Book Review — The Hunger

Title:  The Hunger
Author:  Alma Katsu
Genre:  Horror, historical
Pages:  Hardback 373
ISBN:  978-0-7352-1251-0
Opening Lines:  "Everyone agreed that it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.  Bad enough for some of the Indian tribes, Paiute and Miwok, down from the mountain."

Rating


"Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere. That is the only way to explain the misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party.

"Depleted rations, butter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the drink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy . . . or the feeling that someone—or something—is stalking them. Whether it's a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through the uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

"As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains . . . and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along."

~ Jacket copy


If you've been reading my blog on and off in the last several years, you know that I always try to read horror novels all throughout the month of October.  While my husband and I were back in Laramie at the end of September, I decided to do a little research on the latest and greatest horror novels of 2018.  This book popped up on every. single. list!  Since I was a teenager, the Donner Party has always been rather fascinating.  When you combine a true story of cannibalism with a supernatural twist, I'm in!


Basically, it's the Donner Party!  If you don't know the story, I highly suggest doing a little research.  In my opinion, it has become pseudo American folklore and lives in infamy akin to Roanoke.  This novels takes that story and adds disappearing children, hushes whispers from Native Americans, and rumors of creatures stalking the party.



The last few years, it has been exceedingly hard to fully dig into a novel.  Something about this book was able to pull me in and keep me reading.  Katsu did an amazing job building a growing sense of dread.  At points, I found myself turning on every light in the house and jumping when my kitten sneezed.  However, I couldn't point to one thing or one issue that was necessarily creepy.

The Hunger starts in April 1847 with a rescue mission to find survivors of the failed wagon train.  After some gruesome discoveries, the author pulls the readers back to June 1846 near the start of the Donner Party's ill-fated journey.  The reader follows Tamsen Donner, Charles Stanton, Mary Graves, Elitha Donna, Edwin Bryant, and a few other characters.  Each chapter is written from a different character's perspective and follows the party until January 1847.

While the story had an interesting premise, I felt as though it fell short.  Katsu was able to keep me reading and engaged in the novel; however, she spent the majority of the book building to a climax that fizzled out at the end.  At many points during the novel, I found myself wondering whether she was going to use the wendigo.  The Native Americans are a big deal at the beginning of the novel; therefore, it would stand to reason that she would pull on their ancient belief.  Unfortunately, that was a loose end.  When the audience finally does get a glimpse into the possible connection between the strange happenings and the cannibalism, Katsu never explains it.

In addition, I felt the pacing was rather slow.  Katsu spends an inordinate amount of time introducing the readers to these historical people and giving us access into their personal thoughts/lives.  However, it doesn't truly amount to anything.  Why did we—the readers—have to spend so much time invested in Charles Stanton?  The same goes for Mary Graves.  The slow pace makes it even more frustrating when the ending is extremely anti-climactic.

Please do not get me wrong!  This was was enjoyable and made me jump in noises in a new house.  Unfortunately, once I finished it, I felt a dissatisfied.  If you love history, cannibalism, and horror, The Hunger is worth a shot.

Much love, Sinn

Book Review — Fragile

Title:  Fragile
Author:  Lisa Unger
Genre:  Crime fiction, thriller
Pages:  Hardback, 323
ISBN:  978-0-307-39399-9
Opening Lines:  "When Jones Cooper was younger, he didn't believe in mistakes.  He thought that every road led you somewhere and wherever you wound up, that's where you belonged."

Rating


"Everybody knows everybody in The Hollows, a quaint, charming town outside of New York City. It's a place where neighbors keep an eye on one another's kids, where people say hello in the grocery store, and where high schoo cliques and antics are never quite forgotten. As a child, Maggie found living under the microscope of small-town life stifling. But as a wife and mother, she has happily returned to The Hollows's insular embrace. As a psychologist, her knowledge of family histories provides powerful insights into her patients' lives. So when the girlfriend of her teenage son, Rick, disappears, Maggie's intuitive gift proves to be useful to the case—and also dangerous.

"Eerie parallels soon emerge between Charlene's diappearance and the abduction of another local girl that shook the community years ago when Maggie was a teenager. The investigation has her husband, Jones, the lead detective on the case, acting strangely. Rick, already a brooding teenager, becomes even more withdrawn. In a town where the past is always present, nobody is above suspicion, not even a son in the eyes of his father.

"'I know how a moment can spiral out of control,' Jones says to a shocked Maggie as he searches Rick's room for incriminating evidence. 'How the consequences of one careless action can cost you everything.'

"As she tries to reassure him that Rick embodies his father in all of the important ways, Maggie realizes this might be exactly what Jones fears most. Determined to uncover the truth, Maggie pursues her own leads into Charlene's disappearance and exposes a long-buried town secret—one that could destroy everything she holds dear. This chilling novel is about one community's intricate yet fragile bonds will leave readers asking How well do I know the people I love? and How far will I go to protect them?"

