Monday, December 30, 2013

Vicious by V.E. Schwab. A Book Review By Panda

This was A VERY GOOD BOOK. My grade for it is 9/10. 90%. A.

It was good; it could have been better. Let me break it down for you:

This book was like a text version of a comic book. It was wonderful. I enjoyed every second of it. It is a gritty story and worth the new-price I paid for it. You need to know that it reads like a comic book world going in. It will make more sense if you digest it that way. Don’t think of it as exactly our world.

I would classify this book as a New Adult book. I know there is a lot of bitching from the publishing industry saying that NA can only be about Romance and directed at girls about 17-20somethings. But they are wrong. This is a New Adult book. Not for teens. Not necessarily for adults. It is about two college-aged boys (who do grow up later on in the story, but the focus is on new adults, really). This is what the industry should be backing when they talk about New Adult. Books like this. A book that uses the f-bomb and deals with mature content YET ISN’T ABOUT SEX – a book teens would like but one that college-goers would MOST IDENTIFY WITH. The target gender of this book could go either way – boy or girl. The main characters are two boys, yet there are two very interesting female characters.

I would summarize the book like this: Two college boys – Victor and Eli – figure out what it takes to give a human superpowers: near death experiences. They both (basically) commit suicide with the other person around so that they can be resuscitated and have powers. They are, essentially, superhumans – what Schwab calls “ExtraOrdinaries.” The second half of the book is actually better than the first. The first is a bit hard to accept because the way Schwab explains the boys’ interest in EOs is not necessarily logical. But, you know, it’s that whole comic book as a novel thing. Also, another problem with the first half is that Eli is a religious nut that later wants to kill all EOs because he thinks God wants him too.

This brings me to how the book could have been better. Eli thinks that because his power is one that keeps him immortal (and ageless) – an introverted power – that god is OK with him being an EO. See, before he committed quasi-suicide he asked God to, I guess, “bless” what he’s about to do. But then when Victor accidentally kills his girlfriend when he is going through his own EO change he suddenly thinks all EOs need to die – and that God wants it that way. This is what I had the biggest problem with. The story could have been better if, for example, Eli had the conception of “God creates monsters to kill monsters.” Because then Eli’s personal perception of himself would have been more logical; his vendetta against EOs would have made more sense. But that’s not what you get from the novel.

Really, he has no reason to hate EOs. He only has a reason to hate Victor – the one person who killed his girlfriend. If Schwab wanted me to feel sorry for Eli/to sympathize with Eli (which would have made for a better book, because who doesn’t love feeling sorry for the villains) then she should have made his reasoning better. He really just came off as a psycho nut job, which didn’t give Victor someone really cool to fight against (not that he doesn’t have someone cool to fight in the book – the character Serena is amazing. I love her. She’s perfect in every structural way, but she rests on the shoulders of Eli who just is NOT strong as a foundational character). It is because of Eli’s poor character development that the whole book barely makes it to my A grade status. But thankfully, Schwab really pulls it together in the end. Victor is a redeemable character, but there are no real good guys. Exactly what I like in a novel!

The lowdown: Though this is an A book and worth the read, I’m debating on whether or not it changed my life. I will definitely read the sequel if there is one (please let there be one!).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker, a book review by Panda

Apologies this review is late [it was really posted in December but the date is changed so that it will be organized under November]. I promise you I really did read this on time!

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker, a book review.

I had really high hopes for this book. It was probably my most anticipated read of the year, but it let me down. This review will contain spoilers.

The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant story – 1890s, respectively. A golem woman is made for a wifeless man by this creepy dude (a mystic ex-rabbi, if I remember correctly) and as her master takes her across the ocean he conveniently dies, leaving the golem masterless. The golem is quickly found by a nice rabbi who teaches her all the ways of humans (i.e. how to blend in). He conveniently dies later on as well, but thankfully only after he gets her a job somewhere.

But on to the Jinni. He is discovered/released by a metalworker fixing a flask. The jinni becomes the tinsmith’s apprentice because he can mould metal in his hands like putty. But this is not entirely a perfect arrangement. The jinni is trapped in human form and becomes restless with humankind. He meets a girl named Sophia and ends up having sex with her. I hated that part because it was just thrown in there. It was only to show that he wanted sex and would throw her away once he got bored with her. But I really didn’t understand why he would want sex with a human in the first place. (For example, he never has sex with the girl that gets him trapped in the flask in the first place – at least I don’t think so. He only wants to talk to her).

