I Tried To Read The 5th Wave And Failed

I just can’t with this book.

I first saw the Fifth Wave in the bookstore a few years ago when it was brand new, and it seemed pretty interesting. It has a very good premise. It’s a dystopian YA novel (strange how that’s not only a genre now, but an oversaturated and cliche genre. What a weird time to be alive) about a girl surviving on her own in the ruins of Earth after aliens show up and destroy the place.

The alien assault comes in the form of “waves.” The first wave is an EMP blast that disabled all electronic devices and cuts off communication. The second wave is a series of bombs dropped into fault lines that trigger tsunamis which wipe out all human life near coastlines. The third wave is a virus, transmitted by birds, that not only causes people to die a painful and bloody death, but also lose their mind to the point that one victim is shown to have been chained to her bed while she ripped her own fingernails out.

The book begins after the fourth wave has begun. It has a pretty strong opening chapter, and I was hooked very quickly. The narrator, Cassie, switches back and forth between recounting the events of her life before and the way humanity dealt with the attack from “the Others,” and her current mission to travel to a nearby airbase where she believes she might find her younger brother, trekking along desolate highway while being followed by a sniper.

At first, Cassie’s tendency to wax philosophical is charming. I mean, if you can’t contemplate the futility of existence in an apocalypse that somehow manages to combine an alien invasion, a superflu, a zombie virus,, a worldwide flood, a super bomb, and the mass murder of all survivors, you really can’t ever find a time to contemplate anything. But as time goes on, it feels like author Rick Yancey was more interested in using the lens of an uber apocalypse to discuss human society than actually telling a compelling story.

And things only get more ham-fisted from here. Every point is driven home without a hint of subtlety, and simple messages that shouldn’t be difficult to grasp are slammed in with a sledgehammer. The most egregious example of this is a moment that made me roll my eyes almost out of my head. I had to put the book down and Google to see other people’s reactions because I was so incredibly annoyed.

At one point, Cassie is reciting her experience in a camp of survivors. They’re all struggling to survive and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, unsure if anyone is ever going to come and help them. Cassie herself makes a brief reference to religion before this scene, simply saying that when it comes to God, she feels like there’s some kind of a broken promise there. But leaving it at that would be subtle and understated, two things that this book is not. We’re briefly introduced to two characters surviving in the refugee camp: a religious fanatic nicknamed Mother Theresa by the others, and “the sole atheist in our camp, some college professor named Dawkins.”

Yeah, that’s a LITTLE on the nose, Rick Yancey. Let me talk about WHY I hate this so much. The point Yancey is trying (read: failing) to make here is that all fundamentalism is bad, both religious fundamentalism and… non-religious fundamentalism? I mean there’s a problem with trying to explain how someone could be a fundamentalist ahtiest when atheism is simply the rejection of a religious claim, but I get what he’s trying to say here. He’s saying that we should be level-headed in our approach to life, and not get lost moving too far to one side or the other to keep a clear view of the situation.

But this is an actual apocalypse story. The other survivors jeer at the atheist, telling him he’s going to hell, to which he reasonably responds, “How would I know the difference?”

What bothers me so much about this is not just that Yancey went with the most obvious and on-the-nose name choice possible for an atheist character by naming him after Richard Dawkins, though that annoys me too. And I won’t dwell on it for much longer, but I have now found two different interviews in which someone asked him about naming his character Dawkins, and in both of those interviews he chuckled and said “You caught that, did you?” Yeah, Rick. We ALL CAUGHT IT. It was not subtle, or clever, it was ham-fisted and graceless. Anyhow, that’s not what bothers me so much. What bothers me is the idea that in a world where all of the conceivable apocalypses have happened one on top of another, that an atheist would STILL be regarded with disgust. I mean, if you need any more proof that there is no God looking out for you, trying looking around at the nightmarish dystopian hellscape you live in. I get that people would probably turn to their faith for comfort, but like Cassie mentioned earlier in the book before this scene, it’s clear that if there was some sort of promise from God to keep people safe, he didn’t live up to it, and may as well not exist anyway. The idea that this ONE character is the SOLE atheist is ridiculous, particularly when Cassie more or less admitted to being an atheist only a few pages ago.

