April 30, 2015

4/22/15 - A Book Based On Its Cover

I'm using up all of my "get out of limbo free" cards, but this one was definitely worth more than the last one!

Girls Like Us was more of a wild card than Guy In Real Life. The cover isn't that descriptive, and neither is the title. I'm still trying to figure out why I picked it up. Maybe because it was small.

It is a short, tidy little book that I read in a little over an hour, all told. It is not a tidy story, as I found out, and as you can find out with a quick glance at its Goodreads description.

Quincy and Biddy are both graduates of their high school’s special ed program, but they couldn’t be more different: suspicious Quincy faces the world with her fists up, while gentle Biddy is frightened to step outside her front door. When they’re thrown together as roommates in their first "real world" apartment, it initially seems to be an uneasy fit. But as Biddy’s past resurfaces and Quincy faces a harrowing experience that no one should have to go through alone, the two of them realize that they might have more in common than they thought — and more important, that they might be able to help each other move forward.

I've never had experience with the kind of situation that Giles describes from the perspectives of Biddy and Quincy, and I don't know of any first- or secondhand knowledge that Giles might have, so I don't know how much justice she does to this kind of story. But from a purely storytelling perspective, Giles does not do too badly. There's an interesting tension between the two leads, and there are enough divergences from cliche that made me keep reading when I might have gotten bored instead. There are plenty of conversations that highlight all sorts of social issues - race, class, education, even a couple gender conversations. Nothing felt overly heavy-handed (a little bit, but not overly), and the characters are well-drawn enough to make the conversations unbiased.

What isn't balanced or well-drawn is Giles's attempts at writing voice. As other reviewers have noted, Biddy and Quincy have almost exactly the same voice, especially at the beginning, when readers have to distinguish two first-person perspectives right off the bat. It's not just that they have the same sort of thoughts, it's that they have almost the same accents. Maybe that's how it works in Texas, but it seems unlikely. It's jarring sometimes and I often had to check back to chapter headings multiple times to remember who was talking.

Another warning: there are pretty intense and explicit descriptions of and conversations about rape/sexual abuse. Seriously. Young readers and people sensitive to this should probably not read Girls Like Us.

Flaws taken into account, I did enjoy Girls Like Us. It was, for all its bleak situations and character development, an oddly charming little story about three women coming together as the kind of family they need. I do recommend it, with significant reservations.

4/15/15 - An Author I've Never Read

Let's do the catch-up game one more time...

One admission out of the way: I am not a gamer. I am also not a not-gamer. I like games like some people like The Golden Girls. They're fun and have a limitless short-time obsession factor, but I'm not selling my soul to them, nor am I going to spend a lot of time on them after a month or two. Or money.

So this was a bit out of my range of experience. These aren't even my kinds of games - I'm an uber-lite gameplayer, along the lines of Zelda and Sonic. I've never played an MMORPG (unless DragonFable counts?) and I've always been terrified at the idea of participating in a game like D&D - too much passion and movement, too few guidelines. I like Mario Kart, where you have a designated track which you have to make your way around a set amount of times with what comes down ultimately as the most superior sense of efficiency. It's great. But I digress.

Actually, that's a sign. I'm way more into talking about how Mario Kart is exactly my type of game than I'm into talking about the book I'm supposed to be reviewing. It's not that Guy In Real Life is a bad book, per se. It's just... not a good one, either.

It's the classic story of "a guy and a girl from two very different lifestyles have a meet-cute(-but-awkward-too) and then end up falling in love through various quirky incidents that shift up and down the scale of believability." It's so classic that I was bored. It's a constant set-up of "obstacle - obstacle hurdled" repeated until the book ends, with a bizarre obstacle that was basically every 90s/early 2000s parent's worst chatroom nightmare.

Boy has a weird, not-very-friendly friend who's super into something the way Boy is into Girl? Check. Girl has a cast of cardboard, often pointless friends who don't like Boy? Check. Girl has another suitor who goes toe-to-toe with Boy? Check. It's all so generic. While Svetlana did have something of a unique voice, she came off a lot as obnoxious rather than individualistic, and I don't even know what was going on with Lesh.

I'm bored just talking about it. It's not as much rage-fuel as a John Green book but that just makes it drab to talk about. Two stars, find some other, actually quirky contemporary teen romance.

April 8, 2015

4/8/15 - A Memoir

This review is actually for last week's book, which I didn't get to because of extenuating circumstances. And that's my excuse for not having a review for this week - homework. Forgive me. Just when I was caught up, right? Oh, well. Summer break is coming.

But last week, I was successful, with both completing the book and enjoying it. Behold: my review of the inimitable Stephen King's On Writing.

Before I dive into the review, I should admit that I have only read one piece of King fiction before, and that's not even one of his horror ones: it was The Dark Tower, which I enjoyed greatly despite being really confused. I've read more Stephen Lawhead than Stephen King - perhaps a crime, perhaps not.

But I am a huge fan of King himself, and his attitude towards writing. He's hilarious, for one thing - don't let the horror thing scare you away. He's a witty guy. I had to put the book down a couple times to laugh (the poison ivy, oh my gosh).

But more than that, he's experienced. He's got a lot of disappointment and success and years under his belt. It doesn't matter that I don't gel with 100% of his opinions on writing and the writing process; I still have to respect them, because he has for sure been doing something right. He doesn't command respect, but you can't help but give it to him, reading this book.
He's also genuine. Any writer that doesn't let you in on the hardships that come with fiction-writing are selling you something, and King never does this. He's truthful, and his transparency makes this easy to read, both physically and spiritually, if that makes sense.

If you're a writer, please read this (unless language really bothers you/would distract from his message). Just to know the experiences of an author who's more experienced than 95% of us writers-to-be ever will. And if you're not a writer, why not read it anyway? It's relatively brief, and if you want some King context, it'll be fun. I don't know any reason (besides the language, for my more sensitive audiences) why I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.