Sophia as a character could have been cut entirely because her role is useless despite the fact that Wrecker brings her back later on in the end to ‘save the day’ by inviting everyone to rest up at her house (after the Jinni tries to kill himself when he finds out his fate is tied to THE BAD GUY). It was an awkward non-twist.

The Jinni eventually meets the Golem about town. He and the golem decide to take walks each night because she is the only thing interesting to him and she doesn’t have anything else to do because she doesn’t sleep.

The Golem and the Jinni do not fit in well. The Jinni’s made up back story makes people suspicious and his temper gets him in trouble a lot. The Golem, since becoming masterless, can feel other peoples’ wants and desires and can therefore (basically) read their mind. She almost gives herself away a couple of times. They were very well-drawn characters and I fell in love with them. The Jinni is entertaining in everything he does – from the way he handles his cigarette to his flashbacks about how he came to be trapped in the first place (semi-spoilers: he makes a human girl fall in love with him and as he messes with her dreams he literally causes her to go mad – but not that he wanted that result, of course). And the Golem’s day-to-day experiences broke my heart. She could not sleep so she would take her clothes apart and then stitch them back together. She would play with her clay body – hedgehogging her arm by sticking pins in it just to see what would happen. I loved getting to know the characters more than the actual story.

Because then the story starts to lose its appeal. Wrecker introduces a quasi-handicap man who sells ice cream. He is an ex-doctor who is possessed by a demon and cannot look directly into peoples’ faces without seeing an empty void which scares him. His prestigious life had fallen apart because of it and so went to America to die. But he discovers that he can look at the Jinni’s face without being scared shitless and so follows him around. This ice cream man, Mahmoud Saleh, seemed like a sad ploy to introduce the three major Western religions. Because, well, he had a Muslim background. Let me explain: The Jinni is taken in by Syrian Christians. The Golem, of course, is Jewish. Of course we need a Muslim to complete the holy trinity here. UGH.

The ice cream man will later come back and save the day, but in reality his part could have been cut from the entire novel without making much of a dent. Saleh is not introduced until half the book is over. If Wrecker really wanted to make me care about him dying in the end then she would have called this book, The Golem, the Jinni, and the Demon-possessed. But she didn’t.  

Then, the Golem’s maker comes to America on a whim (on his search for immortality – which isn’t apparent until later on). The reader isn’t sure what drives him to come to the U.S. and neither is he. And of course he eventually finds his creation, but not before he charms his way into the heart of the Jewish community. At the beginning of the novel he’s really just this interesting (albeit sinister) magician-guy who is willing to make a Golem (for a price, of course). But then we are suddenly supposed to think of him as evil and it just doesn’t work. At the end, we find out that he’s the dude that trapped the jinni so long ago…but not exactly. He’s the reincarnated guy who originally trapped the jinni. Which made things a little confusing.

The reincarnation thing seemed a little far-fetched in the book because it was just thrown out there. There was nothing for the reader to have seen it coming and so it felt like cheating. The Golem-maker, Schaalman, apparently wanted to trap a jinni so he could command it and the curse somewhat backfired making him have to reincarnate himself as long as the jinni was alive.  

The Golem allows herself to be bound to Schaalman, her maker, which I found really stupid. At least plot-wise. I get that she is desperate to have a master, but she could have let ANYONE else be her master. She was suddenly very stupid to think Schaalman was the answer – especially since she had been contemplating destroying herself before (THAT would be the better answer).

But the issues continue: Instead of trapping the Jinni in the bottle, Saleh (the ice cream man) traps Schaalman. So, Schaalman cannot cause more trouble OR be reincarnated. YAY. But then again, he’s not dead. This is where things don’t make sense. Because, suddenly the Golem is herself (as if masterless) once more. But Schaalman is not dead. Her previous master had to die for her to be free. And even if Schaalman DID die, wouldn’t she still be bound to him because, oh I don’t know, he’d technically be reincarnated instantly and therefore she’d still be bound to him no matter what body he was in??????


This is why the book failed. Every qualm I had with it could have been overlooked if only the story had been properly thought out. It had so much potential. But it was wasted on this one overlooked plot point. It could have simply been fixed if the Golem hadn’t suddenly turned stupid and allowed her maker to become her master. It was so out of character in the first damn place. Honestly.

