway, yeah, Mom and the stepjerk freaked and threatened me with a prayer circle, therapy, and probably reform school, so here I am, sneaking out and going to see my Gramma Redbird, who is a Cherokee Wise Woman and totally rocks. She'll know what to do. On the way, I'll stop to cough up a few chunks of lung, go for a hike, slip, fall, hit my head and require stitches, and have a hallucinatory chat with Nyx, the Vampyre Goddess, in which she makes me her eyes and ears in the mortal realm. Why, I don't know, and don't you bother your pretty little head about it, either. Ours is not to reason why. Vampyres are mysterious, man. Go with it. (Bee Tee Double-U, she also fills in my vampyre tattoo, even though that shouldn't happen until I don't die and turn into a full vampyre, about 5 years from now, so I must really be special.)

So like, the House of Night is totally awesome. I made 4 cool friends right off the bat and saw some girl giving a guy head at the end of this dark hallway while I was waiting for the school principal (High Priestess of Nyx, actually, and my mentor - how convenient is that?) to come show me to my dorm. I do not give blowjobs, as I already know that only slutty girls give them, and only boys who want to degrade and use girls like to get them. I refuse to be oppressed, so don't worry about me ever giving any guy a BJ. Good girls do NOT do that. EVAR.

Anyway, one of my awesome new friends is my roommate, and she wants to be a C&W singer when she grows up, and it turns out that lots of famous people are vampyres. You, of course, can not see their vampyre tats, because you don't--well, actually, I don't know why. My authors never bother to explain that. Huh. *shrug* Did I mention I stopped coughing when I got to the House of Night? This place is totally awesome! It would be perfect if it weren't for that slutty girl giving a BJ to the really hawt guy in the hall. Her name is Aphrodite, and she's a total bitch. I don't curse though, except to say hell, so I will call her a hag. A lot. I say Hell! a lot too, because it's the only curse word I say, so I feel like I have to use it all the time, for every single situation, even when no cursing is warranted or needed in the narrative. It makes me sound really edgy, yo. I know that will probably annoy you to the point that you feel like counting how many times a page I say it, or what the maximum number of pages is between uses, so what I'll do is, I'll distract you between Hell!s by talking like a baby and saying "poopie" instead of "manure", and I'll say "boobies" instead of "breasts", not so much because I don't want to be vulgar, but because talking like you're 6 is totally in. The hell it isn't!

My teachers here at the House are all totally awesome and have elaborate tattoos. I love my classes. Aphrodite is the only thing I don't like here, but me and my friends just call her and her gang of ho's "hags" all the time, and that makes everything fine. Everything is great here. Of course, a girl I thought was nice died in class, but I wasn't there, so I don't know what it was like. My roommate does, but she doesn't want to talk about it, so we're all just going to pretend we don't care for another few chapters. I know you're probably curious, but hell, I didn't write this thing, so let's just keep going to my awesome classes and cutting up with my friends, and while we're doing that, I will find out I have this awesome special power that will make me the high priestess one day, and I'll see a ghost that isn't really a ghost, but I'm not going to delve any more deeply into that, and you shouldn't worry about it either, because my authors don't want to explain it at the moment. Also, apparently vampyrism is a lot like Wicca, because the vampyres do spells and stuff, and we have circles where we invoke Nyx that involve air, earth, water, fire, and spirit, just like Wiccans. It even turns out my super power is an affinity with the elements. That makes me super special and the only fledgeling to ever have that power in the entire history of the House of Night. Hell! Now I'm an even bigger freak than I was when I was just the new kid with the filled-in tattoo.

Hmm. Maybe I should miss my family and all my friends, but I'm really too busy with my new, cool vampyre life to worry about that kind of thing. Especially since the hawt guy in the hall likes me. He walked me to my dorm a couple of times, and the last time he did it, I kissed him. Aw, hell! Now I'm a slutty girl too, because I kissed a guy in public by the door to my building. Only sluts do that kind of slutty thing. Hell!

