Tag Archives: fiction

John Dies at the End

26 Sep

John Dies at the End by David Wong, 2009

... or does he?John said the thing was as tall as the truck and walked on six legs that looked horned and armoured, like something seen at a seafood buffet. But there was a part that had the feel of a mammal, too, fur and arms. Please remember that from John’s distance the beast would have been the size of a dime, so I won’t criticize his crab-riding monkey description even though we all know it’s retarded.

That passage sums up David Wong’s John Dies at the End pretty well. There’s the horror element of the weird monster thing, and there’s the humour of a guy talking crap about his best mate. And if I were to sum up the book in two words, ‘horror’ and ‘humour’ would be the ones I’d use.

But that would be a ridiculously short review, and we all know I like to go on about these books. So too bad – get ready for more words!

So yeah, horror. I love horror movies and used to devour whatever Stephen King books I could get my hands on (now, I’m not such a fan of his work – sadly, Mr King lost me a while ago). I very rarely get spooked by scary movies, but this book gave me the creeps, y’all. Even now, days after I finished it, some of the images pop into my head when I walk into my bedroom without turning the light on first. I just know there’s something crouching in the dark with a hideous half animal/half human face, ready to attack me… and that’s just my sister! (Couldn’t resist, sorry.)

It’s all based around a drug called soy sauce, which opens users’ minds to other levels of consciousness. But then there are flying wig-monsters with baby hands, scorpion tails and a handful of eyes, as well as beings that gather in the shadows, a monster made of meat, and an ancient evil named Korrok which is trying to take over the world. And it’s up to the protagonist and his friend John to save us all.

It’s as crazy as that sounds, but it actually works. There are monsters galore, love and lust, a trip to Vegas, time/multidimensional travel, beer drinking, computer games, and a dog that just can’t die.

And the writing! Oh my, the writing. David Wong is a freaking genius. He’s a senior editor at Cracked, one of my favourite humour sites, so it’s not surprising that he can bring the funny. (Interested parties should read the background of the book – it was first written as an internet series, and is now being turned into a movie starring Paul Giamatti.) But he can also create amazingly accurate and clever images for the reader. As such:

And so, feeling like men trying to work a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded and using only our butt cheeks to grip the pieces, we left.

Sometimes it’s not so G-rated, but still manages to be quite eloquent:

Fuck that. Fuck that idea like the fucking captain of the Thai Fuck Team fucking at the Fucking Tour de Fuck.

Oh, and the next time you go to sleep, try NOT to think about this image:

Somebody said my name, asked if I was okay. I didn’t answer, the sound of the commotion dying around me as the heavy monkey of sleep rested its warm, furry ass on my eyelids.

Heavy monkey of sleep and his warm, furry ass, indeed.

This was another installment in my MS Novel Challenge. Sponsor me?




21 Sep

Fame by Tilly Bagshawe, 2011

The captivating FameI don’t know what to say about Tilly Bagshawe’s Fame. There’s just so much wrong with it – the writing, the plot, the cover, the blurb. But it’s a trashy beach read, so what did I expect? Wuthering Heights?*

It’s all very Jackie Collins-esque. Set around the filming and promotion of a Massive Hollywood Movie, the book is populated with several apparently jaw-droppingly gorgeous film stars, powerful directors, bitter wives, and a quiet but determined girl who doesn’t know how beautiful and wonderful she truly is. There are sex scenes in which women orgasm at a single touch, and, conversely, romantic scenes in which couples get engaged before even making it to first base.

There’s also writing like this:

“All you need to be fighting for is your strength,” said Dorian soberly, marvelling for the thousandth time at Sabrina’s limitless ambition. Even with a broken heart, and having just emerged from a coma, she was thinking about her next career move.

See? A coma! And a plucky comeback from a coma! That’s the mark of a quality read if ever there was one.

By the way, the blurb doesn’t seem to be about this book – I don’t think whoever wrote it has actually read Fame. It mentions three – yes, THREE! – events that aren’t in the book. Come ON Tilly Bagshawe! Did you really sign off on this? You, who wrote the following sexy, sexy passage?

Her hair spread out across the bedspread like an arc of peacock feathers, and her breasts rose and fell beneath the delicate lace of her bra like two ripe peaches quivering on a tree.

(Ah yes, the peacock-feathered quivering peach tree. I know it well.)

Also, the woman on the front cover doesn’t resemble anyone in the book.

But Fame is what it is. Yeah, it’s trashy, but I admit I was compelled to make it to the end so I could find out what the hell happened to the characters (and yes, it was just as odd as I’d hoped).

So… well played, Tilly, well played.

*This is an in-joke, as the movie they’re filming is actually an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. The 0% of my readership who have read Fame would know that.

This was another installment in my MS Novel Challenge series. Sponsor me?


