I am so behind in book reviews, you have no idea. I have been moving and short on free time--so I've read a bunch of stuff, am still taking notes, and haven't had time to finalize any reviews.
I normally don't post too many reviews of books I didn't finish. I generally don't think it's fair to do so, but occasionally I feel like I need to say something. And in this case, I wanted to like it and I tried to like it, but holy damn, it was dull. The book in question was "Welcome to Night Vale: The Novel," which I suspected might be kind of a boner and that's why I got it from the library. They let me check out books for 3 weeks, I started it and then it sat in my trunk for awhile. Now the book is due in a few days and I tried to forcibly drag myself through reading it last night. I usually give a book say, 100 pages or half of the book before I give up. This book is 400+ pages and I hit my limit before page 200 because lord, it was dull. Also, I can't help but wonder why the authors/creators of the podcast decided to write a Night Vale book featuring two minor characters and then take forever to get on with, well, anything. If you like the podcast, this book makes it clear that Night Vale plots (such as they are) work better in smaller doses, big time.
The book features two women:
(a) Jackie Fierro, an un-aging 19-year-old who runs the pawnshop and ends up with a note saying "KING CITY" on it that she can't get rid of. She wanders around talking to various Night Vale luminaries (Carlos, Mayor Dana Cardinal, etc), and nobody can help her.
(b) Diane Crayton, a single mom to a shapeshifting teenager who's (a) trying to figure out what happened to her missing coworker Evan (otherwise known as "the man in the tan jacket" that nobody can remember very well, and (b) trying to figure out why she keeps seeing her ex/babydaddy Troy popping up around town briefly.
Both of these plots move slow like molasses. This is a problem in a novel that theoretically seems to be trying to be a mystery, except our detectives spend a lot of time attempting to do things and aren't getting anywhere. I kept reading in hopes that they'd meet up and start doing things, but frankly, my interest petered out before that point. I tried to peek at the back of the book to see if this got any better if I stuck with it and...eh, I don't know. I finally ended up reading this book review, which tells what happened in the plot enough to satisfy my curiosity so I could give up on trying to read it. I just for the life of me could not stick with this. I had to go to the bathroom at 2 a.m. and then was exhausted yet could not go back to sleep and while I can't say this book lulled me back to sleep, it gave its best shot.
To quote from the review:
"Alright, typing it up like that makes the story sound kind of awesome; I admit that there are some pretty cool elements to the book. There were cameos from a lot of popular characters; we got to see Night Vale from a different perspective than Cecil’s for once, and we even got to know more about what things are like in the Night Vale Public Library. It’s just that, well, it took a long time for the book to establish that there was a main plot. Around page 150, I realized that a lot of Stuff had happened, but it all felt either random or gratuitous. Jackie visited Old Woman Josie, Carlos, and Mayor Dana Cardinal to try and learn about the Man in the Tan Jacket, but none of them could tell her anything helpful. Diane had numerous conversations with her son, but they were all similar and did little to advance the plot. I felt like I was just reading scenes for a long time without any sense of overarching story."
Maybe mystery plots aren't the authors' strong suits, or maybe it just isn't within the context of Night Vale where everything is obscure. But...I cannot recommend even to fans because this just doesn't move fast enough to keep me wanting to stick with it.
When Eve was a rookie cop, she basically stumbled across a suspicious neighbor guy who turned out to have 22 young girls locked up in his apartment. Isaac McQueen was Eve's big collar as a rookie, but now he's finally gotten out of jail and he's of course got a grudge against her. (Which, really, is hilarious: How DARE you lock me up for being a torturing pedophile! The nerve! You should have totally let me roam the streets to do whatever I want to whoever I want forever because I'm just so awesome! Oh, you stupid, stupid, killers.) He decides to go back to his old ways, but in such a way as to fuck with Eve and some of his previous victims. The last two girls he kidnapped and raped were twins, who grew up to become a cop and a rape counselor and moved to (har) Dallas. The rape counselor visited him in prison once to show off how well she was doing, so he kidnaps her and then a young girl so he can get off in his usual manner, and demands that Eve follow him down there. He thinks this is going to throw Eve off her game or something, but I'm thinking, "Hey, dude, she killed her first pedophile in Dallas, that's why it's her name, and here you are waving your hand in the air going, 'Make me number two!'"
What does throw Eve off is that Isaac (whose mom was a pedophile and got him into this kind of thing, so now he procures a mom-type "girlfriend" to aid and abet him before he kills her)'s current assistant/"girlfriend" is...well, who else has Eve known in the past who liked to be a pedophile's girlfriend? I'll leave it at that, but longtime readers can probably guess who I'm referring to. So that gives her the creeps even more than usual. Beyond that, it's playing cat and mouse as Isaac devolves and Eve figures out his locations. Eventually it's Flashback Central for Eve....but you know she'll get it out in the end.