~ Jacket copy


Since the start of last fall semester and moving into student teaching, it has been nearly impossible for me to get into a book.  Even if some shred of it happens to grab my attention, nothing is able to keep me from putting it down.  Coming home after being at the high school from 7:30am-3:45pm five days a week, lesson planning, ceaseless grading, and attending to school work, mind-numbing TV was far more appealing.  However, that did not stop my desire to read.  Oftentimes, I found myself crying in my couch to my poor husband about the deep depression I was sinking into because I couldn't read.  All the while, Pinterest kept telling me about the best horror, thrillers, and suspense books popping up all over the place.  In one last effort to force myself to read, I picked up Bone and Ink by Lisa Unger.  Even though it took me nearly three months to finish, it really grabbed my attention while I was reading it.  After that, I decided to give her other books a chance!  Since this book takes place in the same town and shares a few of the same characters, it was the one I brought home.


Charlene is a desperate, lonely girl who is struggling to find her place in the world.  Preyed upon by her stepfather and spurned by her mother, she puts on a false front of bravado, claiming that she is going to ditch town, move to New York, and make it big in the music scene.  Marshall Crosby is a troubled boy who happens to be caught in a vicious cycle of paternal abuse.  Even when he is taken out of it, he willingly goes back in one last attempt to win his father's approval.  Ricky is doing everything he can to live outside of his father's shadow—the police detective, Jones Cooper.  Unfortunately, he is doing nothing more than driving a wedge between his parents, Jones and Maggie.  While Maggie desperately tries to reunite father and son, something far more nefarious is happening in The Hollows.  Everything comes to a head when Charlene disappears.



Sitting in front of the blinking cursor and blank page, I find it extremely hard to find the words to explain this book.  As I mentioned before, reading has been nothing short of arduous on the best of days.  Something about the character driven plot of Ink and Bone was able to draw me in when other books failed.  I felt as though Lisa Unger's unique writing style, use of words, and command of prose might be the key to demolishing this blockage. 

In many ways, Fragile is very similar.  Unger takes time to artfully craft her characters and flesh out the town of The Hollows through characters' memories, small asides, and anecdotes.  The town is turned into as much a character as Jones or Charlene.  Even the secondary characters have more depth than you would expect because of the hinted backstories and history with the main characters.

When Charlene—a seemingly rebellious teen—disappears, the outwardly idyllic town of The Hollows is shaken to its core as it is forced to remember the disappearance and murder of another girl several decades before.  In an effort to right a wrong, Jones Cooper sets out on a quest to save Charlene and prove she is not merely a girl running away from a troubled home.  As he races against the clock to save her life, long-buried secrets are brought to the surface.  These secrets weave a web connecting  both parents and adults.

Looking back, I felt as though parts of this book were a bit haphazard and were possibly lost in translation.  As an example, Tommy Delano seemed a bit random.  I fully understood what Unger was attempting to do; however, she was a bit sloppy in the execution.  Also, Eloise was rather out of place.  If I had not read Ink and Bone before this, I wouldn't have been able to fully understand why she was even mentioned. 

The complex, interconnected backstories make this book a slow burn.  Yet, Unger is able to show the curses and blessings of living in a small town.  Fragile walks away with four stars because it was able to draw me in and keep me reading just to determine whether my predictions were correct.  And, if I'm honest, it gave me the chance to take my mind off of the uncertainty in my own life.




Much love, Sinn

Book Review — Ready Player One

Title:  Ready Player One
Author:  Ernest Cline
Genre: Lit. RPG/Sci-Fi/Dystopia
Pages:  Paperback, 579
Publisher:  B/D/W/Y
ISBN:  978-1-5247-6328-2
Opening Lines:  "Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest."

Rating


"In the year 2044, reality is an ugly placce. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

"But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

~ Jacket copy


When we were still dating, my husband told me about this "great book" that pulled on our childhood and mutual love of all things geeky.  His roommate just so happened to be reading it and raved about its epicness.  Needless to say, we raced to pick up a copy before the movie came out.  Yes, I am that person who tries to read the book before watching the movie.


In the year 2044, everyone lives their meager life plugged into the OASIS.  Business is conducted in online store fronts, children attended simulated schools, you work virtual jobs, etc.  Provided you have enough money, you never have to leave your trusted haptic rig.  However, all of that might change when the creator of the OASIS levels a challenge on his death—find the hidden Easter Egg to inherent his entire estate and controlling shares in Gregarious Simulation Systems.  Basically, to the winner goes the OASIS.  After years of searching, no one has been able to solve the puzzles.  When an unlikely teenager from the stacks in Ohio manages to master the first puzzle, he pits himself against a huge mega-corporation to find the Egg.  With only his knowledge of '70s, '80s, and '90s trivia to guide him, Wade must master all three gates in order to save the OASIS from corporate control.