I did manage to get a bit of revenge when, later on when groups of soldiers arrive to take all young children away to safe houses, Mother Theresa demands that she be allowed to leave too, because “women and children should be taken first, that’s just how things are done,” seeming to go out of her way to throw everyone else under the bus. I might have enjoyed this jab at religiosity more if it hadn’t been countered by an incredibly flawed atheist strawman. Not that his Mother Theresa character wasn’t a straw man too, but at the very least, anyone could sympathize with the atheist character.

At any rate, just when I began to feel really interested in what was happening to Cassie, the story switches perspectives rather abruptly to another character called Zombie, previously Cassie’s high school crush, and his experiences becoming infected with the plague virus, and subsequent recovery. He’s hooked into a computer program called Wonderland that “maps” his experiences, basically downloading his entire personality, memories, feelings and thoughts into a computer, and then he’s sent to boot camp to train in becoming a soldier. Calling the computer program Wonderland is one of several cringe-worthy literary references that might have been clever if they weren’t so cliche. It reminds me of the villain in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series being named Valentine, or the way the Looking Glass Wars tried to turn the Mad Hatter and Chershire Cat into anime-style martial arts badasses. It just feels so… silly. There’s kind of a trend in this series of giving silly names like Wonderland, Zombie, Nugget, Razor, Poundcake, and Dumbo. Sometimes they feel like they’re supposed to be references to other works, sometimes they just feel like unfortunate nicknames.

The story switches back to Cassie and manages to get very interesting for a few chapters, because the sniper who had been following her is an alien. Up to this point, no one has seen the aliens, but it is known that there are aliens masquerading as humans and killing people, which is called the Fourth Wave. The Fifth Wave, by the way, is never explained or even mentioned in this book, and won’t be addressed until the final book in the trilogy, but I digress. So the aliens have basically attached themselves to people’s brains and possessed their human hosts, but they aren’t a conciousness which replaces the old one (a la Stephanie Meyer’s the Host), they are still the same person they always were, only they’ve been “awakened” to who they truly are. The alien, Evan, is having trouble deciding on what to do because during the time he was hunting and stalking Cassie, he became attracted to her and began to become obsessed with her, unable to bring himself to kill her, instead nursing her back to health.

Evan is a pretty interesting character. He’s conflicted and you can see that his humanity is ultimately overpowering the alien part of himself. It does however worry me that since he is set up as Cassie’s romantic interest, this book continues the disturbing trend in YA fiction of having a female protagonist fall in love with an abusive or obsessive male partner who gives off some distinctly rape-y vibes. Still, because I’m me, I was just happy to finally have a cute boy involved in the story who I could be vicariously attracted to, because what is young adult fiction without sexual tension?

This, unfortunately, is when the book grinds to a complete halt. Evan and Cassie end up sharing a kiss and he climbs in bed with her, at which point the camera fades to black and we switch to Cassie’s younger brother, a terrified seven year old named Sam, who is brought into the safe houses after being separated from a girl he meets on the bus, and the narrative returns to Zombie, who is now in boot camp. And the book goes Full Metal Jacket on us. And you know, I really tried with this part. Firstly, I find military stories entirely boring, particularly when they involve boot camp, because I tend to view boot camp as a very strange form of physical and mental torture that we as a society have sanctioned as perfectly alright, and this book continues to espouse the supposed virtue of emotionally and mentally destroying a person through weeks and months of torture before “molding them” into a soldier, which even in real life seems to have little effect but destroying a person’s natural empathy and replacing their personality with that of a cold and ruthless machine designed to serve it’s masters, sacrificing any humanity.

But again, I digress.

