Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rambling Thoughts on Fan-Fiction

Like many of the mistakes I talk about here on T.T.P, this one started off with a television obsession. Namely, the CW's Vampire Diaries - a teenage vampire, night time soap opera, which would be terrible if not for the fact that I, for the sake of honesty will admit, absolutely love. I was sold on it from the first episode and in classic style, managed to chew through an entire catalog of the 120 episodes currently available in little over three weeks. I should be embarrassed but I did it, so no harm in admitting it now I suppose.

I'm not telling you this to persuade you into the same demented marathon watching I engaged in, but to convey how deeply engrossed I'd become. I was a lost cause. Have an hour to kill? Throw on another episode! Start a new book? Nah... I'll just stay up until 2 AM and finish up season three, thanks. Let's just say it was an unhealthy addiction and after that kind of binge let's just say that withdrawal ain't easy.

So I did what I've always done - I sought out the books it was based on. Well, that was mistake number one because at least where T.V.D. is concerned those books are so incredibly different that it's hard to consider them as even occupying the same relative spaces. For starters, characters not only look entirely different but act differently as well. We aren't talking substituting a tertiary character for another or an eye color on a protagonist here. No, the TV show is a full blown re-imagining of a crappy novel that shares little more than some names while it loosely borrows a few plot points. Without the original to fall back on, I made what I now recognize as being the worst move of all - I downloaded some fan-fiction.

Ah, fan-fiction. An entire arm of literature born from adoring fans who can't be sated on the original content of a book, movie or television show alone. No. These rabid followers go one step further and feel like the only way to express their love is by taking creative control of the characters. In some cases it's to 'fix' a plot point that they felt was handled poorly and write up an alternative ending. In some cases it's a way to keep the story going for themselves and their group of like minded readers. In all cases, I can't stand the stuff. I knew this.

I downloaded it anyway...

...and it only took a page for me to realize what kind of train wreck I'd made myself audience to.

But did I stop? Of course I didn't! I read all thirty three pages of some of the most poorly written garbage I'd ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on*. Just know that every missed capitalization of a proper noun, every misuse of the words their, they're and there, every grotesque editing error was noticed. Pile that onto a story that was, for lack of a better description, absolutely freaking terrible, and I was shaken. How could this exist? Not all fan-fiction is this bad is it?

Well, I'm here to tell you that it is. Not based on this one title alone. Oh no, no, no my dears, I wouldn't ever make such a sweeping judgment of an entire genre based on one title and that's because when this one turned out to be so terribly pathetic I read three more. Yes. Three. All by different authors mind you. Every single one was a steaming pile of literary poo.

You probably think I'm a bit crazy, and while that's probably a true statement, this venture through Kindle Worlds did do two things for me. The first was that it cured me of my T.V.D. addiction, (at least enough so I'll be sated with the new weekly episode). The second? Well, this adventure has shown me the darkest depths of the Kindle store. Thankfully, I recognized it as a mistake early on and managed to escape relatively quickly. But do yourself a favor - if you ever find yourself with an itch you think that only fan-fiction can scratch you'll probably be better off sitting down and writing your own. Not only will you get the story you want, but with the bar set so incredibly low, you can kick it over to Amazon and make yourself a few bucks in the process.

This belongs to the entire genre of fan-fiction.
Be gone, foul beast!
*In an effort to be kind I'm not going to mention the author or title of the work here, just know that I didn't stumble into the Kindle store and download the first thing I saw. I took my time and downloaded one of the highest rated titles with a ton of glowing reviews. Outside of that, my only criteria was that it was based on the television program and not a spin out from the book characters which turned out to be the easiest part of the whole thing: Turns out I'm not the only person whose absolutely revolted by the books but loves the program. Go figure.



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'When I Found You' by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Official Summary:
While duck hunting one morning, childless, middle-aged Nathan McCann finds a newborn abandoned in the woods. To his shock, the child—wrapped in a sweater and wearing a tiny knitted hat—is still alive. To his wife’s shock, Nathan wants to adopt the boy…but the child’s grandmother steps in. Nathan makes her promise, however, that one day she’ll bring the boy to meet him so he can reveal that he was the one who rescued him.

