Friday, September 6, 2013

What we're reading: Rick Yancey!

Anarda has been telling me, ever since it came out and she read it, that I should read The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey. Since I am not a horror fan, however, I have resisted. Then Yancey came out with The 5th Wave, and since I AM a big sci fi fan and love stories about "the alien encounter," I read that one. And it was really, really good! In fact, The 5th Wave is what The Host wishes it were. No disrespect to The Host, I did enjoy it when I read it, but...sorry, this is way better. The voices are fresh and interesting, the action is exciting, and I loved the overall premise. Why are we so fascinated with aliens-take-over-the-world scenarios? I don't know, but this is one of the best I've read in a long time! I particularly liked how Cassie, the smart-mouthed girl protagonist, mocks your typical American movie scenario (think Independence Day) in which a ragtag little band of humans gets out the nukes and the missiles and the jet fighters and somehow triumphs over the evil/stupid invaders. Not this time! Excellent story line, interesting, individually drawn characters, good progression between narrators, tension maintained throughout--this was a book with good writing AND good editing! Five stars from me! Can't wait for the sequel.

So, coming off the high of that book, and now eagerly desirous of reading something else by Yancey, I sat down with The Monstrumologist on Sunday night. Anarda had told me, "It's really scary," but she neglected to mention the sheer gross-out graphic appalling disgusting visceral imagery. I read the first 22 pages, closed the book, and emailed Anarda:
"Okay, I do not know how you read this book! After liking The 5th Wave so much, I decided to give it a try. When I got to the part about him pulling the baby monster out of the dead girl's corpse (on page 22!), I said 'Life is too short' and closed the book. Yech. No."
But of course, curiosity got the better of me, and I picked it back up again. And here's what I have to say...

This is a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE book. No, not in the sense of the writing--the writing is fantastic! Nor the storytelling--equally masterful. No, it's a terrible book because terrible things happen in it. Orphans, grave robbers, mad scientists, insane asylums, monster hunters, and the most horrifying species ever created populate this book. And now that I have read the entire thing, marveling at the lyrical language, the poetic Victorian style, and  the compelling and sympathetic characterizations while cringing at the unmitigated gore that inundates both the characters and the reader, I see that there are THREE SEQUELS. That's really terrible. Am I going to have to read them? I may, just because this guy is a WRITER. The Monstrumologist reads like it was written by a (possibly smarter) contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle. The premise, the language, the structure, all in support of the IMAGES oh the images are TERRIBLE. I don't know whether to say Read it! or Run screaming!

I gave this book five stars, but despite the fact that the protagonist, Will Henry, is an orphan boy of 12, I would not recommend this for younger teens, and would caution that anyone who reads this--teen, adult, or octogenarian--had better have a strong stomach. (I still can't believe Anarda read it!) Beware, all who assay Yancey! (And he looks like such a nice, mellow guy in his beige Polo sweater...)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the teen New Books shelf

That Time I Joined the Circus, by J. J. Howard

Which of us has never had the impulse to run away from home, especially if the circus is your destination? Who hasn't fantasized about flying on the trapeze, standing on the back of a horse as it gallops around the ring, or perching atop the head of the biggest elephant as it majestically parades past an appreciative audience?

Lexi, the protagonist, didn't really intend to run away specifically to join the circus, but since that was the last word she had of where she might be able to find her mom, that's where she ended up. In this story, what she's running from (some bad times in her life in New York City) is equally as important as what she's running to, and she has to resolve a bunch of issues relating to both these destinations before the end of the book. I liked the style the author chose--the jumps back and forth between past and present, so that you come to a gradual understanding of everything involved, always in the moment with Lexi.

I saw in the author's acknowledgments that she thanked someone for insisting, "Add more circus!" and I'm grateful to that person, too, because those descriptions and incidents were my favorite parts of the book. There are some nice friendship and romance moments, and these are not completely predictable, which I also appreciated.

I liked this book. I would have given it four stars, but am giving it three instead (okay, call it 3.5), because some of the clichés and coincidences are just too glaring. I had two gripes: One was a particular piece of a scene that was either accidentally left out or wasn't sufficiently thought through, and you may say it's not a big deal, but it really bothered me!

Lexi arrives at the circus grounds (after a looong bus ride from NYC to Florida, so already presumably hot, tired, and slightly funky), and is immediately put to work by the circus master shoveling you-know-what out of the animals' cages. At the end of a very long evening, she is shown to her bed in the bunkhouse where she will be sleeping, and realizes that she left her bag (with all her clean clothes and stuff) in the circus owner's trailer while talking him into letting her stay, and can't retrieve it now (because it's late), so she goes to sleep in her dirty clothes.

Next day, she wakes up, rolls out, goes to meals (with cute boys she has never met before), works all day at other jobs (some of which would require a presentable appearance!) and never a mention is made of bathing (or even washing up), nor of borrowing a comb and dragging it through her hair, examining her filthy fingernails, being dismayed by the stains on her clothing--all those things of which a a teenage girl would be conscious in these circumstances! I'm sorry, I don't care how laid-back you are, this is preposterous. At the END of that day, she goes back to the bunkhouse and discovers her bag on her bed. So--she's covered in dirt, sweat, and less savory filth, and neither she nor anyone around her says "Phew! Girl, WHAT is that SMELL?"?!

The other gripe was excessive use of time-worn phrasing (speaking of a time-worn phrase!). For instance: "I still loved Nick--some part of me always would." [teeth-grinding ensues] Sorry, there's GOT to be another way to say this. Please find it.

But...the circus fantasy still won this book my good will, and I will suggest it to others!