These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


by Stephanie Meyer
(1/5 stars)

Having just finished YA sensation "The Hunger Games" I thought I might as well check out that other recent YA sensation "Twilight" as well.  The two books are very different.  Where "The Hunger Games" has enough action to entertain male readers like me, "Twilight" is brimming with as much estrogen as any bodice-ripper on the Romance bookshelf.  It honestly has nothing to appeal to anyone with a Y chromosome.

In case you haven't heard yet, the plot involves Bella Swan moving to Forks, Washington to live with her dad.  She soon meets a boy named Edward Cullen who saves her from a car wreck and later being attacked by some thugs in a neighboring town.  There's just one problem:  Edward is a vampire.

Except in Meyer's universe vampires aren't like in "Dracula" living in coffins and whatnot.  Vampires are basically impervious superheroes.  They have super strength, super speed, and are pretty much invincible.  Even the sun doesn't hurt them.  That just makes them "sparkle" which is why they can't go out among humans where it's sunny.  Edward and his "family" in Forks are good vampires, living on animal not human blood.  Quickly Edward and Bella fall in love, blah blah blah.

Anyway, the weakest link in this book is Bella herself.  She's so [expletive] whiny!  And she has no self-esteem.  I marked a couple points on my Kindle where she's going on about what a "god" Edward is and how he's too good for her, so on and so forth.  Give me a break!  And despite a female author there seems something sexist that Bella's only skills are cooking and reading--and whining.  For some reason (because the plot calls for it) everyone at school likes her, despite that she is a bad friend, routinely bad-mouthing all of her new "friends" in her narration and ditching two of her "girlfriends" when they go to look for dresses to a dance.  Honestly, if Edward or any of the vampires had used her for a snack it would have been an improvement.

By contrast it's annoying how Edward and his family are more like the X-Men than traditional vampires.  Edward can read minds, his "sister" can see the future, a "brother" is the muscle, their "father" is the wise leader.  All they need are tights and capes.

But since this is a girl book, the vampire X-Men don't do any fighting on the pages.  The epic vampire fight at the end is completely glossed over.  Which reiterated this isn't a book for boys.

So I guess what I'm saying is you girls can keep your superhero vampires and sighing, whining "heroines."

That is all.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
(4/5 stars)

I have to admit I am not this book's target audience.  As a thirtysomething man, I'm pretty far from this book's target audience.  In fact I wouldn't have bought this except it was on sale and with the movie coming out and whatnot I decided to see what the hubbub was all about.  I was more than a little surprised to find it engrossing enough that I decided to forsake going to bed tonight to finish the last 15%.  I can't remember the last time that happened.

The story itself isn't all that new.  There's been natural disasters and wars and a fascist regime has taken over what used to be North America but is now called Panem.  There are 12 "districts" that each supply the Capitol (formerly Denver) with goods and materials.  While people in the Capitol live high off the hog, possessing technology that sometimes rivals "Star Trek," the people of the districts live in practically the Middle Ages.

In District 12 is a girl named Katniss Everdeen.  After her father died, Katniss took over raising her family--her mother and her younger sister Primrose (Prim).  The situation reminded me a lot of "Winter's Bone" and like the elder daughter in that book/movie, Katniss is the one who puts food on the table by hunting and foraging with her friend Gale.

Then along come the moment of the Hunger Games.  Each year there's a sort of gladiatorial fight between a boy and girl taken from each district.  The 24 "tributes" fight to the death and the last one standing lives a life of comfort, which reminded me of Stephen King's "The Long Walk."  When Prim is picked to go, Katniss volunteers herself instead.  (I don't consider that as a spoiler since it's in commercials for the movie...)  Katniss and a boy named Peeta are shipped off to the Capitol where they are eventually herded into "the arena," a landscape that if not artificially created is at least artificially controlled.

From there it's basically like the TV show "Survivor" mixed with Stephen King's "The Running Man" where the tributes are all trying to survive the elements while also trying to kill each other.  As a skilled hunter Katniss has an edge in that, but she's reluctant to kill human beings.

Anyway, unlike the over 5000 5-star reviewers I'm not going to gush about how amazing the book is.  It's not really.  The writing is plain and there were at least four errors I highlighted on my Kindle.  It's certainly not Hemingway or Faulkner or Proust but then again the book's audience has probably never heard of any of those gentlemen.

