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.