Other cons about the book: 100 pages into the novel, you are left wondering what the plot is. At first you think it could turn into a love story. But it doesn’t. It simply tries to be a statement on free will. Other reviews will also tell you this. But it is not so much a story about free will as it is about Freedom itself. Both characters have free will but very little freedom. I think this is a difference. If the story is about free will, then there are not many moral dilemmas faced. Though there was one: the Golem eventually marries a man because she is afraid to not serve someone. The human ends up being an asshole who didn’t deserve her, but I didn’t really see anything wrong with how the humans faired in all this. And it’s not like I could have identified with the Golem or the Jinni. Thus, my point is, all the free will issues addressed (if you can even call them free will issues) weren’t really that important. At best the Golem and Jinni’s journey is an example of outsiders’ perspectives looking in.  Humans are strange things. That is the only message you can get from this story, if you care to get one at all.  

Also, there is a side-story about a girl the Golem works with who gets pregnant. That whole bit could have been cut from the book. The only thing that you get out of it was that the Golem beats up the girl’s boyfriend when he won’t admit that he got the girl pregnant/marry her. The girl become fearful of the Golem yet is willing to help the Golem later on and it just didn’t make sense.

The book could have been cut in half. Wrecker knows how to set up a story, but not to follow through. She is good at beginnings but not middle and ends. She is very good a writing at the sentence level, though her thematic elements are little above average.

I also take issue with the fact that a 500-paged book was published as first novel and that Wrecker apparently had an agent for this book before it was finished (Sam Stoloff apparently “encouraged [her] to write this novel almost from its conception”), leading me to suspect nepotism. Also, my copy says the LC in-publication-data has been applied for, making me think this was a rush job. Maybe they shouldn’t have rushed through it, obviously.

Pros about the book: It was one of the better books of 2013 and was a literary historical ADULT fantasy. You don’t get a book like this every day. I’m proud of the publishing industry to produce a book like this. It was like looking at an Edmund Dulac piece. I just wish it had been thought through. Also, it is pretty open to a sequel and I wouldn’t be surprised if another one was made. Maybe there is a chance my cons with the book will be addressed. Also, this would make an excellent movie – especially if they reworked the plot.

Overall grade: 83%. (B-)


The Coldest Girl in Cold Town by Holly Black


You might remember us mentioning that we will be doing things differently this year. Instead of reading the same book, we will instead be reading the same genre for any given month.

This month, we are reading and reviewing fantasy.

Personally, I went with YA this time around and read "The Coldest Girl In Coldtown" by Holly Black. I haven't read anything by her since I was about 14, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Overall impression: it wasn't bad.

This is a vampire book, but it's really not your normal, every day vampires, which I thought was great. Vampires are so over done, they can get boring and cliche. As we all know. Black presents vampirism as more of a disease than anything else - really, it reminded me of zombies.

For example, if a victim if bitten by a vampire, he or she becomes infected. If they consume blood from a human, they turn into a vampire. If, however, they are kept from tasting the blood of a live human for 88 weeks, then they are cured and can return to their normal life. Black put another interested spin on the situation by creating these sort of hybrids if you will: an infected human who feeds from vampire blood. It doesn't turn therm into vampires, but it kills the craving for a while, and it makes them a little more than human. This isn't the first time I've read about this, and when I wrote my own vampire novel in my teens I used a similar scenario. But, you don't see it often, so I liked that.

As always, vampires were sexualized, but not in the normal way. In many vampire novels, such as "Twilight" being fed upon by a vampire is painful. Black, however, turned it into an almost erotic experience a la Ann Rice, especially if the human is simultaneously feeding on a vampire. (There is a very nice scene near the end of the book depicting just that, by the way.) Because all the vampires and infected people are required to live in segregated areas called "coldtowns", they really have to find a way to entertain themselves. In the coldtown the book takes place in, the entertainment is mainly partying, but amped up by lots of blood play, feeding, and desperate humans trying to seduce vampires into changing them. This scenario, when stated bluntly, had the potential to sound boring or over-hyped, but it wasn't presented that way. Black managed to make it seem like this would be an understandably desirable lifestyle.

Immortality and a never ending party with people offering their blood to you on a silver plate? Sure, why not.
Holly Black has the ability to write very beautifully. Sometimes this can be her downfall. Take the beginning, for example. What should be a rather fast paced, horrifying scene is over analyzed and over literaturized (this is YA, let's remember). I almost didn't want to go on.

