For the past few months, I’ve been a bit of a crime TV junkie. It began with true crime; shows on Investigation Discovery like Stalked or Cold Blood or Deadly Women, for example. Eventually the obsession transitioned into hour-long dramas on Netflix. Specifically… CSI Miami. On evenings the boyfriend and I don’t feel like fighting over what movie to watch (most evenings), we share our time with David Caruso and his dramatic sunglasses.
Halfway through season two there’s an episode featuring a not-yet-famous Chris Pine. His girlfriend is looking for an “extreme thrill,” so he pays for her to be kidnapped by a company that excels in such matters. Unfortunately she ends up being chucked off a building, and David Caruso must find out who murdered her and save the day.
A few days later we were browsing through Netflix and came across The Game. This movie isn’t so much ‘kidnapping’ as being forced into a few high-speed chases and dealings with creepy clowns, but it’s a similar premise.
Both of these dramas happened at least a decade ago, which means enough time has passed for someone to attempt making this into a real-life business. Attempt, and succeed. Entrepreneur Adam Thick founded Extreme Kidnapping after being inspired by The Game.
GQ writer Drew Margary signed up, flew across the country, and spent a day being stun-gunned and waterboarded while duct taped to a chair. And, all for the low price of $1500!
$1500 is an all-inclusive trip to Cuba. Or a night of fear tailored specifically to you, based on your selections on a “torture menu.” Fire? Piranhas? Knives? I’ll probably stick with Pina Coladas and a lounger.
LIFE AFTER LIFE
by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life is getting all kinds of press for being awesome. Everyone loves it; book clubs, “serious” readers, people who usually read things like 50 Shades.
It’s a unique book with a unique structure. The characters are well-developed. The plot is relatively engaging. The writing is superb. Like I said, it’s a very good book.
But while I can appreciate that it is a very good book, excellent even, it isn’t exactly to my taste. I realize that when reviewing a book it is best to be objective, but this is my blog so I can do what I want. However, if I’d been a little bird sitting on her shoulder during the writing process, whispering what I thought should happen next, she probably would have done well to ignore me. Because she came out with a great book.
But it drags. I understand why, but it doesn’t make for a particularly pleasurable read. It also has an unsatisfying ending. Again, I understand why, but it is never pleasant to be left unsatisfied.
Perhaps this book wasn’t meant to bring pleasure. Its purpose is to make the reader think. Sure. I can appreciate this for a great piece of literature, and I might even read it again, as I’m sure much was missed the first time around. But it was not, as they say, “unputdownable.”
Things are cheap in America. Things like groceries, beer, gas, shoes, dinner, etc., etc. For this reason, we take a quick trip across the border once every month or two to pick up some necessities. This is usually extremely unexciting.
But once in a while the border wait is totally worth it because we end up doing something awesome and fun. Such was the case this past Easter weekend.
I’d wanted to go to Portland, Oregon for a while. All I knew about the city was that there was a pretty funny TV show set there, and they have an amazing bookstore. While I didn’t see Fred Armisen, the bookstore did not disappoint.
Portland was warm, clean, sunny, and quiet. Very, very quiet. I was surprised to learn that in terms of population it’s only a smidgen smaller than Vancouver, because the atmosphere would make you believe it’s half the size. It’s extremely laid back, there aren’t a whole lot of people milling about, and the people you do see hold doors open for you.
The highlight of the city, of course, is Powell’s City of Books. It claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world, which I will not dispute. We went there three times. That may seem like overkill, but the average person could easily spend a few hours there, and when it comes to books, I am not exactly the average person. I could have spend an entire day there, maybe more. No, definitely more. It is four stories high and covers an entire city block. Even better: it sells both new and used books. Together. Like, there isn’t a separate “used book” section; no, they don’t have any of that nonsense. The new and old words live together in harmony, so you can easily search through a stack of the same book and choose the cheapest one. Which is, of course, exactly what I did. Eleven books and only $60 later, I decided to celebrate with a beer.
