Review: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never heard of this book or author until I saw a preview for the movie based on the novel that will be out soon. The movie trailer intrigued me, so I searched out the book. I’m very glad I did, as it was an excellent story.

Madeline is 18 years old at the start of the story and has lived all of her life as far as she can remember in a house that protects her from the dangers of the outside world. She’s sick and exposure to almost anything could trigger a fatal reaction. Then a troubled family moves in next door and Madeline meets the boy, Olly, first through pantomimes at the windows, then through electronic messaging. Love blossoms. Madeline begins to question whether the life she has is worth living, or if risking it all for a short time with Olly is the better option.

The love story is sweet in the way young adult stories about first love typically are, but without being sickly. Madeline and Olly are well-rounded, believable characters. My favorite character, though, was the nurse, Carla. The story here is fast-paced without ever seeming to leave anything out, and the ending is a nice twist. (I’d love to go into that more, but won’t to avoid spoilers.)

I actually listened to this as an audiobook and the narration was very well done. So, whether you read it or listen to it, I highly recommend it. Check it out before the movie hits theaters. You won’t regret it.

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Review: Unteachable

Unteachable by Leah Raeder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book. The author was new to me, the “new adult” category was new to me. And the subject matter was … edgy.

Maize is an 18-year-old high school student who meets (and has sex with) an older man at a carnival. She ditches him, but guess what. Turns out he’s the new film studies teacher at her high school. So they have a real affair. Maize gets blackmailed, has a male best friend who betrays her, learns her 33-year-old boyfriend has secrets, and has to deal with her junkie mom. True love may or may not win out in the end. I’ll let you figure that one out.

I expected this to be pretty much a young adult book. Umm, no. The graphic descriptions of sex would never make it through the editor of any YA novel. I mean, there’s A LOT of sex, and not much is left to the imagination. Plus, the fact she’s banging a teacher is pretty much a YA taboo, I think.

One thing that kind of made me go back and forth on how much I liked this book was the use of language. Maize has an incredible vocabulary and can paint with metaphors and similes like the great Italian masters used paint pallets. For the daughter of a drug-addled whore going to public school and not really being academically focused, her diction and use of imagery was just a little unbelievable. But then, as a writer and English teacher, I did like it. So … yeah.

Unteachable is a good story. A little predictable, but it’s a fast ride. Probably won’t be on the shelves of too many school libraries, though.

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Where’d My Horror Go?

So, I’m currently working on a short novel (maybe novella) called A Light Beyond. I left a Western novel called Badger’s Bend to work on this one. Before that I wrote another Western novel called Orphan. And before that was a realistic — or mainstream — novel called The Teacher.

What do all these (so far unpublished) works have in common? Not a whiff of the supernatural.

For 30 years I was all about the horror genre. The movies I watched, the books I read, and almost everything I wrote had werewolves, ghosts, demons, or some trope of otherworldly origin. But I’m not feeling the need for those kinds of monsters anymore.

It’s kind of annoying. I know a lot about werewolves and demons and such. What am I supposed to do with that knowledge if I’m not writing about them? I don’t know. But instead I find myself looking more and more at the pain we cause ourselves psychologically, emotionally, and physically, and what we do to each other. A Light Beyond is really an examination of the events that led Robert, the main character, to where we find him when the story opens, beaten nearly to death in an abandoned subway.

My theory is that the tropes of horror appeal to younger people. Young people haven’t experienced enough life to see the beauty and pain in everyday things. They need to add zombies and vampires and other things that go bump in the night to make up for the lack of wisdom that comes with age and experience. It’s just a theory.

If I was to write a new horror novel today, I’m sure it would be a ghost story. Old people understand ghosts, because ghosts are often some representation of regret or past decisions. We get that. We’ve had time to really screw up our lives and have the wisdom to be able to look back and say, “Yep, right there, that’s where I went wrong. I should have done X.”

The irony here is that the last agent I had tried to get me to abandon the supernatural and write mainstream, especially mainstream young adult, and I refused, so we parted company.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve completely left the supernatural behind. I want to continue The Werewolf Saga. I wrote the first book of a YA series with ghosts and I’d like to finish that. I also want to finish a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series that features a lot of monsters. It’s all about prioritizing and finding the time for everything these days.