The characters, unfortunately, fell rather flat. For example, our heroins ex boyfriend is the typical High School punk. He is presented wearing converse, a checkered belt, and a band shirt. He is also bisexual. How on trend. He is a really awful person, which makes him interesting, until he turns into a vampire and is suddenly a good and boring person. Tana is, for the most part, your typical heroin. She never flinches in the face of danger. The closest she comes to wavering is thinking "I don't want to do this, so now I am really going to do this". Nobody is as selfless and brave as she is. No one. Except Frodo.

The one exception as far as interesting characters goes is the vampire Gavriel, who is very strong and very crazy. He becomes good friends with Tana, and their whole relationship, not to mention Gavriel in general, is very fascinating. His story would have made for a more interesting novel, really.

Despite the character flaws, the novel itself was very interesting. It held my attention and was finished within 24 hours. Don't expect it to change your life, but do read it if you are looking for entertainment.

I give it 7.5 out out of 10.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

As you can see, we've been on hiatus...

Hel and I took a well-deserved break but will start reviewing books again soon! Our lives have been pretty hectic lately. 

(But just because we haven't posted doesn't mean we haven't been reading!)

Subscribe to email notifications (sidebar) to be alerted when we start reviewing again.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Amanda Panda’s Book review for The Paris Wife by Paula McLain 

I ordered my book off of Amazon and when I opened my book a bunch of receipts fell out. All I can say is that this person shops at Target, Joann’s (twice), WinCo foods, and Family Christian. Fellow book owner, it was very interesting to see what you bought. lol 

But to the review! 

For this book, I purposefully didn’t look up information on Hadley. I wanted things to be a surprise, because the book was enjoyable from the start.  However, as an English Lit major for my undergrad degree, I already knew plenty about Ernest Hemingway to know what to expect. 

It’s rare for a book to hold my interest as much as this one did – especially when the book is not EXACTLY my cup of tea (it was very gendered and very book-clubby). 

To me, the book is a case study on marriage. The Modernists were very interesting characters despite their literature. My favorite parts included the glimpses of Stein and their (Hadley and Hemingway’s) interactions with her and Alice. 

If you like the Modernists, then you will like this book – because it offers a perspective on them that I had not considered before (the perspective of an outsider so close to them). It was also very interesting to see/consider how the publishing industry functioned WAY BACK WHEN. Things sure have changed now.

Side note, I want a Gertrude Stein of my very own, thank you. 

Though my view of Hemingway did not change after I read this book (I do not like Hemingway as a person. He is too cruel and too-self involved) I learned about Hadley and grew to dislike her. In fact, I like Hemingway more than her. Not because she is as messed up as Hemingway or anything, but because she is more selfish than he was. Well…at least her character in this book was. 

Even I resented her for losing Hemingway’s manuscript. But I resented her more when she was careless about her birth control. She knew who Hemingway ‘was’ deep down and why the HELL would she want to produce offspring with him? She was the most selfish character in this book. 

But I will stop ranting. 

My overall judgment of this book: It is worth reading. Especially if you need something to calm you down after watching The Great Gatsby.  But it won’t change your life… It will certainly leave you reconsidering your life choices, but it won’t change your life. Was a B book. 

But, Good pick for the list, Hel! 

Hel Speak:

I've been wanting to read this book for years, after I heard a review of it on NPR. I've always hated Hemingway - both his writing and his person. But I am fascinated by the roaring twenties, Paris life, and the authors that Hadley socialized with, grew with.

In a way, this book broke my heart. By its accounts, the authors I've always admired - like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound - are scum. Not to mention the women they engaged with. There were few decent people in the world, according to this book - or, at least, Hadley never really came across any of them. Maybe that is her character flaw.

I didn't hate Hadley herself, at least not while I was reading it. I was too busy feeling sorry for her. But, looking back, I wonder what kind of a person she must have been to let Hemingway treat her the way he did. I don't care if you love someone. You must also love and respect yourself, and she didn't do that. If she did, she wouldn't have let Hemingway's mistress move in with them. She should have stuck up for herself, in many ways. As a mother, I was also shocked by her ability to leave her infant son behind with a nanny for weeks at a time. What kind of a parent does that??

Hemingway was an ass, and we all know that. I didn't expect this book to change my opinion of him. It actually did change my opinion, but not for the better. In the book, we caught brief glimpses of situations from Hemingway's point of view. It showed that he wasn't just completely lacking in empathy. He knew he was hurting people, he just didn't care enough to stop. He was too selfish. It was almost like he thrived off of it. Hurting people DID hurt him, but maybe in a positive way - it inspired him.