Fifteen years later, the widower Nathan discovers the child abandoned once again—this time at his doorstep. Named Nat, the teenager has grown into a sullen delinquent whose grandmother can no longer tolerate him. Nathan agrees to care for Nat, and the two engage in a battle of wills that spans years. Still, the older man repeatedly assures the youngster that, unlike the rest of the world, he will never abandon him—not even when Nat suffers a trauma that changes both of their lives forever.
From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes When I Found You, an exquisite, emotional tale of the unexpected bonds that nothing in life can break.

Review:

Let me start off by saying that if it weren't for Kindle First* I wouldn't have ever heard of, never mind downloaded, 'When I Found You'. It's yet another Prime benefit that helps keep my reading list longer than it needs to be and filled with a more diverse breadth of genres. If it weren't for the services like this one, Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library, the infamous to-be-read pile would look more like that of a Vampire Diaries fan girl then it already does... and that's (probably) saying something***.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a book review, not some free lip-service for the retail giants, so let's get on with it.

'When I Found You' is rightly billed as an emotional read, but is it "exquisite"? In a word, no. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty good and worth the journey, but I wasn't floored by it and I certainly wouldn't use a word like exquisite to describe this particular fiction. Like many others I found that the characters came across as one dimensional and lacking any sense of passion. Even then, the story itself wasn't attention grabbing though the plot has enough going on where it kept me interested.

Bottom Line: 'When I Found You' is a great, middle of the road kind of read. It's an interesting story founded on a compelling idea, but the delivery seems to be missing something that I can't quiet put my finger on so I'll just say that it feels a bit empty and leave it at that. Overall, worth the time if you're usually into reads like 'This is Where I Leave You' and 'Pearl' - although, my opinion is that both of those titles are better than this one - or you love crappy Helen Hunt movies. 

*If you haven't heard of Kindle First then let me break it down for you: Do you have an Amazon Prime subscription? If you don't, you do your primary reading on a Kindle and you're constantly looking for new titles then you should. It's a little known benefit where Kindle owners get to choose two** titles from four pre-selected early releases each month. It's a great way for lazy readers (like myself) to keep that to-be-read pile insurmountably high.

**Ah-ha! So you've heard of the program and you could've sworn that you only got one title a month, right? As of 2015 Amazon is now letting us lowly Prime subscribers increase our monthly haul to two of the four instead of just the one. Pretty exciting stuff, I know.

***Does this really surprise anyone?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

'My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag... and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha' by Jolie Kerr


Official Summary:
The author of the hit column “Ask a Clean Person” offers a hilarious and practical guide to cleaning up life’s little emergencies

Life is filled with spills, odors, and those oh-so embarrassing stains you just can’t tell your parents about. And let’s be honest: no one is going to ask Martha Stewart what to do when your boyfriend barfs in your handbag.

Thankfully, Jolie Kerr has both staggering cleaning knowledge and a sense of humor. With signature sass and straight talk, Jolie takes on questions ranging from the basic—how do I use a mop? —to the esoteric—what should I do when bottles of homebrewed ginger beer explode in my kitchen? My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag proves that even the most nightmarish cleaning conundrums can be solved with a smile, the right supplies, and a little music. 


Review:

Can a how-to about cleaning be chock full of useful tips and funny? The short answer is a resounding yes! The longer one is that Jolie Kerr manages to deliver a no-nonsense but chuckle inducing step-by-step home cleaning guide for the masses with 'My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...' - a title that by itself is attention grabbing and fun.

It's not often that how-to's are reviewed on T.T.P., and this is the first none-wedding planning title to make the cut, but it needed to be shared. Kerr's slightly self deprecating, tell it like it is style makes you feel as though your getting advice from a good friend and not reading it because your a disaster of a thirty-something whose never heard of laundry bluing and the amazing thing it does for your whites.

Bottom Line: If you've ever found yourself at a lose when faced with a mess, a yellowed shirt or just need affirmation that your using the right stuff on your floors, this slightly off-kilter guide should be in your arsenal. Doesn't matter if you consider yourself a clean freak or a slob, this one gets a T.T.P. guarantee. You'll like it, and you might even pick up a few new tricks for keeping the kipple* at bay.