I have difficulty with boot camp stories because of the above mentioned reasons, but also because it’s really not what this book has been about up to this point. And exactly halfway through the book is a very strange time to take on such a drastic change in tone. I mean, yeah, it’s still the same hopeless dystopia as the first half, but at a certain point the utter hopelessness of the story becomes unbearable. I mean, there IS no victory for these characters. At this point, most of humanity is dead. Even if they somehow defeated the aliens, there’s nothing that can be done, humanity will not survive beyond this point, any attempt to survive is pointless. And Yancey has said that the point of this story is not about victory but about endurance, but still, how compelling is a story of endurance? I mean, at the end of Gary Paulson’s book Hatchet, the main character does eventually get to go back to society. His endurance pays off. Where is the pay off here?

The thing that really pushed me over the line is that the book goes into gruesome detail describing the fate of the people who died, particularly through the lens of Casssie’s younger brother. Not only does the narrative go through the horrific details of his mother’s death and the way he lost everything he ever loved, but it does so while retaining his point of view, so that characters are still called “mommy” and “daddy” and we can see his innocence shattering. It all becomes so incredibly depressing that it’s almost too difficult to bear. This whole book is just steeped in hopelessness, and that’s the problem with it. Once you’ve breathed a sigh of relief, things can only get worse. There is never going to be any payoff for these characters.

The little boy is thrown into boot camp, a ludicrous idea even for a dystopian novel, and the drill sergeant taunts him about the death of his mother, which is probably more monstrous and unforgivable than anything that’s happened up to this point. Now granted, this drill sergeant is an antagonist, but the scene is framed in such a way that it suggests boot camp is a GOOD thing, so what is the message being sent here? I don’t know, but honestly this is the point where the book became too much for me and I had to put it down. I skimmed summaries for the rest of the book and then the rest of the series to sate my curiosity about what happened next, and I’m going to talk about it now, so consider yourself spoiler warned.

This boot camp section carries on for a while, and the narrative doesn’t return to Cassie for a long time, which as I said, grinds the story to a halt, because even though Zombie has been introduced, the central story was still mostly about Cassie. Halfway through the book is a bad time to give this novel a deuteragonist. We’d already followed Cassie, Evan and Sam, and Zombie’s section had been brief enough that it didn’t detract from the overall narrative. Frankly, I just don’t have the patience for this kind of storytelling. I know it may be important to switch focus, but I had to keep willing myself to read on beforehand, through all the gloomy atmosphere, because the story was essentially pretty good and was rolling along. I don’t have it in me to put with a boot camp section, not now. The military aspects of the book seem to be glorifying the military and even though that’s another discussion for another time, it was just too harsh of a tonal shift for me.

So, I was genuinely curious about what the hell the Fifth Wave actually was, and apparently it isn’t even explained until the third and final book in the trilogy. The big secret is that the aliens were never on earth, they were always acting remotely, and the mothership doesn’t actually house the aliens so much as it houses their equipment and their weapons. They controlled people by mapping themselves through Wonderland and then uploading themselves into people’s brains. This is meant to pull the rug out from under you, but Yancey actually did a very weird thing in the way he told the story in the first novel. You see, we learn from Cassie that the military are actually alien-controlled humans, but we switch to Zombie and Sam being cared for by the military and being given explanations about what the aliens are, even though we as readers KNOW they are the aliens. But, the information they’re giving the protagonists seem to be true, so it’s kind of a triple-bluff. I wish that the author had picked a better method of explaining the central story than several info-dumps from the point of view of side-characters, given by unreliable characters. Worse, the villains mostly seem to be pretty good people, except for the two military drill instructor types.

The general theme for this book seems to be that we as the reader are shown something, and then the characters are put into a situation where we know what’s happening and they don’t. That’s a good storytelling method in and of itself, but unfortunately, things get wonky from there. Right when I as a reader think I know what’s going on, the “bad guys” are acting good, and we’re left to wonder who exactly is the villain here. And this isn’t done in an interesting, morally ambiguous way, like a political tale in which every player has their own ends and the lines between good and evil become blurred, it’s just clunky and indistinct, leaving me as a reader not sure if the antagonists are lying or telling the truth, and not sure if the narrative itself is lying to me or telling the truth. There are lies hidden within truths hidden within lies, but it’s spun in a very ineffective way, and just left me scratching my head and unwilling to keep slogging on once the focus of the book shifted halfway through.