Moments I'd like to highlight:
Feeney isn't in this book very much due to the location switch, but he has an asshole-ripping moment of awesome at the beginning when he chews out the prison administrator and his lawyer and threatens to hold a media conference about the escape. And at said conference, he promises to go into great detail about what the guy did and how "you deemed it proper to delay informing the NYPSD of this escape for over eighteen hours."
Peabody's line of "I want to bag a bitch with you, Dallas."
Roarke's arranging for Galahad the cat to be flown in at the right time, and Eve is totally touched by it. "Roarke had you bring the cat, because the cat's home. I never had anything, didn't want anything until that cat. I don't even know why I took him, exactly, but I made him mine."
There's one moment where Eve is stomping around after yet another nightmare and Roarke is all, "He...wondered if she knew she was gloriously naked...." I was all, um, duh, why would she not, but apparently she did NOT. Um...yeah.
For whatever reason, I am not madly in love with this one, but it's a pretty good book for the series. I probably should give it four stars other than maybe I'm just tired of hearing about how Eve was abused as a child and reading about sickos. This fills in yet another hole in her terrible backstory, if you're into that. So, three and a half stars for me.
Third worst ever: I am actually lowering the ranking of my previously-most-confusing prologue of Crystal Dragon. This is now coming in third. While I still think it is the most confusing prologue to start a book with of all time--to the point where I thought I had purchased the wrong book by mistake for a good chunk of pages--at least, by god, the prologue material is actually used in the story later on, and by later on, I mean "before the dead end of the book."
Second worst ever:A Feast For Crows wins for literally taking as long as possible, i.e. the dead last sentence of the story, to get back to whatever happened in the prologue. To the point where I had long since forgotten about the prologue, since it was 1000 pages ago and I no longer cared. I say that as a speedreader who took a week-ish(?) to finish the book, rather than the months it probably takes other people to read it, so I had a better shot at remembering that stuff than most people. And I still didn't. No longer caring or remembering what happened in the prologue by now pretty much destroyed all shock value that the author had been going for. Buzzkill.
And now, for the WORST PROLOGUE EVER! I honestly did not think it would or could get worse than the prologue not being referenced again until the dead end of a book, but somehow George R.R. Martin managed to top himself by never, ever, ever referring to anything in the prologue of A Dance With Dragons ever again, even at the dead end of the story. This made the prologue utterly fucking pointless to the entire rest of the story. Plus the prologue didn't really tell us anything particularly important about warging that we hadn't already/read figured out previously with other characters. It just seemed to be there for starting out the story with creepy gore and that was it. FAIL.
Occasionally, I run into certain issues with book reviews. I've read a couple of books lately where, due to the unique natures of their books, I just don't feel like I can review them as I would normally, with a token star rating and all that jazz. In the case of these two, I find it really hard to talk about the construction of how a book comes together when these books are done as they are, so I feel like I can't judge them like usual. So these won't have stars or any rankings, but will just be discussed...as best I can, anyway.
First up is Return of the Kings. There's several reasons why I feel weird about reviewing it, even though I wanted to mention it:
Once upon a time, I used to know a lot of the authors because I was in a writing group with them--so I'm biased.
This was a present created for one fellow in writing group's birthday. They wrote a story that imitates his style amazingly well--and I can say that as someone who read enough of his work to get that. They did this REALLY WELL, which is something I can appreciate, but random strangers online will not necessarily get. But hell, I couldn't have copied his style myself, so I'm impressed.
This is a book in which each person wrote a different chapter of it, a la The Floating Admiral. This makes it kind of hard to judge a book by how the story is written and how the author chose to shape it, when, uh, a lot of people shaped it. You can't really say things like, "I liked how this character started out, but then they kind of drift out of focus for the rest of the book," because, well... It's just hard to comment on how "the author" developed the plot in that way, you know?
What I can say about this book is that if you're the sort who likes Cthulhu mythos stories, this will be your jam. This is a world in which corporations are at war, travel is limited, and one of our main characters is friends with a handicapped dragon who's willing to assist her when she finds out that her ex-boyfriend....well, he works under the sea watching squids, and they're Up To Something. Of course, that's Bad News Rising. There's a odd assortment of bad guys, including shapeshifting swinging Tourists, there's alien porn, and, well... Elvis's reanimated singing colon. (Honestly, I somehow always was brushing my teeth when I got to reading about this, and...well, ughhhhhhhhhh, damn.) It's all about the weirdness. If you like weird, this is up your alley. But it's not the usual sort of novel, so read on with a grain of salt.
And then there's Fair Game, by ex-spy Valerie Plame Wilson. Even after getting forcibly outed as a spy, i.e. cat's kinda out of the bag already, the CIA gave her some shit for trying to publish a memoir. Which is to say that they went through the manuscript and bleeped out a lot of it. We're told it's mostly related to her terms of service, which is something that's pretty well discoverable by anyone and everyone by now. But just because someone else outed her doesn't mean that SHE is allowed to out herself on this information, apparently.