*For those that need a definition, well, it is my humble opinion that you should read 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' Really. Add it to your list now. Thank me in the comments later. In the meantime, the definition as provided by Urban Dictionary:
Kipple is a word coined by the remarkable science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It refers to the sinister type of rubbish which simply builds up without any human intervention. Eventually, one day, the entire world will have moved to a state of kipplization.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' by Jeff Kinney (Book 1)


Official Summary:
Boys don't keep diaries—or do they?

The launch of an exciting and innovatively illustrated new series narrated by an unforgettable kid every family can relate to.

It's a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you're ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.

In book one of this debut series, Greg is happy to have Rowley, his sidekick, along for the ride. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, Greg tries to use his best friend's newfound popularity to his own advantage, kicking off a chain of events that will test their friendship in hilarious fashion.


Review:
Let me start out by saying that I never actually intended on reading 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.' It just kind of happened. You don't believe me, do you? That's okay - you try ignoring the same title in the Kindle Unlimited top whatever for months and we'll have a little snoop in on your reading list. If the allure of all the nearly free titles aren't clogging up your to-be-read pile with questionable content in just a couple of days I'd argue that your using the service wrong. Yup. I went there. No. I'm not sorry.

Well, maybe a little bit sorry. But only a little. And only because now you have to suffer through a review of what is arguably one of the worst titles I've ever read. How is this crap so popular? Not only does it inhabit some strange space between a comic strip and a Roald Dahl novel - and I've gotta say that even having this garbage even spark the memory of fantastic children's writer Dahl makes me a bit sick to my stomach. That guy is a genius. This guy knows, has or was a bratty kid -  but there isn't anything redeeming about the content or the main character. The so-called "wimpy kid" is a freaking jerk that is constantly blaming others for his mistakes, admittedly using his friends to avert punishment, shows barely a modicum of respect for the authority figures in his life, and steals from his brother (whose also a jerk, by the way).

The only reason I can think of that this hunk of literary garbage is so widely read is that this kid, this bratty, selfish, dumb kid is an accurate reflection of the state of childhood right now. And that makes me sad.

Bottom Line: I don't care if Kinney comes out with a hundred more of these titles and they make another fifty movies from them, my advice will still be the same: Steer clear. This shouldn't be as popular as it is, and it certainly shouldn't be in the top 100. Ultimately, if this is the direction of our culture, then I'm disappointed. With so many enriching titles out there for children, the popularity of this one is mind-blowing and makes me more then just a little concerned for the reading lists of this country's youth.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

'Timebound' & ' Time's Edge' The Chronos Files 1 & 2 by Rysa Walker


Official Summary:
When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.
Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.
Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?
Review:
I'm a sucker for sci-mance (and if that isn't an official term for a science fiction, romance mash-up, then it is now, on this obscure little book review site, you heard it here first!*), especially anything with a time travelling element. Time travel + romance = a pretty good time for the Jessle. That said, this series fits snugly in the sci-mance genre, making it an irresistible new series for me to follow.

Front and center to the story is a love triangle that's created by the timeline shake-ups that occur in 'Timebound.' The main character Kate has a choice between Trey, the guy she met because the timeline shifts and he's suddenly taken her place at school, and Kiernan, the guy from the early 1900's who knew her as 'his Kate' before a timeline shift changes her own memories and makes him a friendly stranger. The relationships get even more bizarre in 'Time's Edge' when dealing with the fallout of the timeline changes purposely made at the end of the first installment that cause Trey to forget that he had ever even met Kate, never mind having fallen in love with her.

That said, at it's core, this is a series about time travel and how changing a past event impact the future. With all the timeline bending that occurs it wouldn't have surprised me if this series had turned out to be a tangled spaghetti ball of a disaster but Walker does a commendable job with this narration; somehow keeping the story engaging and accessible at every turn. Even when the number of secondary and tertiary characters grows in book two the benefit of this tale being told from Kate's perspective really shines.        

Bottom Line: 'Timebound' introduces us to a world that is both captivating and compelling enough to have earned itself a place in Amazon's Kindle World's. 'Time's Edge' keeps the story going while remaining fresh and unpredictably interesting. If you're looking for something a little different in the over crowded YA space, and like time travel novels, this one is most definitely for you.