In case you’re curious, the ultimate ending of the series apparently keeps piling cliche upon cliche, because the sole fault in the Wonderland program is that the aliens didn’t anticipate that LOVE would become involved, and basically, love can break the spell that the program has on people, as it did with Evan and his (creepy?) romantic obsession with Cassie. Yes, that’s right, it’s the old “love trumps everything” trope, but wait, it gets better.

The reason that the aliens sent their ship there was to destroy human civilization, because humans were destroying the environment and wiping out other species, and apparently the Others go from planet to planet, wiping out civilizations that pose too much of a threat to their environments in order to keep life going. But if that’s the case, what about the Others themselves? If they have this kind of sophisticated technology, then surely they must have developed and incredibly advanced civilization that DIDN’T harm the life around themselves, in which case they could use their technology to travel to planets and help other races to take care of their home worlds, share their own technology with them, or hell, even take over the planet and become benevolent dictators. It seems like the Others went through a HELL of a lot of trouble to wipe out the majority of the human race when inevitably another race will eventually evolve to take it’s place and create it’s own civilization. And from what I can tell from plot summaries of the rest of the series, the real origins of the Others are never explained and they’re never even communicated with directly. What a let down.

The Fifth Wave, by the way, is a series of child soldiers trained by the aliens, who go and destroy what’s left of humanity, by tricking them into thinking they’re killing alien-infested people. Even though the people training them to do this are actually alien-infested, but actually not because of the whole Wonderland thing and ugh, my head hurts.

Even worse, the ultimate end for Cassie is that she downloads the memories and personalities of thousands of long-dead humans into her own mind, basically becoming Super Cassie and going on an army-of-one rampage against the antagonists, ultimately beaming herself onto the mothership with a bomb in hand, blowing herself up and destroying the mothership in the process. I don’t know if this actually defeats the Others, because clearly if they’ve done this with other planets before, they must have more ships. Did this really accomplish anything? So we have a combination of the “love conquers all” trope, the “humans will destroy the planet” trope, and the “sacrifice yourself to save Earth” trope. It’s kind of sad to me that a story with such lofty goals ends with such cliche set pieces.

And then finally, the epilogue of the series involves Zombie and Sam wandering through the ruins of the old world, basically just continuing to survive, and having some philosophical discussion about what a realm is. And that’s it. Like I said, there is no victory. No matter how long Zombie, Sam, and the other survivors make it, no matter how many generations of their children survive, humanity is still dead, all of human history is still destroyed, all of the art and music and literature and memories of past generations is gone. And the world isn’t rebooted in an Eden awash with possibilities, it’s on a planet in which much of the life has been destroyed and what land remains is littered with waste. The end.

How incredibly unsatisfying.

And that’s the Fifth Wave. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, and honestly I’m kind of glad I didn’t. It set out with some lofty ambition, but ultimately feels pretty pointless. The point of a dystopian story is to try and overcome the dystopia, to begin rebuilding, to create a new and better world, but this? This is just sad, and hopeless from the very beginning. Pain stacked upon pain, often in horrifically morose detail. It’s strange to me that in the world of YA fiction, you can’t directly talk about penises or breasts and you can’t do any more than imply that sex happens, but you can spend chapters describing blood leaking from the eyes of children and infants dying in their cradles and bands of marauders murdering (and raping?) children. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in general that we are so much more comfortable describing horrific violence in gory detail than talking frankly about something as natural and harmless as consensual sex. Not that that’s Rick Yancey’s fault, it’s just an observation, and it’s certainly not a new one.

And now, I can finally go read Mercedes Lackey.

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2013: My Literary Journey

I look so ditzy in this picture.