The author and the publisher did the best they could with a manuscript in which full on pages are blacked out. They include a 100+ page afterword by another writer in which she recounts what happened to Valerie by using public sources--i.e. all the stuff that we already know and could find out by searching through the media stories. They even include some documentation--the original paperwork saying that she not only can't tell how long she
was in service, she can't refer to personal events like meeting her
husband because they might pinpoint those things in time. paperwork about Valerie's difficulties with getting an annuity (Valerie herself is not allowed to mention that even though she served for 20 years, she's still too young to get her annuity until she's 56 years old. But hey, the paperwork saying so isn't classified....but the Agency bitches anyway....), her lawsuits about this, etc.
In the end after reading it, I'm debating rereading it after having read the afterword, just so I can place things in time better. As well as one can under the circumstances, anyway. The Amazon page says to read the afterword first, and I think I will concur with them on that one.
Here's the thing about reading this: the author is a good writer. She describes her experiences well and I'd love to read more about it, especially the sexism issues she dealt with and juggling life in two worlds. However....there's the deleted scenes. There's some areas where entire pages are deleted--for example, you don't get to hear a lick of how Valerie ended up with Joe Wilson and the narrative now skips from the "Island of Misfit Toys" org she worked at to suddenly having twins. And then there's plenty of moments where only one word is deleted. I understand having paragraphs and pages and the occasional sentence bleeped out. But sometimes whatever they bleeped out just looks...weird. Like, what was so offensive about describing a meal had during training, other than apparently saying it was southern cooking was ok? Then there's the hilarious sentence about one of her potential recruits, Nicholas.
"First of all, his enormous ego, already quite developed--since most ______ males from birth are led to believe by their mothers that they are precious beyond words--needed some ___ stroking."
OH MY. MY BRAIN WENT TO BAD PLACES WITH THAT.
I'm going to take a whopping guess from a later meal mentioning that eating yogurt at it was traditional that Valerie was probably stashed in Greece. And I knew jack shit about any of that. (According to the afterword, I am correct in that guess.)
Mostly I found myself being frequently distracted by the bleeping. I found myself playing CIA Mad Libs and making up words that could possibly go in the deleted spots.It kind of made it hard to follow and concentrate on the awesome-to-nightmare story in between awkward bleepings, you know?
Other CIA Mad Libs:
"It was just damn embarrassing to the CIA ______________________________________________"
"Of particular note was Joe's book, The Politics of Truth, published in early 2004 and itself sent through the Agency's PRB process and approved for publication. Joe writes about when we met in 1997 _____________________________________________________________" Uh...seriously, THIS HAS ALREADY BEEN MENTIONED IN A BOOK, YOU GUYS.
So...I don't feel like I can fairly review it, per se, given the issues that this book has had put upon it. One can't comment on how the author chose to shape her tale when you're not allowed to read a good chunk of how she meant to do it. I can understand the CIA wanting to have first bleep on it, but it seems fairly clear that even by 2007, the author is getting weirdly punished on some level for shit that was not her doing whatsoever. Sheesh. What you can find out about her tale is done well, and you feel sorry for her having to go through this shit.
Apparently some author blogged this weekend about the Amazon reviews system, basically saying that anything other than a 4 rating is a NOT RECOMMENDED review and that either you should post a 4-star or no review at all. This made me really glad that I stay the hell away from doing reviews on Amazon. Mostly because I get my review jones out over here under my own control and I can say a lot or a little as I feel like, but also because uh, some things need to be clarified. And I had no idea that giving someone a 3 there might as well be a one star, this is total crap review and I personally am totally sinking your book. Geez, really?
And again, three or 3.5 stars here does NOT mean "NOT RECOMMENDED." It is recommended, but with some reservations, or "this wasn't quite for me but it wasn't bad" qualifications. It's not a 100% yay, but it's usually about a 70-80% yay. "NOT RECOMMENDED" here is 2 or 1.
So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:
5 stars = FREAKING EPIC, gigantic story, everything works well, my mind is blown that a human being thought this up.
4 stars = love this book, it's just not as humongous in scope as a 5. But it's totally awesome and everyone should read it, it's a keeper.
3 stars = mixed feelings (this is where the "I think others might like it, it's just not for me" reviews are likely to go). Not that bad, but has some issues, or it's an okay story but nothing really stands out to me as being memorable. It was a pleasant enough read for a few days, but I'll probably just end up giving the book away rather than rereading it again.
2 stars = generally pretty terrible, but not 100% so. There was at least one thing in this book that made it not totally horrible. This book isn't really recommended to all and sundry, but you might get some value out of the one thing if you try.
1 star (rarely seen here): It's a wallbanger. Nothing is redeemable about this book, it's utter crap, and I probably only finished reading it so I could do an awesome bitchrant about it and I can't justify doing that to books I didn't finish.