Book Review: Grave Beginnings by R.R. Virdi

4.5/5 stars

This indie book was a fantastic read.  It opens with a man trying to claw his way out of the shallow grave he’s been buried in – or the body he now inhabits was buried in – and trying to determine his identity.  I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t be able to keep reading?

Set in New York City, the story follows a soul who calls himself Vincent Graves.  Vincent is shuttled between bodies periodically, forced to determine the cause of their supernatural deaths and take care of the creature responsible.  Why?  Who knows.  Vincent can’t remember who he is or even what his real name is, but the powers that be promise the information when he’s earned it.  In the meantime, he solves paranormal mysteries under a time limit – for Grave Beginnings, he has thirteen hours to find out who and why and figure out a way to kill the creature responsible.

What I loved most about this book was the characters.  Vincent is a very real, very three-dimensional person who leaps off the page with his ego, his sharp wit, his determination, and his resolve to do what needs to be done.  The other characters, even those you only see for a page or two, are also very real and unique without resorting to being cliched or trope-y.  I feel like these are characters I can learn to obsessively love over the course of a series.

I also have to give props to Virdi for uniqueness.  For spoilers’ sake, I won’t say who/what Vincent has to kill, but it’s not a creature you see regularly in supernatural/paranormal novels.  I love dragons, werewolves, vampires, demons, and ghosts as much as the next person, but when those are the only monsters we ever get to read about, they can get old quick.  Virdi gets props for going with a lesser-known monster and also describing it with a lot of terrifyingly beautiful imagery.

So…why the half star taken off?

Grammar.  I feel like this could have gone through one last proofread/line edit before publication.  There were no grammar issues that impeded understanding, but they were noticeable.  Little things like commas where there should have been semicolons, redundant phrasing, etc.  Small, so only the half star taken off.

Overall, though, I really liked it.  I don’t feel like I wasted my money buying it and I’ve already added book #2, Grave Measures, to my Books-A-Million wishlist (my husband put me on a book-buying freeze until I finish the 6+ I have on my shelf waiting to be read 😦 ).  If you like monsters and sarcasm, you won’t be disappointed with Grave Beginnings.

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Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

4/5 stars

I really, really enjoyed this book.  It took me a while to plow through (the paperback version clocks in at a whopping 1,080 pages, plus a foreword and afterword) but it was definitely worth it.  The only other Stephen King novel I’ve read so far is Carrie, so it was very interesting to see his evolution as a storyteller going from a fairly short novel about a troubled, telekinetic teen girl, written in 3rd person with epistolary elements, to a massive tome about a 30-something divorcee who time-travels to stop JFK’s assassination.  Despite their differences in subject matter and overall tone, there are still the elements I’ve learned to really like about King’s writing – sharp wit, strong insight into human nature, realistic characters, and supernatural/science fiction/paranormal elements that blend seamlessly into the narrative of normal people leading normal lives.

That said, in my opinion, it was just a tad too long.  Out of the 1,080 pages I read, I would say about 150-200 of them were unnecessary.  The bits about the swing-dancing teens in Derry, the references to It (I guess when you’re as famous as Stephen King, you can allude to your own work and get away with it, but still), some of the details about the Templeton family, and so on – while interesting and well-written, I don’t feel like they really added that much to the overall story arc of Jake Epping trying to change the past.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to just about any reader.  Sci-fi fans, paranormal/supernatural fans, history buffs, and just about anyone should really enjoy 11/22/63.  The ending was amazing (and amazingly heart-breaking) and I’m looking forward to hitting Books-A-Million soon to grab some more of King’s books.

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

3/5 stars.

Disclaimer: I am not a huge sci-fi fan.  It’s just not something that tends to appeal to me, though there are exceptions, with Star Trek: Next Generation being the biggest.  That said, I did enjoy The 5th Wave enough to recommend it to people who do like science fiction.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book.  I didn’t mind spending money on it.  I plan to read the rest of the trilogy because I want to find out what happens.

So, I knocked off two stars because of the way it’s written.  It jumps back and forth between points of view, Cassie and Ben, and it can get a bit confusing because this happens at least a dozen times.  It’s difficult to keep the story line straight when things change so often.  There were parts in the action scenes where time seemed to skip, or things weren’t clearly explained so I wasn’t 100% certain what was going on.  I see that a lot in action scenes, where bullets are flying and things are exploding and you’ve got a lot of detail to cram into a short space and make it seem real.  It’s a tough trick to pull off, and while the book was good overall, I don’t think Yancey quite pulled that off.

But, I am looking forward to starting book #2 in the series, so definitely go out and buy The 5th Wave if you enjoy sci-fi, aliens, dystopian fiction, or all of the above.

5 Books I Totally Hated (and Why)

The Twilight Series

People fall into one of two categories where these are concerned — they love it or they hate it.  Obviously, I hated it.

And not (just) why you might think.  Stephenie Meyer can form a sentence.  She can construct a plot.  My problem is that she took the MOST boring characters and the MOST boring plot and made them her focus.  Jasper took part in 1800s vampire turf wars.  Alice was deemed crazy and kept in a dark isolation room most of her life.  Carlisle was a preacher’s son who managed to completely tame his bloodlust after being bitten (because he’s just that awesome, not that he has some dumb power like Bella).  Rosalie was raped, beaten, and left to die by her fiance and his friends, but got her revenge Kill Bill-style after she turned.  Why can’t I read about that instead of the cheesy Harlequin romance that drags on 100 times longer than every other Harlequin?