I look so ditzy in this picture.

At the beginning of this year I made myself a list of goals. I failed most of them. However, one of them was to take the Goodreads reading challenge, which is a feature on the aforementioned website where you challenge yourself to read a certain number of books in a year. I wasn’t sure what number I should go with, as even though I own a great amount of books, I’m kind of a slow reader. My initial pick was 30 books, but at the last minute (being minutes ago) I changed it to 20, and realized I had actually already reached my goal! Is it an empty victory because I kind of rigged the system to fit my needs? No, because I still read 20 books, and just like on virtual pet sites, reading books increases your intelligence. Usually.

And here are the books I read in the year 2013.

Novels

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Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

This was an easy read, and an absolutely ridiculous book. The author has kind of made it clear in interviews about the series that a large part of why she writes the books is money, and it really shows. A telepathic waitress falls in love with a Civil War veteran who also happens to be a vampire. She’s also being courted by a shapeshifter who stalks her as a dog. Good things about this book: it was cute, it was fantasy, and it was interesting. Bad things: the stereotypes were drawn with magic marker. There are two gay characters in the book: the first one we meet is a man infected with AIDS who is trying to infect a vampire with it and kill him. The second is a flamboyant drug dealer who sleeps with vampires and steals their blood. Both of these stereotypes (the AIDS-spreader and the drug-dealing slut) have been bad images that have been superimposed onto gay people for decades, and I find it extremely ironic that this woman has won some kind of award for gay rights because she includes gay characters in her books. Don’t get me wrong, there are gay villains in the world, but I don’t think you qualify as a gay rights activist if your gay characters are harmful stereotypes and your supposedly accepting protagonist basically says several times in the novel that she just overlooks the fact that the gay people she knows are gay, as opposed to actually being an accepting person.

In addition to this, the novel is a parody of everything southern, and unfortunately it seems to take itself totally seriously. The character development is lacking, as there are something like thirty characters in the book and apart from the main four or so, each gets about two lines of dialogue, and once Sookie and Bill sleep together, they never have another conversation for the rest of the novel, they just fuck on every other page. I find it very disturbing that Sookie reveals to Bill that she was molested by her uncle (oh look, more fun stereotypes), and Bill’s immediate reaction is to get all turned on and force himself on her, before leaving her asleep to go and murder her uncle. It’s just… really ridiculous. And I will finish my thoughts on the book thusly: Elvis Presley is a character in the book. The real, actual Elvis Presley. He is a vampire. I am not making this up. Moving on.

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Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen

Ah, now onto something a lot more classy. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and I was surprised by how hilarious I found it and how extremely enjoyable it was to read. I was expecting the same experience from this book and I got it to a lesser degree. The story was basically structured the same way as Pride and Prejudice: a woman meets a man who seems perfect, he turns into a complete jerk and breaks her heart, and then comes back to redeem himself, all while a wise elder sister wags her finger from the corner, before she herself falls madly in love with some charming devil herself. Well, it’s mostly the same thing here, but my issue is that the story is not as witty, the characters are not as funny or interesting, and the jerk who comes back to redeem himself actually proves himself to be even more of an asshole that we thought. For some reason, only the reader understands this, as the characters all forgive him his terrible behavior for no real reason. In the end, some marriages are thrown together for the sake of getting everybody married off and they all live “as happily as can be managed.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a fantastic novel, it’s just not as good as I was hoping after having read Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s writing style is engaging and fast-paced, she doesn’t bother with minute details and entire months can pass in a paragraph; she gets on to the action and the dialogue and in every chapter there is a clear event that changed the characters or progresses their story in some way. Sense and Sensibility is a great novel, just maybe not the greatest Jane Austen novel. Still, I recommend it for someone interested in getting started with classic literature, although I might think Pride and Prejudice would be a much better starting point.

