I’ve started writing individual thoughts for books to read per week in my Weekly Updates posts. Look at those to stay on top of what I’m reading. At the end of the month, I’ll list all the books read here with a mini-review of each.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
Also reviewed in my weekly updates.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods sounds like it would make for an interesting story. And the first hundred pages would you lead you to believe this as well. The first half of the story is strong, funny, and a really good read. Then the tone changes rather abruptly and the second half of the story goes in a completely different direction. The writing stays strong throughout. But the wit the book starts out on, gets lost as the plot becomes more and more serious.
Alex Woods was hit with a meteorite, lives with his eccentric mother, suffers from epilepsy, reads a lot, and gets bullied at school. This makes for a really interesting character and he is still a relate-able character for the reader. Extence’s description of school and bullying is on-point and hilarious. It just didn’t stick around in the story long enough.
What starts out as a strange and light-hearted story about a young boy in highschool, quickly turns into a Tuesdays With Morrie style plot. It’s not nearly as syrupy but gets pretty close. The story turns on a dime when Alex begins spending time with an elderly neighbor. This starts out as penance for destroying his property. But then they become friends. Of course the elderly man typically kept to himself and wasn’t fond of Alex right away but then he grew to like him quite well. Of course the elderly man lived alone and Alex soon began taking care of him. Of course the man is dying of some incurable disease. Of course Alex thinks he can save him and learn from him, etc. Any other predictable stereotypes you can think of for a teen + elderly platonic emotional relationship, it’s there.
I’d suggest knowing more about the story before going into it. If you’re looking for a witty uplifting story about a teen learning life lessons from the elderly, this is your book. Oh! There is also a quirky addition of Kurt Vonnegut. All of his books get discussed and summarized. I’m guessing the author is a fan? That helped to cut out some of the sugariness from the Tuesdays With Morrie part.
Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet (DNF)
Being honest here, this book is a DNF for me. Did Not Finish. There wasn’t any reason in particular why I bailed on it. It was more so the combination of teenage-style writing, mediocre characters, and an obvious plot device. After 100 pages, I simply didn’t care what happened in the story or to the characters. There wasn’t a connection to any of them. I’m not even sure the book was about anything. There was a lot of rambling. And a lot of stereotypical character traits.
I won’t rate DNF books. Just because I bailed doesn’t always mean the book was bad. But it does mean I didn’t feel any desire to continue reading the author’s reading style or learn more about the characters. So take that as you will.
Have You Found Her? by Janice Erlbaum
Also reviewed in my weekly updates.
Just because I finished this book in one sitting (four hours) doesn’t mean it was good. Often I lose interest in predictable stories. And this one was predictable from the get go. But every time I thought the reveal was going to happen, things just continued. To the point where I thought that maybe my cynical thoughts were wrong. For that reason alone, I kept reading. However, I did consider bailing to look up the ending on line. Instead I trudged through it.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is interesting. Stories of manipulation are always fascinating for an outsider to see. The problem with the story is the pretentiousness of the author. This is a memoir from Erlbaum but is about her relationship with a young girl she met in a women’s shelter in Manhattan. Erlbaum’s ego is too big to hide. She really thinks she is saving the world by “helping” this girl. She really thinks she is a saint. Sometimes she becomes self-aware of this. For maybe half a sentence. But then goes right back to thinking she did something amazing.
Even by writing a story about how she was completely duped, she still manages to turn it into how much she sacrificed for someone she didn’t know at all. She details all of her good intentions even if things didn’t work out in the end. No apologies for these mild spoilers because the ending is completely obvious less than fifty pages in.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
I’ve known for a long time that I don’t have a sense of humor. If you ever doubted me on that, this review will confirm it. The Hyperbole and a Half book was fine. It was an enjoyable read. Eh. It’s difficult because I’ve seen some of the drawings before. Sure, they’re still funny and entertaining, but it did take away from the book for me.
I couldn’t tell what the book was trying to do. The organization was strange, especially the latter half. The beginning started out silly. Clearly her letters to herself and the self-deprecation those included were supposed to be funny. The second half featured her drawings on depression. These are great. But then right in the middle of these serious thoughts, was a funny piece, then it went back to serious mode. Not much new was added.
It seemed like she was trying to put herself out there then changed her mind mid-way and pulled back. Or was trying to please two groups of people. It just doesn’t work.
Allie Brosh is loved by lots so I realize this will be an unpopular opinion. Seriously, I just don’t have a sense of humor at all.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (DNF)
This novel has some truly beautiful writing. Unfortunately, the jumpy story makes it difficult to keep track of and care about the characters. Flashbacks in time, between characters, and between story lines happened far too frequently. Just as you’re getting back into the voice of one character, you get jumped to another.
With all that said, the writing is absolutely wonderful. Beautiful prose, descriptions that are magical. Anthony Marra takes a horrific subject and makes everything sound romantic and graceful.
For example, here is the most beautiful paragraph you will ever read about a man trying to take a shit:
The Silver Mkarov pistol was all Ramzan thought about for the two weeks preceding Dokka’s disappearance, in which he failed to produce a single bowel movement. Each morning, venturing into the cold in nothing but a robe and lambskin boots, he turned the corner of the house, passed icicles filling the gutter’s missing segments, passed the frostbitten fingers of fallen birch limbs, and waded down the sharp incline to the scattered pine cones that had amassed into an ankle-deep mound at the outhouse door. Inside, he sat with his elbows burrowed into his knees, a full-bodied clench that left him red-faced and winded. Snow flurries fell through the roof’s missing half, landing on the back of his neck, and melted into sweat. His scrotum was an empty coin purse flattened between his legs. He was enable to father even a soft dollop of excrement.
There’s 384 pages of that. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And it is this beautiful writing that keeps you from feeling absolutely horrible after reading such a sad story. This is a story about wars, and lost lives, and lost people. It is sad. Yet the writing is beautiful and flow and descriptive and it felt like I was floating while reading it. I would love to read a linear story by Marra.