13 Sep

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, 2011

Chuck Palahniuk Damned What’s hell to you? Is it an author who uses a handful of literary devices over and over again until you want to throw his damn book across the room? A book that’s probably trying to go somewhere, but you’re not sure, and you’re confused about the point it’s trying to make for a reeeeally long time? Okay, these aren’t hellish exactly, but goshdarnit if they aren’t really annoying by the end of a novel.

Anyway, those points aside, Chuck Palahniuk offers a pretty good idea of hell. It’s all grimy and gross, and the landscape is dotted with features such as the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm, Mountain of Toenail Clippings and Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions. Demons roam, torturing then devouring the souls they encounter (naturally, the torn-apart bodies reassemble themselves, the damned unable to ever escape their fate).

Oh, and those annoying market research calls you get at dinnertime? They’re made by people in hell who are just doing their job.

I’m a fan of the Chuckmeister – I like his voice and the way he seemingly always sets out to jar people out of their everyday existences. And I did enjoy this book. The narrator, Madison, is quite likable: she’s a recently deceased 13-year-old girl, the daughter of a billionaire and a movie star, who was on that weird border of being interested in boys but not really knowing what to do with them anyway. She tells the story of her life – and, eventually, her death – with a charming mix of innocence and precociousness.

But sometimes there was just too much imaginative detail about hell thrown in, making me wonder if the story was actually going anywhere. Some parts just seemed to drag: a lengthy chunk was devoted to a single encounter with a giant demon (and the description of one of Madison’s friends giving said giant demon oral pleasure). It wasn’t even a very exciting encounter (in spite of the giant oral sex action). It was lucky I was really hungover so I was physically unable to do anything other than read on the day I picked this up, or I may have put it aside for a while.

Anyway, drifting plotlines aside, was there an eventual payoff? Yes. Was it worth it? Well… yeah, actually, it was. The Chuckster does love a bit of a twist, and the one finally offered in Damned was pretty sweet. And in the end, I was wondering if all that meandering had been on purpose after all. That crafty bastard.

This was the third book in my MS Novel Challenge. Sponsor me?

Dedication: the cover (and its four thrilling sequels)

8 Sep

Why does one book need five versions of the cover? Okay, once it hit New York Times bestseller status (WTF?) it could have used an update telling everyone how great (?) it was. But what’s the explanation for the others?

For the record, the copy I reviewed features the half-girl looking up while posing on an overstuffed suitcase.

Why so many covers, Dedication?

Sooo… which do you prefer?


8 Sep

Dedication by Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, 2007

NB: This is the first post on this book – you can also read a note on its cover(s).Alternative text for alternative covers

You know the story. Girl meets Boy in early high school. Boy stuffs Girl around. Eventually Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy stands her up on prom night, leaves town and becomes international recording star. Girl spends next 10 years trying to get over him, not helped by the fact that Boy’s omnipresent songs are all about her, their sexual exploits, and her family secrets. Boy returns to hometown, Girl decides to resolve things with him. Things happen.

I went into Dedication with high hopes. I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to have dated A Famous Person before they hit the big time (specifically Brad Pitt. No reason, of course!), and this seemed like the book that was going to explain it all.

Then the structure intervened. The first chapter was set in the present; the second was set in the sixth grade, when aforementioned girl first lays eyes on the Future Megastar. The next chapter was again in the present; the fourth was in Year Seven. This alternating timeline continues throughout high school and into the uni years. But it wasn’t the structure itself that got on my nerves – it was the dialogue and scenarios created in those early high school years. Let alone the fact that these rural kids have a case of Dawson’s Creek-itis (what 12-year-old has a perfect comeback for every snide remark?), the main character actually stands on a table, in the middle of class, to declare that she likes the boy. She is then, apparently, allowed to live this down. What world do these people live in? Why was that event not made into a huge thing? Realism, where are you?!

Anyhoo, I was originally dreading every second chapter and its crappily crafted stories, but as the characters got older they grew into their sass and became much more believable. And then – gasp! – I actually started to enjoy the damn thing. There were some great passages – especially the descriptions of early love and lust, which just made me want to be a teenager in love. A teenager in love with a tortured boy. Who can sing beautiful songs he’s written just for me. Also, he has a really great body. Sigh.

It’s not all about the twists and turns of this relationship, by the way – there’s some family drama packed in there, and questions are posed about friendship, loyalty and growing up. Some of the subplots are a bit blah, but the big one just keeps pulling you back in. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE COUPLE? I can’t tell you, obviously. Unless you really want to know – then you can contact me and I’ll tell you privately. I just don’t want to put it out there and ruin it for everyone because I know EVERYONE ELSE wants to read this now 😉

So what IS it like to go out with someone who became famous after you knew them? You’ll have to read it to find out. Yes, you may be gritting your teeth to just get through those early high school years… but isn’t that a lot like real life anyway?

BTW: This was the second book in my MS Novel Challenge.