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City of Bones
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go. I was roped into reading The Mortal Instruments by people who worked with me at my old job. Let me simplify it: City of Bones is cute. It’s even interesting and entertaining. It is also completely unoriginal. Every single plot point is ripped from Final Fantasy and other video games, anime and manga, and other fantasy novels. It’s a hodge-podge of fairies, vampires, werewolves, and angels, thrown into a boiling pot. It made for an okay read, but I was very dissapointed by the lack of originality, and I saw every plot “twist” coming a mile away. It incorporates such overused favorites as: the best friend becomes a vampire, the brooding sexy guy is violent and abusive, the female protagonist is an idiot, and that old favorite, the villain is the protagonists father. Let’s also mention that there are cringe-worthy names like Lucian Greymark, the werewolf, Raphael the vampire (a direct rip in appearance and personality from Armand of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles), and of course the evil demon-hunter amassing an army of nasty creatures to wipe out humanity Nazi-style: Valentine. It’s just… yeah.

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City of Ashes
by Cassandra Clare

And then I kept reading! Shame on me, I know, but by this point it has been revealed that the two main lovers are actually siblings, and now their passion has become the incestuous love that dare not speak it’s name. What bothers me isn’t that they’re siblings, it isn’t that they continue to make out after they learn that they’re siblings, it’s that the description of the back of the book describes Jace as Clary’s sexy newfound brother, and kind of says up front: “Oh yeah, you ready for some steamy sibling love?” It’s just… unusual. “Unforseen” plot “twists” in this edition: the bad guy is gathering not one, not two, but three instruments of great power to summon forth the armies of hell and take over Hyrule, I mean the world, the best friend vampire becomes a SPECIAL vampire that can go out in daylight, and yet oddly after months, his mother notices no change in him whatsoever, and the main character is a magical savant with like, seriously extreme UBER ANGEL POWERS you guys, and they come from her talent as an artist, because she’s like, really misunderstood and stuff, like for real. Oh, and did I mention there’s a gay warlock who literally shits glitter? Like, glitter actually flies off of him every time he blinks or gestures or walks across the room. It only gets more predictable from here, folks!

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City of Glass
by Cassandra Clare

And here we go, the third installment! Will all of the loose ends be tied up? Will the girl finally fuck her brother/lover and get it over with? Will we hurry up and kill the Hitler/Voldemort-style fascist enslave-everyone-to-do-my-bidding bad guy and go whee whee whee all the way home? Well, yeah. Pretty much. We learn that the protagonist is in fact NOT related to the love interest, who was born into one family that was killed so adopted by another who was killed and raised by the villain and given the same name as his real son who he kept in a cave around the corner who actually DOES want to fuck his sister and who is supposedly “killed” but will CLEARLY be coming back. Confusing? It’s alright, don’t think about it too hard, no one else did. The bad guy summons the power of the Triforce Mortal Instruments to get his one wish granted, and in a “surprising” twist the protagonist gets there FIRST! and she of course wishes for the bastard to die and for her loverboy who he just killed to come back to life. Both happen. There’s a party, we dance we kiss we shmooze we carry on we go home happy, whaddya say? As far as I’m concerned the series ends here. It ties up nearly every loose end, and any continuation of the series from here is clearly a marketing campaign. Though it was riddled with trite cliches, these three books were actually alright reads, just don’t go looking for any serious fantasy or deep, thought-provoking writing.

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The Order of the Poison Oak
by Brent Hartinger

Here we go! The first winner of the bunch. Like it’s predecessor Geography Club, I read this book in one sitting, and it made me cry just like the first one did. The lovable gay protagonist of Geography Club goes to summer camp and of course meets a buncha hot boys he’s crazy for, but the first one turns out to be a total player and in the end he not only helps a group of kids who are burn survivors to regain their self-confidence but he actually falls in love with fellow camp counselor and they have nice happy fool-around time on the lake. It’s all very sweet, and I really, really enjoyed it.

