Review: Life as We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1)

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Review for "Life as We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Dumbest. Apocalypse. Ever.

I’m not a one star kinda gal unless I hated the book. Needless to say, I really really really hated this book.

First off, I love dystopian lit. This one rang a bell because it’s two of my favorite things: dystopian and YA. So I read it. And man, that’s where the problems began.

NOTE: Spoilers abound & I don’t care…

Part of the thrill of reading dystopian fiction is reveling in the fact that it COULD happen–you just never know where or when. Another part of the game is that the scenario presented has to be scientifically sound, even on a basic level. Not so with this book, because there ain’t no way in hell any of this shit in this book could actually happen. In this one, the moon is knocked off course by an asteroid (which, strangely, no one sees coming), which brings it closer to Earth. The tides fall out of whack, bringing massive tsunamis that kill most of the population in low lying and coastal areas.

Then there’s mosquitoes (huh? why?) that threaten the population with malaria, massive earthquakes around the world, and finally Yellowstone volcanoes, seemingly triggered by the gravitational chaos. There’s a little bit of ash, it’s dark early, and it’s cold out. Umm…excuse me…WHAT? A massive eruption in Yellowstone would spell death by burning ash and darkness for much of America within WEEKS. Not just a slight temperature change like it’s an early winter. And it certainly would not involve characters strolling around in their Pennsylvania hometown, going to the library and ice skating like there’s nothing going on.

And oh…the characters. Miranda is a 16-year-old high schooler whose diary makes up this book. She whines about not seeing her friends and being unable to eat as many chocolate chip cookies as she wants while the end of the world is going on. Her mother rails against the government and her daughter seeing boys. Somewhere in the middle of all the earthquakes and the electricity going out, the family still manages to send her little brother to baseball camp. Another one of Miranda’s friends is a religious psycho-nut who doesn’t want to eat because God will take care of her. As a matter of fact, nearly everyone in this book who holds Christian beliefs is portrayed as a delusional weirdo. Not that I care about the author’s personal beliefs about organized religion, but all the proselytizing didn’t help the narrative. At all.

There’s other improbable scenarios. There are no police, yet Miranda takes it on herself to wander around her hometown alone, going swimming and ice skating, seemingly unbothered. When the power comes on intermittently, the internet (somehow) works also. Services such as the post office and the library are still open, yet we’re told there is no gas. A deadly flu epidemic kills most of the people in the town and several members of Miranda’s family fall ill, but miraculously Miranda never falls sick and no one dies. When the family runs out of food at the end, Miranda spends her last bit of energy going to city hall and learning about all of the food shortages and crop failures out in the world–and then receives a bag of food that city hall has been giving out every Monday. How is this possible? If there is a shortage of crops, where does this food come from in a land of no gas?? The final abasement here is when the power comes on at the end of the book–despite the fact that we’re told most of the country is either dead and/or lying under ash.Β 

And the story just plain sucks. Page after page in the middle of the book is nothingness, just play by play details of the family’s life in their sunroom, having conversations about food and books and what not. Yawn.

Apparently there are three other books in this series, however, I won’t be reading them. I don’t recommend this, I’d stay far away from this book.

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Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Review for "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward (2017)

Rating: none

DNF, right around 54%.

I simply couldn’t get into this book. Not that it wasn’t good, or that Jesmyn Ward isn’t a sensational writer (she is), but I just don’t think that this book is quite for me at this time. I go through phases with my reading, sometimes I can endure what I’m not into and sometimes I find it so unbearable I can’t finish. This one of those times.

Despite what the reviews say, I found this to be a very depressing novel from the outset. Preteen Jojo and his sister are from an impoverished family near the Mississippi border, living with (and pardon my French) the most fucked-up parents imaginable. Michael, his father, is a former convict, and Leonie, his mother, is a drug addict who gets high on the regular and talks to her dead brother. Despite his parents’ waywardness, Jojo is a good kid who manages to take on a parental role to his sister Kayla. He is wise beyond his years in a way that a child should not have to be, which made my anger toward his parents all the more apparent. Pop, Jojo’s grandfather, is also a kind man, who seemed to add a bit of tenderness to the story.

There is a lot of magical realism in this novel (ghosts that are very much real, etc.) and even though I’ve read plenty of stories with it, I found this element to be kind of confusing. As the story went on, I felt farther and farther away from it, which is pretty much why I stopped reading it.

I see myself coming back to this book, probably in the near future. For now though, I won’t rate it, other than to say that it wasn’t quite for me.

[Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for a free digital copy of this book.]

Review: Black Mad Wheel

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Review for "Black Mad Wheel" by Josh Malerman (2017)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oooh, no. Just…no. HELL NO.

Maybe my hopes were a little too high for this one, especially after the success of Josh Malerman’s first novel, Bird Box. My reaction to this one was: WTF? And not in a good way, either.

The U.S military hires a rock band of former WWII soldiers for a top secret mission in the Namibian desert, to search for the source of a mysterious sound that incapacitates people who hear it and makes their weapons useless. The band hesitates, but finally accepts the offer to go to the desert in search of the sound after the promise of a large salary.

There are a few moments early on that manage to pull you in and give you just enough hope that this book would be creepy, much like Bird Box. But this one just ended up being weird, boring, and just plain silly. Plus, I just didn’t get it. We also see the Big Bad Guy, which is a psychological thriller no-no.

Skip this one.