So really taking the book at what it is, it is an exciting story of survival and romance.  The romance is a little blah but then I'm a bitter old man (at least to the target audience) so what do I know?  Once the Games begin, it's hard not to get drawn into Katniss's struggle to survive.

One of the things that annoys me though is that she gets a lot of help in this.  It reminded me of Perseus (the guy in "Clash of the Titans" for all you kids), who was given all this stuff by the gods:  a magic sword, a shield, a helmet, a Pegasus.  For Katniss it was more down-to-earth things like medicine and food, but still there was always someone to bail her out.  It devalues her struggle a little when she has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Also Katniss seemed a little dense at times, especially regarding Peeta.  I suppose you could chalk it up to her lifestyle in District 12, but really it was pretty obvious what was going on with Peeta.  Why was she the last one to see it?

Anyway, I'm not sure what the sequels are about and I don't really care.  Maybe they explain why that pin the mayor's daughter gave her was so important?  I thought it must be some talisman for certain rebellious elements, but nothing really happens with it in this book.

Still, even for this bitter old man it wasn't a bad read.

That is all.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

the After

The After
by Briane Pagel
(5/5 stars)

It's often said in writing that the details are everything.  In this case I think the details were what drew me in.  The way the author portrays the family as they're getting ready for their trip to Florida is just like how my family used to be:  the mom (Saorise) is frantic while her husband Ansel is cooler about it and the kids--Stephanie, Austin, and Chuck--are squabbling and creating various nuisances, just like me and my three siblings.  And then after the plane crashes (or does it?) and Saorise is back home, I loved how she figures out she's in the afterlife by the fact her kids are all getting along at dinner for once.

I also love the primary idea of the book that an afterlife where everything is perfect would really suck.  A similar conceit was used in an old "Twilight Zone" episode where a criminal dies and goes to the afterlife, where he can have all the booze and babes he wants, plus always wins at poker and blackjack.  Then he realizes that getting everything you want and winning all the time is really boring.  (Then comes my favorite part where he tells the angel, "I want to go to the other place."  And the angel tells him, "This is the other place!" Bwahahahahahaha!)  If you haven't seen that then just think of the old Simpsons episode where Homer becomes head of the Stonecutters secret society and soon finds that getting what you want all the time is really boring.

So I love it when Saorise decides, "Screw this place, I want to go home!"  Because you know how they say you couldn't know what good was without evil, by the same token you can't really appreciate the wonderful stuff in life without some of the drudgery.  Since pretty much all of us here are writers, think of it this way:  what if everything you wrote was hailed as genius?  I mean not just a novel or poem, but even your shopping list?  It would get really boring.  What would be the point in trying to write anything if it would be praised no matter what you did?

By the same token, all the whining your kids do makes it more special when they make you a special gift for Mother's Day/Father's Day or snuggle up in your lap when you aren't feeling good.  The struggles are often what make life rewarding and worth living.  (Look what happens to people like Paris Hilton who've gotten whatever they've wanted their whole lives; they're just spoiled, worthless excuses for human beings.)

In my basic review of the After I compared it to The Lovely Bones, which was one of the last books I'd read (one of the only ones other than the Bible) dealing with the afterlife.  No question to me that the After kicks The Lovely Bones's ass in terms of contemplating the afterlife.  I mean the afterlife scenes in that book were so trite and saccharine.  Oooh, my heaven is high school and my face is on all the fashion magazines and here's my dead grandpa and dead puppy...puh-lease.  I got to the point where I just started flipping through those.  Whereas in the After it's a more thoughtful look at what makes us happy.  Maybe that is sitting around high school reading Teen People with your dead puppy.  Chances are that would get pretty boring after a while.  For a lot of us maybe that is just going through our daily lives, the good and bad of it.  Maybe you don't need to climb Mt. Everest so much as just to go about your normal routine and at the end of the day have someone waiting for you to watch TV with.

The good thing about the After is that all this philosophical stuff is woven into a good mystery story.  Saorise doesn't just sit there gazing at her navel; she goes out and explores the After (often unwittingly).  There are a lot of questions raised like what is the After? can you leave? and why the hell is William Howard Taft (a former president in the 1910s in case you come from America's dreadful public school system and never learned that) following Saorise around?

So to summarize, the After is a remarkable book because it takes on big philosophical issues without falling back on lame cliches of clouds and people playing harps and whatnot while the attention to detail to the characters and settings help keep the story humming along.  (And no one gets chopped into bits and shoved into a safe, which is always a bonus.)

That is all.