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Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies
by Brent Hartinger

Unfortunately, though the second Russel Middlebrook installment was as great as the first, the third one totally nosedives into barely interesting. There are some standard gay teen lit moments: parents being cold, unfeeling homophobes, priests trying to turn gay kids straight, and a love triangle between the ex-boyfriend and the new boyfriend, but for the most part this book was just boring. I wasn’t moved, I was barely even interested. The romance between Russel and his new boyfriend just disappears, he has a dramatic moment with his ex that we don’t get an explanation for, and the book is divided into two stories: the filming of a low-budget zombie film and all the teen drama that entails from Russel’s point of view, and the same thing from his best friend Min’s point of view. After you read the climax of the story less than halfway through the book, you have to go right back through the exposition again from another character’s perspective and claw your way to the other side of the climax to see what really happened. I almost couldn’t get myself to finish it, it was that much of a let-down.

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Pendragon: The Rivers of Zadaa
by D.J. MacHale

I have really loved the Pendragon series since I read the first five installments as a teenager, and I was very interested to know what happens next. It seems to be the consensus that this book is less intense and more formulaic than the ones before it: the main character, a dimension-traveling hero arrives in a strange new world, undergoes the trials therein, uncovers a plot that will lead to the worlds destruction, has a Rocky-like training montage, and goes to save the world, all while tiny bits of the overarching storyline are peppered in. At the end of this book though, I just didn’t feel like I could handle waiting four more books and going through countless, ultimately pointless sidequests, just to figure out what the hell the real story is, and what’s underneath everything, so I spent about another hour or so just flipping through the remaining books in the series to see what the hell is really going on and how things end. For the record, it was a little dissapointing, but I doubt I’ll ever return to this series to read the fully fleshed-out versions of the final four installments.

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A Lion Among Men
by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is one of my favorite books. It literally touches on every single aspect of what it is to be a living being: it covers sexuality, religion, politics, and the dirty underbelly of who people really are, all with a lot of really fun and witty wordplay. Well, after the success of the Wicked musical, Maguire returned to write a sequel called Son of a Witch, which, apart from having some legitimate gay romance, no matter how fleeting, was very lukewarm and felt like it was riding on the coattails of Wicked rather than continuing the story. I think the premise of writing sequels to Wicked almost ruins the point of the book itself, because it ends when the Witch dies. We know she’s going to die. We know the story of her life is a tragedy. There isn’t a happy ending tied up with a bow, there are huge existential questions and an ending that really makes you think. The sequels kind of ruin this atmosphere.

That being said, A Lion Among Men wasn’t bad. It’s centers around two characters: Brr, also known as the Cowardly Lion, and Yackle, an enigmatic figure from the original book who hovered around the edges of Elphaba’s life. I won’t give away the ending, but all of the parts about Yackle were very interesting and gave a broader view of the events in Wicked. As for Brr’s life, it was mostly his self-indulgent soul-searching travels across Oz (like Liir in Son of a Witch) and some kinky cat sex. It kind of sets up for a big finale in the final book, and yet it also kind of drops off right as soon as the action ends. An enigma of sorts, but interesting nontheless, and hopefully the final installment will make all this buildup worth it.

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The Queen of the Damned
by Anne Rice

As with A Lion Among Men, this novel is a sequel to one of my favorite books ever: The Vampire Lestat. Anne Rice’s style is mostly unchanged: vivid, gorgeous descriptions of old castles and echoing cathedrals, intense, blood-soaked, heart-pounding passion, and the ocassional run-on chapter describing how frickin’ wonderful New Orleans is. We get it Anne, you really, REALLY like New Orleans. That being said, this book is actually the origin story for the rest of the Vampire Chronicles, it explains how the vampires came into existance and reunites a lot of lost loves with one another. Though there is a sense of danger in the terrifyingly powerful Queen Akasha, the most interesting parts of the story are the flashbacks to the origin story of the vampires, which takes place in ancient Egypt. Though I didn’t love this book as much as The Vampire Lestat, and I am STILL upset that there’s an entire character arc that takes place in one chapter, introducing a character, explaining her life, and then killing her at the end, it definitely feels like the missing chapter and the final piece of the puzzle laid out in Interview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.