*Or not... admittedly, I haven't (and don't plan on) actually looking up whether it exists for the purposes of this quick little post here. The way this stuff works is I'll see it somewhere else in a few weeks time, wonder if it came before or after this post, get too lazy to check the date stamp and move on. Besides, if this term doesn't exist yet then it should if only because it is way way way too obvious not to. Then again (yes I'm debating myself here - don't worry this should be the closing remarks coming up now), isn't all YA these days sci-mance? Are sci-mance and modern YA interchangeable terms? Or is some librarian out there pulling out their hair right now because it would actually be YA sub-categorized as science fiction because all YA has romance in it. That's all teens think about, really...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

'Gathering Blue' by Lois Lowry


Official Summary:

Lois Lowry once again creates a mysterious but plausible future world. It is a society ruled by savagery and deceit that shuns and discards the weak. Left orphaned and physically flawed, young Kira faces a frightening, uncertain future. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, she struggles with ever broadening responsibilities in her quest for truth, discovering things that will change her life forever.

As she did in 'The Giver', Lowry challenges readers to imagine what our world could become, how people could evolve, and what could be considered valuable. Every reader will be taken by Kira’s plight and will long ponder her haunting world and the hope for the future.

Review:

Many, many years ago, way back in 1994, I picked 'The Giver' from a teacher's extra credit/recommended reading list* and it turned out to be one of those books that you never really shake off. It is hands-down the mother of all the great young adult dystopian stories. With that in mind, imagine my surprise when these two things happened over the course of the last year:

  1. A movie was made out of 'The Giver.' Granted. It's a movie I still haven't watched, and for fear of having my memory of one of the foundation novels of my childhood marred, I probably won't.  
  2. All of a sudden I became aware of a number of follow up novels that Lois Lawry wrote and released between '00 and '12 that take place in the same universe. 'The Giver', it turned out, was just book one in a four book series. Hallelujah! 
So off I went and before giving it a second thought, 'Gathering Blue' was sitting on my Kindle, waiting to be cracked open. After reading it my first thought was that 'The Giver' is better. Not only does it stand well on its own, but the story of Jonas is told in a succinct form that gives the story a power most novellas don't possess. 'Gathering Blue' with it's story of Kira and her weaving just didn't hit the same notes and it had more obvious call outs to being part of a series.

Bottom Line: Don't misunderstand the statements above, 'Gathering Blue' might not best the earlier installment, but it's still a damned good book. If you haven't picked up 'The Giver' start there and finish this series - if you have, but you didn't know it kept going, it's time to see what happened in Lowry's strange future world where magic exists in small doses and people have forgotten their roots.

* Yeah - I was that kid. In fact, I read every extra credit or recommended title regardless of passing in a report for it. It's a sickness I tell you, a wonderful, glorious, book devouring sickness that only other people who can't help but read anything and everything that someone recommends to you will understand. As an adult its culminated itself as my out of control to-be-read pile and the constant inability to find anything new on the top ten lists of Amazon that even remotely interests me anymore.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman

Official Summary:

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. 

Review:

Like a lot of others I picked this up after seeing the movie trailer. For me, it wasn't about preparing to go see the film, (those trips are usually to see the latest and greatest Abrams flicks), but the premise of a comatose girl trying to decide whether she should give up and die or find something worth living for drew me in.

Many other reviewers have commented that the girl, Mia, spends very little time actually contemplating this decision over the course of the novel, but I have to disagree. While the character doesn't brood openly about her decision, every memory she has helps tip the scales against or in favor of waking up and living a life permanently altered by tragedy.

What I did have trouble with is the ending, not because it was poorly written, or out of place - the last pages of 'If I Stay' were exactly what you would hope for given the emotional roller-coaster that the author pushes you through from page one. What I had a big problem with was the preview for the sequel novel 'Where She Went' that followed the closing chapter. For whatever reason, the first chapter of the second novel, told from the boyfriend Adam's perspective now, totally turned me off to not only reading the next book, but spoiled the experience of reading the first one.

Bottom Line: 'If I Stay' is a quick read worthy of it's fan base. An emotional page-turner that doesn't get heavy handed but does feature characters that can be a touch unbelievable. Overall, a solid entry in the young adult category that I'd recommend for anyone looking for something substantial as it raises real questions about life, death, love and family. If you like titles such as 'The Fault in Our Stars' then this one is for you - just learn from my mistake and avoid reading the preview for 'Where She Went'