A Young Girl’s Diary

2 Jun

A Young Girl’s Diary by AnonymousA Young Girl's Diary, DailyLit

(This post references the DailyLit site I’ve reviewed in the past. To understand what I’m talking about, you might want to read that entry before continuing with this one.)

I knew almost nothing about A Young Girl’s Diary, by Anonymous, when I started reading it on DailyLit. I knew it was about a young girl as she grew into her early teens, and that it was written in diary format (yes, I am quite the detective). But I liked the idea of it because a) I like books written from a young adult perspective, and b) it was short (99 instalments of average length, compared to the 423 of Anna Karenina, for example).

But by the end, those 99 instalments just weren’t enough – which is funny, because for most of the story, nothing massively huge happens.  It really is just a girl’s diary as she grows into her teens – she’s going to school, realising boys might not be so bad after all, avoiding her condescending older sister, and sharing her secrets with her BFF.

One point of difference between A Young Girl’s Diary and similar novels: it’s set in Germany in the early 1900s. This means there are maids, noble families, evidently socially acceptable public crushes on female teachers, and passages like this:

 I’ve taken to wearing snails*. Father calls them “cow pats”; but everyone else says they’re exceedingly becoming.
*Flat rolls of hair-plait covering the ears – Translator’s note.

So, you know, it’s educational! Cow pats!

But there are also sections that remind you how good writing is timeless. Sitting on top of a hill, the narrator notes:

When I see so extensive a view it always makes me feel sad. Because there are so many people one does not know who are perhaps very nice.

I’ve felt like that. It was perfect.

However, the time and culture in which the novel was written does raise its head. A lot of the diary – especially later on, as the writer gets further into her teens – focuses on boys and even (gasp!) sexual matters. When talking about these things, the author uses so many vagaries that I was left wondering if she was even writing about what I thought she was writing about.

Dora says she took a dislike to S. from the first because he — — — –. It’s an absolute lie! — — — has clammy hands. It’s simply not true, on the contrary he has such entrancingly cool hands.

What the hell… clammy hands?  Was this scandalous at the time? Sexy? How confusing… yet intriguing. Men, do YOU have clammy hands? Is this a sign of sexual deviousness? Let me know.

But overall, hand moisture mysteries aside, this was a fascinating read. Family tragedy intertwines with the whole coming-of-age thing, but the author doesn’t dwell on the sad times. It’s just a girl growing up, and these are the things that happen to her, wonderfully noticed.

* Word on the street is that the author was actually a psychoanalyst who specialised in child psych matters, not an actual teenage girl. It doesn’t really matter.

Read it when you want to find out how it felt to live as a somewhat-pampered German girl in the early 1900s, annoying siblings, frenemies, crushes on older boys and all. 

Super Sad True Love Story

5 Apr

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, 2010

When you walk into work, a board flashes your mental state to all your peers: “meek but cooperative”. You wear an apparat, a smartphone-like device on social media-overload that broadcasts your ‘HOTNESS’ and ‘F*CKABILITY’ ratings to everyone who owns an apparat (ie, everyone in the country). When shopping, credit poles scan your apparat to broadcast your credit rating to shop owners. Girls wear Onionskin jeans, which, given their name, are pretty much exactly what you’d imagine them to be.

This is the world Gary Shteyngart has created in Super Sad True Love Story – and if you haven’t got my point yet, it’s one crazy dystopian place. Set in the sometime-near-future in the US, when the dollar is pegged to the yuan as the government struggles to repay its international debt, it’s actually not so weird that you can’t imagine any of it happening. Which is really pretty alarming.

But, as the title implies, there’s more to this book than just a social media/possession-loving country in political crisis. It’s also about love. LOVE!

The plot follows Lenny Abramov and the object of his affection, Eunice Park. Lenny is a balding, overweight, somewhat-clueless guy; Eunice is a Korean-American 15 years his junior who scores 780/800 on the HOTNESS scale. Lenny’s hotness is 120/800. Ouch.

The chapters alternate between Lenny’s old-fashioned diary entries (he’s one of the few who still uses a pen and paper) and Eunice’s slang- and profanity-ridden apparat exchanges with her immigrant family and friends. Through their eyes, we learn how they got into this relationship in the first place, and what’s keeping them together as New York crumbles into a police state around them.

As a romance, Super Sad True Love Story is a solid story about lonely people making a connection. As a sci-fi depiction of what may lie ahead in our tech-obsessed world, it’s a damn good tale. In fact, I really love this book – I finished it months ago and still think about it at least twice a week (well, for one, the mental image of Onionskin jeans is pretty hard to get out of your head). I haven’t done it justice here – it’s hard to describe such an amazing story without messing it all up for you. Just read the damn thing, will you?

Read it when you want to read about love in this crazy world… or about a crazy world that still happens to have love in it.

[BONUS: For a ‘trailer’ about this book, featuring James Franco and some actual authors – and a dachshund! – check this out. Hint: it’s satirical.]