I've given it a lot of thought and decided that besides being a slut and a hag, Aphrodite is also a mean girl, and as such, I've decided to usurp her power and take over leadership of the secret club she initiated me into, the Dark Daughters. That's what she gets for feeding me blood without my permission. She thought I wouldn't want to be in her club, so ha! the joke's on her! And it only took me 167 pages to finally grow a backbone and for my authors to get around to spicing this story up and tossing in some conflict. I'm also going to totally steal her hawt ex-boyfriend, but first I have to try to finally break up with my almost-ex-boyfriend who just won't get the message and is enthralled by me since he Imprinted on my vampyric awesomeness and I licked the blood from a scratch on his wrist. (Hell, it smelled fantastic, even if it was gross I did that and don't want to tell my friends, in case they judge me for it. Hell, hell, hell!) He's such a dork. Turns out, he was sleeping with my Very Best Friend Evar, Kayla, that mean, slutty ho. I knew I never really liked her all that much, anyway. Her or her stupid slutty camisole that looks like it shows her boobies but really doesn't. The one we call her boob shirt. I know I should say boobies, but Boobie Shirt doesn't sound as good as Boob Shirt, so that's the one concession I will make to common vulgarity. Let's all get past it, on accounta I finally get to see a kid die from not making the Change. Well, actually, I don't see him die, but I see him get really, really sick, and then later I see his ghost with glowing red eyes and a totally corporeal form that bleeds and smells really bad too, even though I thought ghosts were supposed to not have bodies OR blood, but that's life here, and anyway, I have a Club Presidency to usurp, so you're just going to have to forget all the shallow inattention to detail and blatant ripping off of Spiderman that my authors put into this thing while I go do that and then walk home afterward happy with my homies, coz that's just the way I roll, yo.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sweep: Book of Shadows

Cate Tiernan

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Tiernan's writing does not suck, and she might be able to get decent mileage out of her story, as the books are short and quick reads.
Cons: Struck me as a Harry Potter retread with an older, female heroine.

Synopsis: Morgan Rowlands finds out she's got a talent for witchcraft after superhot, supernatural Cal Blaire moves to her small, upstate NY town and starts slingin' the magic mojo around...not that anyone seems to notice or think it's weird.

My take: In a nutshell? Tiernan is lazy. She tells us how her characters feel, rather than describing their reactions and letting us see it; shrugs details off as supernatural magic mojo instead of giving any real reason for events to occur; and tends to bludgeon her readers with the Big Bat of Foreshadowing instead of dropping a subtle trail of bread crumbs leading up to the big revelation(s). Basically, the story goes a gorgeous new guy moves to town and all the girls are drawn to him. Magick, jealousy, and chick fights ensue...sort of like an episode of Dark Shadows - if Barnabus Collins were a magic-slinging high school senior. Or maybe more like The Wiccan Bachelor meets My So-Called Life...


Hi, I'm Morgan. I'm really boring and no one notices me. This is my BFF Bree. She's hot and gorgeous. That's her boyfriend Chris. Hi, Robbie, my other best friend. Oo, superhot supernatural new guy - who's he? Oooo, Cal! I dig Cal. I think he smiled at me, too, what up with that? Oo, AND we have some classes together (even though he's a senior and I'm just a junior) on accounta I'm a braniac. wOOt!

Wow, Cal is so hot he makes me nervous. All the girls in school think he's totally hot, so it's not just me. He's been dating around a lot, too, like a new girl every week. He's totally a man-ho. And what's with his necklace? It's a star with a circle around it. Even though I'm in AP classes and a braniac, I have absolutely no idea what that could possibly mean. Huh. Wait - he's invited me to a party! wOOt!

Okay, so the party is a witches' circle. Wicca? What is Wicca? Magic is spelled with a K at the end? This is really weird, but I'm goin' with it coz it's new and cool and Cal is hawt. Every time I look at him, I want to touch him or touch what he touched. But I'm totally not stalking him. It's just that, for some strange reason, I really want him, even though I don't stand a chance, on accounta how plain I am. Bree wants him too, and she broke up with Chris so she could snag Cal! Oh no! Bree always gets her man, and she runs through 'em like she's a total ho. Which of course she isn't, because she's my BFF and we totally love each other. She even said I could keep my books about Wicca at her house after my mom and dad found them and flipped out. Gee, who would have thought that devout Catholic parents might have problems accepting witchcraft as harmless? Parents are soooo unreasonable.

Okay, now I have ESP in addition to how this witchcraft thing affects me physically, and everyone keeps asking me which clan of Blood Witches I belong to, and so maybe I might be from one of the Big 7 celebrity witch families, even though my parents are devout Catholics, and my new ability to totally use the Force is freaky and scary. But also super cool, coz now I have cool new power. I think I'll work a spell on Robbie but totally not tell him what I'm doing, because I don't want anybody to know, in case I fall flat on my face. Plus, Cal might not think I'm cool if he knows I blew a simple spell. Jeez, why is Bree being such a bitch about Cal? And how come nobody in school seems to notice that Cal is totally not like everyone else? Also, skinnydipping with my tiny boobs when everyone else has totally awesome ones? I don't think so.

Sweet! The spell on Robbie totally worked. Of course, now everyone thinks I'm a freak, and Bree is really being a jealous superbitch. We're not BFF's anymore, and I am so totally going to ask for all my stuff back. Skank. If she thinks I'm not going to the Halloween circle, she's got another thing coming.

Wow, Halloween was awesome! I had yet another huge magick Wicca moment and passed out again, and ohmigod, Cal kissed me with his superhot, supernatural boy lips! Boy, I bet that really chapped Bree's ass. wOOt!