Review: All the Dirty Parts

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Review for "All the Dirty Parts" by Daniel Handler (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Well, this is umm, interesting…

Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) latest novel is a look inside the mind of Cole, a teenage boy with one of the most intense obsessions with sex in the history of literature. At the beginning of the novel Cole tells us that so far he’s had sex with 11 girls and has even developed quite a reputation at his school for sleeping around. He also watches porn endlessly, masturbates, trades dirty stories with his friend Alec. Things continue in much of the same manner for the first 50-60 pages until Cole eventually meets a girl he likes, whose sexual appetite appear to closely match his. I won’t give the rest away, other than to say that I found this book really disappointing.

Of the 134 pages of this book, there is no blank space that does not focus on the character’s thoughts of sex or detail some aspect of him engaging in it. While the highly sexualized subject matter didn’t really offend me, the lack of a plot did. This novel is a stream-of-conscious, helter skelter jumble of thoughts that seemingly go nowhere. There is some vague idea of a ‘lesson’ that the main character learns in the end, though it could have been executed much, much better. In the meantime there’s nothing here that really keeps you going, other than a need to finish.

I also take issue with the description of this book by the publisher as ‘an exciting novel that looks honestly at the erotic impulses of an all too typical young man.’ OMG…there is nothing about Cole’s all consuming obsession with sex here that suggests that his behavior is ‘typical’ of a teenage boy. To me, he came off as a raging sex addict in need of some serious psychological help. While Cole’s actions and thoughts may indeed be normal teenage impulse and logic, the ways in which he used sex to act on those his emotions was not, in my opinion, ‘typical.’

This certainly is not a YA book, and some adults may question why they are reading such a pornographically detailed account of the life of a teenage boy. The whole time I’m reading this I’m wondering who the real audience of this book is. Not that it matters so much, but just a consideration. Hmm.

2 stars. Blech.

Review: The First Rule of Punk

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Review for "The First Rule of Punk" by Celia C. Perez (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved this book!

Maria Luisa (or as she wants you to call her, Malu) is a Mexican American girl who loves punk culture (zines, clothing, music). She is uprooted from her life in Florida and moves with her mother to Chicago, where she comes up against a principal and social queen who hate her punk look, her punk band, and pretty much everything about her. With the help of her dad, as well as people in her neighborhood, Malu learns to be herself and embrace the many aspects of her personality–punk, the Spanish language, and her Mexican heritage.

When people say that ‘we need diverse characters in YA literature’, this is truly it. I have read many books with punk characters as well as many books with characters of color, but never a YA book that blends it together quite like this. I also loved the inclusions of Malu’s zines all throughout the novel, which really gave it a touch of realism. I also loved the fact that I learned quite a bit about Mexican culture through reading this, without it sounding heavy-handed or preachy.

Do read this this. You’ll thank me.

Review: Eat Only When You’re Hungry

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Review for "Eat Only When You're Hungry" by Lindsay Hunter (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a short little book that packs a helluva punch. I’ve loved Lindsay Hunter ever since her first novel Ugly Girls. Her writing is concise, smart, and she’s just not afraid to go there. This book is no exception to her genius.

Eat Only When You’re Hungry is the story of Greg, a overweight, depressed, middle aged accountant, who rents an RV and travels cross country to try and find his missing drug addict son, Greg Jr (GJ). For the entire novel we’re mostly in Greg’s head, flashing back and forth between his RV trip and his earlier marriage to GJ’s mother Marie, past scenes of his son’s gradual decent into addiction, and his present stale marriage to a fellow accountant, Deb. In many ways and more, Greg is just as messed up as his son, GJ: he has an unhappy childhood and in turn is a uncommitted father to his son, a bad husband to his first wife, and is a bad husband to his current wife. He eats junk food constantly to numb his pain, or any kind of reminder of his past failures.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a short book (about 200 pages), but an absolute beast to read. I liked it, but make no mistake–this is some dismal subject matter here. Addiction is always a scary subject, and I certainly applaud Ms. Hunter for exploring it. Booze, love, control, drugs, food, sex–everybody in this story has some kind of craving for something. The words kept me going, though I can’t say that I loved my experience with this book. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and many of the character’s actions are repetitive to the point where you just want to scream “enough already!” Bad choices outweigh good ones, and the cycle of fucking up and coming back again to the same poor choice is, as you come to realize, the language of broken people who don’t realize how broken they really are. It’s also the nature of hunger, which is reflected on multiple levels in this novel–hunger for love, for attention, for a sense of belonging.

I definitely recommend this book. Great writing, deep insight. A-

Review: Today Will Be Different

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Review for "Today Will Be Different" by Maria Semple (2016)
Rating: No Rating (DNF)

DNF on page 87.

“Today will be different,” declares Eleanor Flood. She wakes up and decides to be polite: spend time with her son, have sex with her husband. Of course you know that today won’t be different, but anyway, so begins this book.

Zzzzz…

It’s interesting that even the author calls this book what it really is on page 7: “a normal day of white people problems.” It helps to know that even the author knows her character is complete bullshit: a rich doctor’s wife with too much time on her hands, grudging time with her son, her dog, her husband, pretty much everyone around her. It begins somewhat funny, but it declines into one a really bad joke. A book trying to be witty when it isn’t. Bleh.

And oh yeah, the plot is all over the place. Between learning about the main character’s long lost sister, her husband’s secret, her dysfunctional childhood, her former career as an artist–you just don’t care about what else is going to be thrown in during the course of one day in poor, rich Eleanor Flood’s life. I wouldn’t mind this clusterfuck so much if it were not for the fact that she’s not even a likable person–she’s ridiculously self absorbed, uninteresting, and obnoxious while pretending to be friends with people.

Perhaps other people find this book amusing, which is why it’s on the NYT Bestseller list. I normally don’t read books on the list though. I’d feed this book to wolves.