Review: The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels where I know I was missing something. I could see that there was something bigger going on, but couldn’t quite see the big picture. I’m sure I’m still missing a lot of it, too.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a tale told in three parts, over three different time periods beginning in the early 20th century. Tomas goes in search of a mysterious crucifix, Dr. Eusebio Lozaro is visited by his dead wife, who brings Agatha Christie novels and explains that they echo the Gospels before he does a very, very bizarre autopsy, and finally Peter, a retired Canadian senator, buys a chimpanzee in Oklahoma and goes to live in his ancestral home in the High Mountains of Portugal.

The first part of the story, with Tomas, is rather boring. He drives his uncles car, and there is a lot — I mean, A LOT — of information about the car. Most of the people he encounters in the country have never seen one, and their reactions are interesting, but seem a distraction from the story. Of course, the car turns out to be pretty important.

The part with the pathologist and the mystery novels and the autopsy was, by far, the weirdest. Honestly, it was a bit hard to swallow, unless the whole thing was a dream. Maybe it was.

My favorite part was the third, with the senator and his chimp. Peter was a very relatable character and I could appreciate his desire to get away from everything and enjoy the quiet countryside after the death of his wife.

Chimpanzees are an important symbol to the book, as all three stories feature one (or more) in some way. Relationships between fathers and sons and surrogates is also important. There’s more, and a closer second read would likely help me understand it more, but unlike Life of Pi, I don’t feel the desire yet to revisit The High Mountains of Portugal.

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Review: Hard Winter: A Western Story

Hard Winter: A Western Story
Hard Winter: A Western Story by Johnny D. Boggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Johnny D. Boggs has become my second favorite living Western author. His books are always interesting and unique, and Hard Winter was no exception. It grabbed me from the beginning and held my interest all the way through, despite not one single shootout.

The story is told by 50-year-old Jim Hawkins on a ride with his grandson to visit some old haunts from Jim’s younger days. He tells about leaving Texas after a harsh winter killed too many cattle, about coming to Montana, stringing barbed wire, avoiding a range war, and eventually facing a winter even worse than the one in Texas. It’s a story about friendship, coming of age, and life on the northern frontier.

It’s labeled as juvenile fiction, but the only place I really felt like it held back noticeably was when Jim wouldn’t tell his grandson the actual cuss words being said as events unfolded. And, like I said, there were no shootouts, no hangings, no on-screen murders, etc. It’s a good, clean story, fit for younger readers, but with plenty of meat for older folks.

I listened to this on audio and I have to say that William Roberts did an excellent job voicing Jim Hawkins.

This is a fine book by an excellent author. I definitely recommend it.

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Review: The Lonesome Gods

The Lonesome Gods
The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had the same problem with this The Lonesome Gods that I’ve had with all of Louis L’Amour’s fiction. All of his lead characters are supermen and they know it. He rhapsodizes about their abilities without ever showing how they got those abilities (other than educating themselves in various vague ways).

This is the story of Johannes Verne. His mother is dead when the story starts. He sees his father killed. His grandfather leaves Johannes to die in the California desert, but instead Johannes becomes one with the desert. Later he moves to Los Angeles, where he falls in love while various and sundry bad guys plot to kill him. Blah blah blah, he saves the girl and kills the bad guys.

L’Amour uses his position of writing in the late 20th century to “predict” things that would happen in Los Angeles after the time of the story, which I found rather annoying. He also repeats himself quite a bit, emphasizing whatever point he’s trying to make.

This review sounds pretty negative. The Lonesome Gods isn’t a bad book. It’s probably even my favorite by L’Amour. It is definitely an epic adventure and was worth the read, but it was the third L’Amour novel I’ve read this year and I’ll be taking a break from his style for a while.

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Review: The Big Sky

The Big Sky
The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. I liked the beginning with Boone dealing with his Pap and running away from home and his trouble with the law. After that, though, it was hit or miss for me. Until the ending, which just sucked.

Young Boone decides he’s not gonna let Pap hit him anymore, so he steals his old man’s rifle, takes a cooked chicken his mom gave him, and sets out for the American West. The rifle is stolen by a man he shares his camp with and later Boone finds the man and starts a fight with him to get the rifle back, but ends up in jail for attempted robbery. Once out, he gets to the Rocky Mountains and becomes a mountain man. There are some adventures, some good and some bad, and a long search for a young Indian girl he wants to marry and finally does. More bad stuff happens.

Boone isn’t a very likable character. For a while Guthrie balances this by switching the point of view to two of his companions, but that really just seems to interrupt the flow of the story, and with Dick Summers there’s just way too much introspection, bogging down the plot until you’re begging for Boone to get mad and kill somebody before you do it yourself.

Bottom line, it isn’t a bad book. But it wasn’t good enough to make me want to read the two sequels, either.

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