Oh, yes, the beer. We quickly learned why the streets were so quiet. Everyone was inside getting drunk. Portland is known for its breweries; we wanted to try them all out while we were there, but that turned out to be impossible because there were hour-long waits to get in no matter the time. I’m talking 3pm, or 5pm, or 8pm. But we did manage to get to a few; namely, Rogue, BridgePort, and Rock Bottom, and they were a delight. After the final bookstore trip we managed to get into Henry’s Tavern, where they had a very cool outdoor patio and an extensive beer list. It, too, was a delight.
But besides the beer and the books, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. We browsed through the Saturday Market. We would have gone to the International Rose Test Garden, but it wasn’t quite the right season. We spent a lot of time walking along the water. Drank some coffee. And ate some doughnuts.
There is a perma-line outside the downtown VooDoo doughnuts location, but we eventually sucked it up and soldiered through. High on the list of tourist traps, VooDoo was a must-try on our trip. At 8am the line was only a half hour long, and we left with a box of oddly-flavoured and hilariously named baked goods.
To sum it all up, Portland is a pretty cool place where people drink a lot of beer and read a lot of books. Thus, it gets my stamp of approval.
by Stephenie Meyer
The Host is now popular because some asshole decided to turn it into a movie. I’ve already mentioned that I often find myself drawn to books that are popular, even if I know they will be terrible. Sometimes they aren’t terrible and that is awesome. But, usually they are.
It started out… not too bad. There was potential.
But then we met the boy and it became a Stephenie Meyer book.
by Jodi Picoult
There’s a funny thing about Jodi Picoult. Her books, they’re all kind of the same. But even though you know there will be a plot twist here, and a surprise witness there, the books are extremely readable.
I became immersed in the story. Even though almost every one of her books follows the same formula, this formula draws me in every time. It works. That’s why she’s a bestselling author.
I can point out issue after issue, I can concede that the characters make stupid decisions, and much of the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, after you take a few minutes to think about it. But I still liked it.
One serious problem is that Emily is not a sympathetic character. We learn more about her as the story progresses, but the choices she makes are not realistic to me. Further, a girl in her situation, who loves her boyfriend as much as she loves Chris, would not have put him in the position she puts him in. Of course he’s on trial for her murder; anyone with a dash of common sense could have seen that coming. Why would she do that to someone she loves? I also don’t accept her reason for committing suicide. Her situation was not grave enough; especially with the strong support system she had. So, I didn’t like Emily. That’s fine; an author is certainly allowed to create an unlikeable character. The problem is that I don’t believe Emily was supposed to be unlikeable.
I’m also wondering about Emily and sex. Why can’t she have sex with Chris? Is it because she was abused as a child? Or, is it because doing so seems incestuous? Both are danced around, but never resolved.
But the biggest problem with this book? That Chris didn’t stop her. Anyone would have stopped her. He could have, and should have, stopped her. It just doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, despite glaring plot holes and unlikeable characters, I liked the book. Whatever. This writer’s got a gift, even if that gift doesn’t happen to be developing a realistic, relatable story.
At present, I make a living writing.
This isn’t nearly as glamourous and elegant as it sounds. A year ago, when I quit my full-time, almost well-paying job, I thought I would be spending my days sipping whisky with a cigar in my mouth, possibly while wearing a top hat. If this doesn’t sound elegant or glamourous to you, ‘tis clear you have not seen Midnight in Paris. But alas, I’ve not yet acquired a taste for whisky, though I could probably get down with the cigars… and, come to think of it, I have been wearing hats a lot more lately.
But can beer be elegant?
Perhaps instead, I can begin a downward spiral into despair, ending with my head in the oven. Probably not ideal, but there is definitely some glamour there.
I’ve never been much of a poet anyway.
Anyway, the point is, I spend most days at my desk, which is maybe, maybe two inches from my bed, in my pajamas, eating Mr. Noodles or frozen mini pizzas, while writing about car insurance or pharmaceuticals or the health benefits of water.
And as I spend 20 minutes shaking the pizza crumbs from between the keys (while I procrastinate writing an article called Benefits of Accutane) (hint: there aren’t really any) I can’t help but wonder… how did this happen?
Well, it happened because nobody cares about my short stories or witty anecdotes, and a lot of people care about online pharmacy scams.
This wouldn’t matter because at least I’m getting paid and it’s not like I’m “above” writing about Viagra, but the thing is, I think I forgot how to actually write.