As far as the writing goes, I have no complaints. It is neither bad nor mind blowing. This is the type of book where the story over shadows everything else, including the writing. However,  I really admire the authors ability to paint such a passionate and complete picture. It's as if she had really been there. The research that went into this book must have been immense.

I agree with Panda on her final thoughts: it's a good book to read, but it won't change your life. I give it a B++.



This wraps up our first year of 12 books in 12 months! It’s been bumpy, but fun. We’ve finally got the groove of things, and so we won’t stop now. HOWEVER: 

Next “year” we’ll be mixing it up by genre – instead of overtly reading the same book at the same time, Hel and I will be reading books from the same genre.  It might mean we read the same book, but it also means we have freedom to seek out whatever our fancy within the same genre.

BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOU? That (potentially) means double the titles covered – and that means double the reviews that can help you form an opinion about whether or not you should read a certain book. 

Watch the blog for more news about this change!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Panda's Punishment Post: Divergent by Veronica Roth


By Veronica Roth

I only checked out this book because the author (on her blog) seems like a really nice person and the book is being made into a movie.

The book starts off as a cross between the Harry Potter Sorting Hat Ceremony and the Hunger Games. But then it really takes a Hunger Games turn when the kids have to fight each other. But it’s not as brutal (to me) because they’re not fighting to kill. Also, they’re only fighting to be accepted.

About 75 pages into it I guessed who the main boy character (Four) was (I mean, who he REALLY was – cough cough). There were very little surprises in this book. Everything was expected. But, it was a page turner. Though, I will admit to skimming because, well, it wasn’t that entertaining. You can pretty much read the first and last sentence of each paragraph and get the idea with this book. It’s not complicated stuff.

Granted, it was more fun to read than the Hunger Games. Though, I don’t think it will make for a very great movie (I really liked the Hunger Games movie). 

Why won’t it make a great movie? The world building is kind of bland. It was hard for me to picture – she relied too heavily on making me use my imagination to decorate her world. Although, I really hate it when people bog down their stories with too much world-building. Really, she might as well have said “This setting is kind of like in the Hunger Games. Dystopia, but less Rococo than the Capitol. Done.”

Because that’s basically what she did say. She spends more time describing the uniforms of the fractions than the actual world. Though, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.

(Can you tell that my passive critique is actually me having very little ‘feelings’ about this book? That should tell you something about the story itself).

Now, as I said, it was a good book to skim – so simple just to glance over. I even skimmed the romance parts – which were really the only things holding the book together.

There were too many dream and dream-like sequences – I lost count toward the end, but who wants to be taken from “reality” THAT much?

On the Factions: The message of the book is more like a pro-con list of human traits. Each human trait has its limitations and gains. I guess the moral of her story was that you can’t and shouldn’t be “one” thing – humans are more complex than that. You shouldn’t go after knowledge for the sake of knowledge or strength over the sake of strength. I get it. And I certainly think her target audience (16 year olds) would get it too.

Because her message is so clear it makes the story itself platitudinous.

If I had any real beef with the book, it would be about how all the boys like Tris (the main character). You could even argue that one boy commits suicide because he can’t be with Tris.

Despite even her boyfriend admitting Tris isn’t the prettiest girl in the faction, she gets a lot of action. But, overall, I’m glad there wasn’t some Twilight love triangle in the center of the book.  

And Four (the main boy character) is VERY MUCH older than Tris (who is 16) She’s not even legal, yet they make out and touch each other a lot. This is book pretty much gives underage girls the OK to go after older guys. But boy are they going to be surprised when said older guys are NOT as abstinent as Four.

IMO, they should have just had sex and gotten it over with – it would let girls get their ‘fix’ without letting them think such romance is attainable in their own lives. I think I would have respected the book more then. Otherwise, the characters’ relationships are little more purposeful than Twilight’s.


6/10. The book was average, but didn’t change my life. The world doesn’t need more kids-hurting-kids dystopias.  I don’t really care about what happens in the next book, so I won’t be reading it.  However, this first book, here, wasn’t a total waste of time. Could have used more jokes, less action, less dream sequences. This book only appeals to young girls, which I don’t like because now I won’t be able to talk about this book to my guy friends.