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Beauty’s Punishment
by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

This is the sequel to The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, a sadomasochistic erotic take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I feel compelled to mention, however, that the Sleeping Beauty tale is only used as a jumping off point for the story, because after the prince awakens the sleeping beauty with a kiss and a few impassioned thrusts into her virgin sex, the story has nothing whatsoever to do with the fairy tale, that I can tell at least. In fact, there really is very little plot in the Beauty books, it’s mostly a series of intense erotic fantasies brought to life in an ornate sexual dreamworld, kind of like an endlessly pounding orgasm that goes on for page after page, with very little over-arching story. As such, it was a good read for those qualities, but not because of a strong narrative and a deep back story; like with the first Sleeping Beauty book, this is more of an exploration of the human psyche, emotions and sexuality. There are metaphors for the human experience aplenty, particularly that of losing one’s virginity and growing as a sexual and emotional and living being. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s also grade A masturbation material, and I think it’s meant to be such.

Biographies

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
by Jenny Lawson

This is the hilarious life story of Jenny Lawson, who you may also know as the Bloggess. To put it simply, I frequently laughed so hard that I couldn’t hold the book still and had to stop reading just so I could laugh. The woman is hilarious, and she not only talks about her insane upbringing but also about the realities of dealing with severe, crippling anxiety, death, family, and growing up. Also there are some taxidermy animals and a proposal story that involves both suspicion of murder and kneeling in broken glass. Enough said.

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Bossypants
by Tina Fey

Tina Fey’s autobiography was unfortunately not nearly as entertaining as Jenny Lawson’s. It describes Tina’s childhood and career as an actress and writer, the development process of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, with a few hilarious anecdotes here and there. Unfortunately the hilarious anecdotes get fewer and fewer, and though the tone remains light and funny throughout, I stopped laughing after the first half of the book and was just ready to be done. But it was still funny, and I’ll definitely give her that. Also, there’s an example of a “racy joke” somewhere in this book that is the most horrifyingly funny thing I’ve read in a while.

Graphic Novels

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Parts 1 & 2)
by Arika Himekawa

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Fullmetal Alchemist (Vol. 2 & Vol. 3)
by Hiromu Arakawa

Sonic Genesis

Sonic: Genesis
by Ian Flynn

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The Sandman: Vol. 1 – Preludes & Nocturnes
The Sandman: Vol. 2 – The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman

I’m not going to go into detail about all of the graphic novels I read, because frankly they are what they are. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time parts 1 & 2 were just slightly altered versions of the story of the original Nintendo 64 game, the second and third volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist were exactly the same story that you may have seen in either version of the anime, and Sonic the Hedgehog was, well, Sonic the Hedgehog. He got the Chaos Emeralds, transformed into Super Sonic, and beat Doctor Eggman, what else is there to talk about? I do want to mention Sandman by Neil Gaiman though, because this is a story I’ve wanted to read for a long time, and I finally got the chance to start. It is downright terrifying and extremely interesting, it builds a huge cosmology of gods and fantasy creatures that actually manages to be completely original while still borrowing heavily from various mythologies, and eventually I’m going to get to the character who shares a lot of personality traits with Tori Amos. I highly recommend Sandman, and I look forward to continuing the series, but as for the rest, I could take them or leave them, to be honest.

I mean, I've really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

I mean, I’ve really gotta start reading some of these goddamn books.

And there it is! The twenty books I read in 2013! Yeah, I know six of them were graphic novels but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I’m just proud of myself for having gotten so much reading done this year. However I really feel that I didn’t gain all too much from reading so many books, I was mostly just trying to rack up numbers for my year end score, and it felt more like a marathon or a competition than the actual experience of sitting down and reading and immersing myself in a story. As such, I think I will take the reading challenge again next year, but lower it to perhaps 12 books, one for each month, or even something lower, so that I can take my time and really absorb what I’m reading. I enjoy reading, but not enough to constitute reading 30 books in a year, at least not yet.