See, when you’re writing SEO-friendly articles called Propecia and Hair Loss Myths or Car Rental Companies’ Hidden Fees or Cialis: Don’t Be Afraid of Treatment, you kind of lose any passion you might have once had for your, ahem, craft. You no longer care if you used 10 words to say what could have been said in two; in fact, you appreciate the higher word count. Cliches are not frowned upon; they make it easier for the average pharmacy-scam reader to understand the content.
Should I feel like a bad person for writing these websites? Well, I don’t, because they’ve paid me thousands of dollars.
I don’t feel like a bad person, but I do feel like a bad writer. I’ve dabbled in writing about relationships and fashion and found myself using the phrase “cringe-worthy,” straight from Cosmo, on more than one occasion. For an online dating website targeting religious senior citizens, I included sentences like, “Once you submit the application, let God connect your spirit with the spirit of your soulmate.”
None of this is okay.
Is there a point to this rambling? Well, yes. I’ve decided to stop. No more. Or at least, much less. I will now attempt to find part-time or seasonal work, and will continue writing only for regular clients whom I have not mocked in this post. The rest of the time? I’ll spend learning how to actually write again.
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE
by Audrey Niffenegger
Summary: A librarian travels through time, and frequently deals with appearing naked at inconvenient places and times. His wife meets him when she is six, but he doesn’t meet her until he’s 28. A complicated love story ensues.
I liked this book a lot.
Niffenegger skillfully handles an incredibly complicated story. Jumping back and forth through time, dropping hints, clever foreshadowing; I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. To the point that I will not see the movie, due to fear of tainting.
I was hooked from the beginning and, as cliched as this may be, I could not put the book down. From the first pages I wanted to know what happened. Niffenegger handles the details with care, I was not left with any questions, and did not notice any plot holes– quite an accomplishment with such a full, complicated story.
However, while I did empathize with both Clare and Henry and the pain of their relationship, I suspect this may be a result of my own imagination rather than any work on the author’s part. While I felt their relationship, I’m not sure I should have, because very little of their relationship is actually shown within the story. I suspect my feelings stem from my own life experiences and how I would react to a particular situation, rather than experiencing true empathy for the characters in the novel.
I want to know why Clare and Henry love each other. What is the draw? What is special between them, what do they fight about, what does Clare miss when Henry is away? I know that she does miss him, but I have no idea why. I don’t know what she loves about him, what he does for her, how he makes her a better person, what drives her absolutely batshit insane about him but that she can’t help missing when he isn’t there. Their relationship simply isn’t developed; we, the readers, are told they are deeply in love, but don’t get to see it for ourselves.
I also had some problems with Clare in general. It seems she has a very difficult life, one that is completely based on the comings and goings of another individual. She doesn’t get to be her own person. Her husband has been in her life since she was 6; she doesn’t know a world without Henry. This suggests she could love him simply as a matter of comfort, rather than any specific qualities he has or how his personality complements hers. I don’t know that she even really has much of a personality. What she does have has been shaped by Henry; when 28-year-old Henry met 20-year-old Clare for the first time, he wasn’t meeting a whole, free, independent woman. No, he was meeting a person he played a huge role in shaping.
[spoilers in white text; highlight to see] Of course, this would make Henry’s eventual death even more difficult for her. She doesn’t have a past, a true self to fall back on; she’s never known a Clare without Henry. She has no idea who she is without him. Her entire identity would be shattered. That’s terrifying. And yet, at the end of the novel, I didn’t want her to keep waiting. I wish Henry had not left that letter, simply surprised her in old age. All he did was make her wait for him, year after year. I wanted Clare to move on. She was only 35. She could have met someone, married again, had the chance to live a life that was really hers. I thought she deserved some happiness, and deserved to be free of Henry.
Of course, since this is a romance, I’m not supposed to feel that way. So, I’d say that’s a significant flaw in this book. I didn’t see theirs as a love that could, and should, last forever. I wanted Clare to move on with her life, and meet someone new after Henry’s death. Not Gomez, though. Never Gomez.
The book was flawed, sure, but still a compelling read with many strengths. It is a complicated story told well that I would recommend.
There are a lot of great videos on the internet.
If you want to listen to a smart person say funny things, you can laugh along with Jenna Marbles.
