Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

The original title for Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything was Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. That's the title I originally saw on Goodreads and the title that initially drew me to this book. Let me tell you, if it had had the abysmal title of The Beginning of Everything from the outset, I wouldn't have even wanted to pick this up. Talk about a bland title. Even my boyfriend, who doesn't read much outside of Stephen King novels, curled his lip at that title when he saw me reading the book.

At first I thought the severed heads thing from the title was just a figure of speech; maybe a metaphor for disconnected, disaffected youth or something. But nope. In the first chapter, the MC recounts the time he and his childhood best friend rode a Disneyland roller coaster and the kid sitting in front of them stood up at an inopportune time and wound up beheaded -- with the MC's best friend holding the head in shock for the duration of the ride.

After reading that first chapter, I was like, "Sign me up, boringly titled book. You've redeemed yourself already."

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

The Beginning of Everything is peopled entirely with clich├ęs. The sad, misunderstood male MC. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl he meets and falls head over heels in love with -- BUT SHE HAS A DARK, SECRET PAST. The stereotypically quirky group of "nerds" who belong to the debate club and watch Doctor Who. The Slutty McSlutterson of a cheerleading ex-girlfriend who is villainized for her sexuality. The parents who barely make an appearance. None of these characters ever make it past that initial archetype.

I really can't believe this book. I really can't.

A couple things I can't really articulate enough to write proper paragraphs on:

--The MC, Ezra Faulkner (a very silly name), has a knee injury that shattered his athletic future... but it's never really mentioned as causing him any pain. He walks with a cane most of the time. He cannot play tennis anymore. And yet the most mention we get of how the injury -- which didn't happen very long ago -- affects his day-to-day life is maybe one or two mentions of a dull ache? Maybe one instance where he fancies walking his dog, but can't? I call bullshit. This is the kind of injury that changes your life far beyond not hanging out with your teammate friends anymore.

--The secret, hidden past of the Manic Pixie was WAY TOO EASY to guess. And I am notoriously oblivious and awful at guessing twists. The instant there was a hint of foreshadowing, I was like "Oh, obviously her mom is dead" (not a spoiler, I made that example up). And I was right. Ugh!

--I hate, hate, hate it when bad things happen to animals for no reason. This book gets a thumbs down on that count alone. Also, Ezra's dog. A Standard Poodle, so fairly big. Supposed to be sixteen years old -- which is old for a small dog! -- and still able to run and play fetch? Bullshit. No way.

Aside from the occasional spot of inspired, beautiful prose, this book was dumb.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: ARCLIGHT by Josin L. McQuein

I read this book in support of the author. She's a prominent poster on Absolute Write, and her posts often make me think and applaud. It often happens where my main interest in a book is the support of its author, not the story itself.

So that's how I came into this book. Try as I might, I'm not really a sci-fi fan. Except in my love of Star Trek. I've never really been able to develop a sci-fi passion outside of Star Trek. Probably has something to do with my parents taking one-year-old me to a Trekkie convention and meeting Jonathan Frakes (the one childhood memory I wish I could remember).

Josin L. McQuein has another book coming out this year, October's Premeditated, a contemporary revenge thriller that is more up my alley than Arclight was. So earlier this year I bought Arclight hoping it would give me a taste of the awesome to come in that book.

And yeah, Premeditated will be awesome, if Arclight has anything to show for it. Arclight itself? Well... it was awesome, too. In a sense.

This is a very unique book. It isn't your typical YA sci-fi. Hell, it isn't your typical YA. This book has more to say than any other YA sci-fi I've ever read. It isn't just a surface-deep action adventure, although there's plenty of action. This is a book that appears to be one thing, appears to show the world in one light, but the further you read, the more layers are peeled back. This is a book that speaks volumes on war and indoctrination and race relations, and how different groups can be hated -- and murdered -- just for misconceptions and lies spread by their enemies. This book is brave and scary and deep.

But this book is also unclear.

I felt that McQuein's writing could have benefitted from more tell and less show, the opposite of my prescription for most writers. Often, especially in the first half of the book, the reader is left to flounder. It's hard to ground yourself in what's happening because the prose can be so very murky. Rather than tell you that a certain character is another character's brother, four or five hints at a close relationship are dropped within a chapter and it's up to you to gather the facts and figure it out. Sometimes a hundred words are used to show you something that could have been easier summed up by a quick sentence or aside.

The Fade, the creepy-as-hell race of monsters who terrorize the humans who live in the Arclight, are amazing creatures. When we don't know much about them, they're surrounded by this awesome aura of creeptasticness. And when we do learn more about them, when the layers of the story unfold, they're revealed to be an amazingly unique race of people that I'm really impressed with McQuein for imagining. The problem lies between those two states, though. The Fade in the beginning take an awful long time to develop from scary, mysterious monsters into concrete beings that we can see and understand. Point A and Point B are great, but stringing the two together, we get confused and muddled in how we're supposed to be imagining these things.

The main character, Marina, was actually a superbly written protagonist -- blank and dull in the beginning, but there's a reason for this that makes the whole book worth it. I didn't guess the twist in this character at all (but then, I'm notoriously bad for guessing twists, so your mileage may vary here). Other characters were not so well realized, though. Tobin was a complete throw-away of a love interest. Too perfect, too loving, not really well-described enough for me to tell you anything about what he looks like or what his personality is like. And -- this was a real WTF moment for me -- in the beginning he beats a boy almost to death for insulting Marina, and... this is okay with everybody. The boy spends the rest of the book in the hospital with nary another mention, and no one EVER turns on Tobin for this or punishes him in any way. WTF?

So this book does amazingly well on a concept and philosophy level, and the science here is pretty sound, too. Scores on the clarity and characterization, though, are disappointingly low.

Will I read the sequel? Mmm... maybe.

Will I read other books by Josin? Hell yeah.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm baaaack!

Yes, you read that title right: I'm coming back to blogging.

Sort of.

Y'see, blogging tires me out. When I look at other peoples' fabulous blogs, with all those widgets and pictures and pretty things, it makes me tired and sad and like I'll never amount to anything. And trying to keep up with everyone else's super awesome memes and series... forget it. I become a quivering mass of apathy.

But I genuinely do like sharing my opinions occasionally. And I've been a lot better at actually reading books and stuff lately, and wanting to get back into reviewing.

So on this blog I will post reviews. I will post the odd writing-related thing. I will probably blog a bit during NaNoWriMo, which isn't so far away (!!!).

I will not be doing anything that makes me tired or frustrated or confused. I will not be posting pictures (that includes cover pictures of the book I'm reviewing... I hate doing that for some reason), unless I really feel I HAVE to share this picture or I'm just going to die.

So, under this new blog title (Book Rich, House Poor -- because I have a fabulous book collection but almost nothing else to my name, heehee), that's what's gonna happen. Are we excited? I'm excited :)