As a preface to this review, I was born in the early '80s and grew up with a deep-rooted love and nostalgia for the decade.  I have fond memories of watching The Breakfast Club, Lady Hawk, Willow, Goonies, and other iconic '80s movies with my brother.  These movies colored my childhood and earliest memories.  In fact, I remember believing that I would marry Michael J. Fox and be swept away in The DeLorean.  I cut my gaming teeth on my grandfather's Commodore 64 and learned the fine art of platforming with the original Mario Bros.  My parents raised us to love Star Trek, be avid readers, and embrace the things that others thought weird.  To be blunt, I am a geek. (This is our current set-up minus the CRT and old-school consoles.)



After listening my husband's roommate praise Ready Player One, I was excited to delve into its uncharted depths.  Sadly, it broke my heart.

Where do I even start with this book?  It is nothing more than one big cluster-fuck of trivia and "Ooo, look at me, I'm the most epic geek of all time because I know so much stuff!"  Before I even address how Ernest Cline tried to single-handedly ruin my childhood, I will put on my English teacher/editor hat.

Let me begin with the story.  Aside from movies like Tron, The Matrix, Gamer, etc., this book has a very interesting premise.  Using '80s trivia and geeky-awesomeness as the vehicle for the plot made me geekgasm.  It is also interesting to note that this book seemingly gave rise to Lit. RPG as an actual genre.  Honestly, some amazing books have come out of it.  Unfortunately, that is where it ends . . . This book lacks originality at its core and borders on plagiarizing myriad '80s movies.  While it can be argued that there are no more original stories, Cline takes that to another level by hijacking everyone else's ideas, bastardizing them, and dumbing them down to spoon feed them to the masses.  This is evident in his characters.  Cline has never met a stock character that he didn't like.  Not only are his characters extremely one-dimensional and severely underdeveloped, Wade is no more than a badly written copy of Luke Skywalker.  As well as being an orphan raised by his aunt, he was the only one who could go against IOI (*couch* the Empire *cough*) to save the OASIS.  And, let me not forget, Wade—like Ernest himself—is the G.O.A.T.


At no point can he fail.  Even if he does not have the skills or necessary knowledge, Wade always has to succeed.

In addition to the stock characters, the whole story of Halliday and Morrow was a two-bit copy of the formation of modern day computers.  In fact, Halliday and Morrow mirror Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  It was easy to figure out how the relationship would play out if you watched Pirates of Silicon Valley or know anything about that dynamic.

Moving on, Ernest either needs to invest in a good editor or fire the one he has.  The glaring inconsistencies in this book were outrageous.  For example, on page 161, Wade approaches the replica of Halliday's childhood home and notes, "Two late-'70s Ford sedans were parked in the driveway, one of them up on cider blocks."  However, as Wade makes his great escape from the house after cleared the first gate, he grabs "The keys to the Halliday family car were on the pegboard next to the refrigerator.  I grabbed them and rushed outside. The car (the one that wasn't up on the blocks) was a 1982 Ford Thunderbird." (p. 178). Um, a 1982 Ford Thunderbird is a not a late-'70s sedan.  To add insult to injury, the continual run-on sentences, fragments, and incorrect grammatical structure for a list series nearly made my eyes cross.  I am almost too terrified to ask what the original, unedited manuscript looked like.

Ready Player One is chock-full of frivolous details.  If the book was distilled down to the story, it would probably cap out around 100-200 pages.  Instead, Cline spends the majority of the book inundating the audience with pointless movie references, incorrect geeky trivia, and pages of detailed explanations of why Wade is the G.O.A.T.  Cline relies too heavily on several bad plot devices such as the dreaded deus ex machina, hidden knowledge, and the Mary Sue.  All of these elements are characteristics of immature writers. Unfortunately, these elements work together to create a book that is nothing more than a name-dropping info dump and testament to Cline's belief in his own "geek prowess".

The lengths to which Cline goes to incorporate all geekdom from the past several decades is laughable.  In his attempt to show his godlike knowledge of all things geeky, Cline—surprisingly—got many things wrong.  First of all, a Bag of Holding is a pocket dimension that is larger on the inside than the outside.  It does not get heavier as you put more objects into it.  Therefore, I am unsure why Wade could no longer fill the bag with gold or loot as he worked through the dungeon.  Second, he cannot study the map of the dungeon to know where every single monster is located.  In many of those old D&D books, wandering monsters were common and could not be predicted.  Aside from the bosses and larger battles, it was a roll of the dice and up to the DM to decide what players would encounter.  I don't even want to address what he did to the DeLorean or the Serenity . . . It made me weep and my husband homicidal.  (Ernest Cline, if you are reading this, you do not deserve to have your picture taken in front of the DeLorean nor do you deserve to be lauded at ComicCon.  Can the shit, you're not a geek or a nerd!)

Cline's desire to create the magnum opus of geekdom did nothing more than alienate true geeks and nerds by bastardizing what they love the most.

Even though I do not condone book burning, here is our final opinion of the book:

   
         

Much love, Sinn

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"If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag! If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass! It’s our time now, To let it all hang out!" I am a recovering English major, closet bibliophile, breve addicted, zombie lover with a rockabilly and heavy metal fetish.