The End

Currently Reading: Marked

I'm halfway through it and still no conflict. It's like a Disneyland ride, with vampires - excuse me: vampyres - instead of adorable, fluffy bunnies. Vampire Kisses had more depth.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Snarklet: Sweep 1 - Book of Shadows

Cate Tiernan

Superhot guy meets supernot girl. Jealousy! Sacrilege! Magick with a K! The suspense is killing me. Or, you know, not.

It's just mind-boggling.

A 6-year-old Jewish girl's parents are swept up and taken to Auschwitz, so the spunky tot sets off across Europe to find them, on which odyssey, she is befriended by a pack of wolves who make her one of their own and care for her a la Mowgli in the Jungle Book; sneaks in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto - presumably as a one-woman resistance unit bringing much-needed supplies and news to the people held there; kills a German soldier singlehandedly and all on her own; and then finally, one brave and glorious day, triumphs over the evils of the Nazis and finds her way back home again. And people actually bought this tripe?

What kind of an idiot would believe that this ridiculous story was true? Srsly.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Currently Reading: Sweep, Book 1

Book of Shadows. Could go either way, book fans. Already, the obvious foreshadowing for the cheap seats in the back is coming perilously close to making me start flinging objects. It's the literary equivalent of a bad actress in a worse melodrama flinging herself back against the set as she presses the back of one hand to her forehead and announces for the umpteenth time in the worst Southern accent imaginable that she just doesn't know what she'll do if Jed doesn't come home from the war, making it totally clear old Jed will never be seen again.

Still, no spoiler comments, please!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Vampire Kisses

Ellen Schreiber

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Spunky heroine who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and be who she is, and more importantly, does not fit the norm.
Cons: Kitschy vernacular wore on my nerves and was caricatured, while some of the dialogue was downright painful.

Synopsis: 16-year-old Raven has wanted to be a vampire since she was 5. On the day she turns 16, a mysterious new family moves into the old mansion down the street - the very same "haunted" mansion that Raven snuck into back when she was 12. A rumor starts that the family are vampires, which thrills Raven, and antagonizes her archnemesis Trevor, the town superstar. It's outcast vs. hunk, with Raven's future love at stake. (stake - get it?! bygones.*)

*(i would have peppered this entry with vampire puns, but the book really burned me out on them for at least the next 100 years; all the holy water in the land couldn't make me pony up another one.)

My take: Ouch. There's good stuff for teens, and then there's everything else. Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses falls into the everything else category. About the nicest thing I can say about it is that it wasn't awful and is a quick read. Sadly, that's not saying much.

Schreiber needs to spend more time with teens (or at least with the entertainment they enjoy), and she seems to have trouble finding her voice and staying with it. After a brief and promising introduction of sorts, Vampire Kisses lapses into a too-cute-to-be-hip tale of Raven's early school years and the birth of her baby brother before switching to the present day and adopting a too-cool-for-school attitude that would work if it were actually as hip as it tries to be, but is instead very much geek trying for goth and way missing the mark. I can not imagine Schreiber was at all anything but a geek or wannabe during her teen years, as she manages to nail the nerdy aspects of her main character completely while completely missing anything even remotely cool about the self-described "Goth Girl." Her prose is so juvenile as to occasionally dip into silly, and at times the narrative is rushed, jumping from one scene or moment to the next without any connective tissue. In addition, Schreiber relies heavily on the use of "catchy" (if only) nicknames and seems to think that assigning them to things (Goth Girl, Goth Guy, Nerd Boy, Creepy Man, Monster Chick, Dullsville) makes one hip and her lingo tight. And it might, if she were a more talented writer or gifted mimic of the Joss Whedon School of Vernacular; unfortunately, their relentless cheese factor and high rate of repetition is fairly annoying, as is Schreiber's lazy use of them to establish character. Throughout her novel, Schreiber's hip shots miss their mark, calling more attention to that fact than to actually imbue the book with any semblance of teen cred, though there are stretches which did not bother me, where Schreiber seemed to forget she was supposed to be hip and cool and just wrote.

Many authors writing teen fiction seem to think they need to dumb down for their audience, and unfortunately, Schreiber seems to have fallen into that trap. Her book alternates between being right on track - when Raven schools her nemesis Trevor, for instance - and wildly missing it's mark - Raven's dinner at the mansion. Don't get me started on the romantic dialogue. I wouldn't have bought it when I was 13, let alone 16 or 17, it was so painfully wooden and obvious, and I doubt there's a vampire pun or reference Schreiber left untouched.

Vampire Kisses is book 1 in a series, and it definitely leaves the reader hanging in an attempt to lead sales for book 2. I'll pass. Schreiber would have benefitted by watching a few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before she started writing her series. Sadly, the best thing about Vampire Kisses is the synopsis on the back cover. A synopsis Schreiber clearly didn't write.