And if you’re looking for something new to do with an avocado, a washed up 90′s rapper is more than happy to help out.
Wait, what? Cookin’ With Coolio? How did I miss this?
It looks like this was a thing about 5 years ago, but this new-to-me web series features Coolio, of Gangsta’s Paradise fame, who will “teach yo ass how to cook… Sucka!”
To find out more, you can check out his YouTube channel. There are all sorts of handy recipes, including a stir-fry you should be high when you try.
… How did this happen?
by Nicholas Sparks
This is the first Nicholas Sparks book I’ve read. I’ve seen The Notebook, and will even admit that I liked it. But, I’m not sure if that is because it was a good movie, or because Ryan Gosling and Rachel MacAdams are both kind of awesome. Regardless, based on this experience, I had a fair idea of what to expect. I expected this book to be touching and romantic, though cliched. I expected it to be dramatic. I expected to be gripped, in a guilty pleasure sort of way. I expected to care about the characters, and I expected to leave with the confidence that these characters were meant for each other.
I didn’t really get that.
This book was boring. Nothing really happens. We explore the relationship between Jane and Wilson, both in the present and in flashbacks. We learn about the marital difficulties they are currently experiencing. And while reading, I don’t particularly care about any of it.
Wilson is boring. Jane is boring. It isn’t clear that they belong together. And the twist at the end is entirely predictable.
I do have other criticisms. First, Wilson, our narrator, tells the story in first person. But, he withholds information throughout the entire story. Telling the story in close third person would have solved this problem; then it is an unidentified narrator withholding information, not Wilson himself. We, the reader, are hearing his thoughts. So, it just seems silly that he would censor his own thoughts. On a similar note, the language is uninteresting. Cliches run rampant, and the same phrases are repeated again and again. I swear, every character raises their hands at least a dozen times.
Finally, I’ll discuss something that I actually liked. Well, perhaps “like” is a strong word, but at least lived up to my expectations. That is, Noah’s story with the swan. It’s impossible, it’s silly, it’s totally eye-rolly… But it’s nice, isn’t it? It almost made me feel something. Almost.
by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult’s books are always formulaic. There are certain things you come to expect from her books in terms of plot, character, etc. So for the purposes of this review, I will not focus on these things. They are always there.
I enjoyed the premise of this novel. I found it to be one of the more interesting subjects Picoult has covered, and appreciated the knowledge attained on the phenomena. Overall, this was a good story. In a broad sense. I liked what she chose to write about, but wish she had approached much of it in a different way.
Picoult is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them. In the first pages, we get paragraphs and paragraphs on how happy Mariah is in her marriage, how lucky she is, how perfect she and Colin are together. This seems extremely forced on Picoult’s part. I get that Mariah is supposed to be in denial, that’s what Picoult is going for, but it just doesn’t work. He’s cheated on her before. He’s had her committed to a mental hospital, for Chrissakes. There is no way this woman could sugar coat things to such an extent. But she does, and is shocked to walk in on him with another woman.
This makes Mariah a difficult character to relate to, right from the beginning. I couldn’t trust her judgement, which set me up to question every decision she made from that point forward.
Throughout the book, it is mentioned that Mariah is not the most devoted of mothers. It is mentioned by Mariah herself, it is implied through the actions of Faith and other characters, but we never actually see it. From the reader’s point of view, Mariah is extremely devoted to her daughter. They seem incredibly close. This is a classic example of telling, rather than showing; we’re told Mariah is lacking in maternal skills, but we don’t really see it.
[spoiler in white text, highlight to see] Mariah’s reaction to learning Ian tipped off the journalist is also quite a leap. I understand her being incredible freaking pissed off, but I don’t get her rationalization that everything up until that point was a lie. It just doesn’t follow. She knew that in the beginning he was not on her side. So why is she so shocked to learn that in the beginning, he did something that hurt her? It was long before their relationship began, so while yes, I understand her anger, I do not understand her reasoning that their entire relationship is a lie.
Overall, I enjoyed the read. It’s a Jodi Picoult book. You know what you’re getting into. And, I happen to like Jodi Picoult. As far as her novels go, this is one of the more interesting ones. But, Mariah as a character is underdeveloped, which makes it difficult for the reader to empathize with her struggle.