And on the subject of characters, Edward is completely unrealistic.  “Oh, he actually acted like a vampire and killed people to drink their blood, but it’s okay, because he only killed bad people.”  Who is he, Dexter Morgan (and even he has made mistakes)?  And he’s a virgin after more than 100 years…yeah…

Emma

I feel like a traitor for hating this book since I love Jane Austen’s other books, but, to me, Emma was just a flop.  The titular character was whiny, annoying, egotistical, and completely oblivious to the facts.  I understand that this was kind of the point and she supposedly learned a lesson, but I couldn’t get past her flaws to find a trait that I liked or could even connect with.  My motivation to read it after that was based purely on the fact that I had to write a paper about it.

Mockingjay (SPOILERS)

Although the story of the Hunger Games trilogy was decent, I think that the actual execution fell flat.  It’s kind of the opposite of the Twilight series.  They seemed to get gradually worse, making the final installment the real disappointment.

Mockingjay and its predecessors suffer from the same problem as so many other YA novels — overly simplistic writing.  Obviously, you need to be on your reader’s level, but I’ve seen third grade chapter books with better sentence construction.  When your sentences are so basic that they sound contrived, it’s disappointing.  And when your descriptions are so jumbled and unclear that a college-educated writer can’t make sense of what’s going on, you have a problem.

The final issue I had with Mockingjay was that it tried to do too much.  The story against the Capitol was enough — don’t try to splice in issues with the government of District 13 along with it unless you’re going to set that up a little earlier.  Obviously, no government is going to be perfect and you can point that out, but if it’s so bad that the main character feels the need to assassinate the President to prevent her from taking power, then it needs to be a part of the larger story arc.  Otherwise, just focus on Snow’s evil, the decadence of the Capitol, the tragic bombings of the other districts, and the torture/brainwashing Peeta suffered.

And for the love of God, DON’T EXPLAIN YOUR METAPHORS.  Yes, Katniss is the cat with the red dot, going crazy for what’s dangled over her…but no person is quite that poetically self-aware.

Frankenstein

Pretentious.  Long-winded.  A total guilt-trip.  Excessively dramatic.  Confusingly written (a story within another narrative written down in a letter some third person is reading…?).

Madame Bovary

I had the same problem with Madame Bovary as I did with Emma.  The title character was so whiny and downright stupid that I was unable to connect with her.  I couldn’t even make a connection to the story because all the characters were either oblivious retards, simpleton peasants with no personalities, arrogant aristocrats, or user douchebags exploiting a weak-minded woman.  And unless you have some in-depth knowledge of French culture during the time period the books take place, a lot of the references that supposedly characterize Madame Bovary will just go right over your head (I certainly didn’t know that at the time, opera was considered plebeian entertainment on par with modern WWE).

 

Want to know about some books I really liked?  Try these past posts:

Reviewing Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Terry Brooks: Sometimes the Magic Works

Read a Banned Book!

Reviewing Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

First, a disclaimer: This is the third of Morrison’s books that I’ve read, and I am honestly unsure if she’s capable of writing a bad book.

A Mercy is slightly different from her other books in that it doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on the black experience. Instead, it is more about the disenfranchised in general — particularly women. A white European wife, the daughter of a black slave woman, an Indian woman, and one young girl of unknown race are the main characters — defined by men, by religious turmoil, by greed, and by the harshness of living in the New World. Some triumph, some abide, some turn into monsters. It’s a beautiful set of stories, heartbreaking and freeing all at once.

My only complaint is less of a complaint and more of a preference. The structure of the stories (non-linear) gives away some of the suspense. But perhaps the story was less about the stories and more about the feelings — little events that cause huge repercussions over time and and through separation.

No matter what sort of books you usually read, put A Mercy in your “to read” pile. Now. It’s amazing, moving, and even short enough to finish while you’re waiting in airports this summer.

Writing is Life — A Review of “Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons From a Writing Life” by Terry Brooks

So, on my hiatus from blogging (sorry!), I sat down and reread Terry Brooks’ Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons From a Writing Life.  This book is an awesome memoir/writing manual by a fantasy writing giant, the author of multiple bestsellers and the Shannara series.  It’s an excellent read that I recommend to any writer, whether you’re a fantasy lover or not.

What makes Sometimes the Magic Works such a great book is that Brooks is able to so wonderfully capture the writing life in all its complexity — the joy, the frustration, the back-breaking work, the odd moments, and the rewards of being a writer.  He sugar-coats nothing, but still manages to remind you how much the difficulties of being a writer, whether a hobbyist or a professional, are still worth it at the end of the day.

If you do not love what you do, if you are not appropriately grateful for the chance to create something magical each time you sit down at the computer or with pencil and paper in hand, somewhere along the way, your writing will betray you.

How true is that?  How much are we writers actually defined by what we do, shaped by a compulsion, as Brooks puts it, to put words together and create something meaningful?

Brooks doesn’t just wax poetic on the life of a writer, however.  He also includes a slew of practical information about publishing, as well as the craft of writing (he’s an outliner like myself!) and the necessity of staying in a state of child-like imagining no matter how old we get.

Probably best of all, Brooks has great wit and managed to make me laugh even when I didn’t expect to:

…My friends and family like me well enough, but they think I am weird.  Or at least peculiar.  I can’t blame them.  I should have grown up a long time ago, and yet here I am, writing about elves and magic…Readers used to ask me at autographing events if it wasn’t hard to making the transition from practicing law to writing fantasy.  I told them there was hardly any difference at all.

I am not a big fan of writing manuals — I personally despise most of the writing advice Stephen King has ever given (gasp, I know).   However, this “manual” is short, simple, and to the point, teaching me without having let me realize I was learning anything.

Go out and get a copy soon.  In the meantime, check out these other great resources:

The Wondrous Worlds of Terry Brooks

An Interview With Terry Brooks (B&N Studio)

Fantasy Writing @ Yahoo! Groups

Patricia C. Wrede’s Worldbuilder Questions (scroll down for index)