Monday, October 15, 2012

Book review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

This is my book review of The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, world-renowned author, best known for the brilliant Harry Potter series (in case you didn't know).

Synopsis: When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

Let me start by saying that I was so excited about this book, I literally was jumping up and down like a 3-year-old with a new toy when my son surprised me with it one evening. This sweet kid of mine used his first paycheck from his new job to buy this for me. It meant the world to me to own this. I'm a huge fan of Rowling and the Harry Potter book series, and I read all seven of them twice.

It pains me to say that I didn't like this book ... AT ALL. It was dreadful. In the first 25 pages, I was more taken aback by the number of F-bombs and profanity than the actual storyline. The most likeable character dies on page 5, and you're left with a town full of horrible people. I found the synopsis to be quite boring but thought, "surely, there's some mind-blowing discovery awaiting me in these upcoming pages!" I waited and waited and patiently read on and on and on until I wanted to throw it out of my second story window. I can't tell you how many times I said out loud, "Are you kidding me, J.K.? Where was your editorial staff, and why didn't they save this!?" I've read product labels with a deeper plot than this book. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to keep you thirsty for more. So what, a councilman dies suddenly and the whole town starts gossiping, backstabbing and ridiculing each other over who will get elected to replace him. No, seriously, that's it! That's the whole book. This book had 503 pages, and I didn't develop the slightest bit of interest in any of the characters until the last 100 pages, only because of some overdone profanity and classic douchebaggery. But I can get that on DirecTV.

Comma drama

I noticed some serious punctuation abuse in the first quarter of the book, not to mention, she couldn't write a complete sentence without injecting some random thought in parenthesis smack in the middle of it. That drove me bonkers to not be able to read a complete thought! I got dizzy at how often she paused a sentence with several commas and thoughts in a row. This is one rule in life I like to honor - "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." The prose was weak all the way through until the bitter end. The story was so incredibly redundant all the way through, going back and forth from family to family, describing their drama and fights and what they had for dinner, who was punching his wife or kid in the face, who was "shagging" who and who drank too much. It seemed like she was trying way too hard to make this book "adult." There was not one single character that seemed likeable except the one who died on page 5! They were all miserable and unhappy. Abuse, marital discord, shitty parenting, a pedophile, rape, junkies, unruly and disrespectful kids, F-bombs galore and explicit sexual content between teenagers!? *gasp* Oh, by the way, "snogging" means kissing.

Another obnoxious thing she did that made me want to run my Jeep over this book was she TRIED to emulate certain accents by spelling things all weird and with an immense amount of apostrophes. I was fumbling trying to pronounce it all. It sounded like Hagarith, to be honest. I mean, just say they are from so-and-so town, and let us use our imagination! Sheesh!

The bitter end

The book starts off with a certain twist, and pretty much ends with the same twist, so you go full circle and never get anywhere. A great book leaves you thinking about the story and its characters long after you've read it. This book was so difficult to finish reading. If it wasn't for my adoration for Rowling coupled with my OCD about finishing books, I wouldn't have made it past page 130. And I shit you not, this whole big, fat book was nothing but a prolonged description of your most-disliked family members and all their terrible characteristics multiplied by ten and a soap opera with NO happy scenes. I don't mind any amount of profanity or cursing once it's GOING somewhere. If there's a point to it, then, hey, bring it on.

The best thing about this novel, other than finishing it and being able to get on with my life, was when all the town's teenagers got to the point where they hated their parents so much, they did devious things to ensure they didn't get elected. The crack whore prostitute mom and her crack whore daughter who shagged every guy at school were the most interesting characters simply because they were the most loathsome. A council member doctor breaks her code of ethics during a council meeting and lashes out at another member by calling him out about all his confidential medical problems, namely being fat and having a skin rash under his belly flab. Wooooo! Edge of my seat ---- NOT. This book was so boring, a couple times I fell asleep while reading it and woke up in a daze hours later like, "Where am I? Hopefully not Pagford."

I read that Rowling didn't even want to speak to anyone who didn't cry after reading this story. Well, J.K., I cried, all right, but not for the reason you intended. If I cried, it was because I'll never get all those hours of my life back. I hope she has some real hits up her sleeve because this was a miss. We all know she's capable. With all due respect to this mega-superstar author, this was a painful read, and that's coming from a fan who is a writer and avid reader.

I gave it 1 star.  =(

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book review: The Mine by John A. Heldt

Book provided by author, John A. Heldt, Helena, MT.
Author's blog:

File size: 537 KB (Kindle)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Genres: Romance-Time Travel, Historical Fiction.

Description: In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

If you're not one to normally read books by independent authors, this one should be an exception.

This was one of the best-written indie books I’ve read in a while. I must compliment the wit and creativity of the writer. It kept the story moving nicely, and I wasn’t distracted by typos or grammatical booboos. The story was a well-thought-out adventure in time travel.
This college kid, Joel Smith, is a dare devil of sorts, the type of risk taker that everyone secretly envies but would publicly ridicule. He and his friend Adam were on a five-day bike-and-hike trip to Wyoming  from their college campus and hometown in Seattle. The guys needed a break from studies and relationships and decided to go on this mini adventure a couple weeks before finals. After grubbing at a local diner in Montana, they headed back on the road but encountered some construction. Impatient Joel discovered a gravelly, dirt road as a detour and decided to explore. He was especially enticed by a sign that pointed to an old gold mine that had been closed for 100 years. Against his friend’s wishes, he bartered for 15 minutes inside the mine.  Adam hesitantly agreed and waited outside.

This is where the story pulled me in. A glowing light, a snake and a bump on the head later, Joel was catapulted into 1941. He exits the mine looking for Adam and, instead, finds himself in a whole other realm of existence. Heldt did a wonderful job of making the characters believable for the era. I felt like I went back in time also. Joel found himself in a time with no Internet, credit cards, cell phones or technological luxuries. He was broke and inappropriately dressed with a band-themed T-shirt and cowboy hat. And! He ran into his grandmother and her friends, all of whom he became very close to while trying to hide his true identity. He even fell head-over-heels in love with a friend of hers named Grace who was engaged to another man. The characters were likeable, and the one I had an issue with was Linda who came across way to moody and possessive of Joel. Too bad she got ousted from the love triangle.

I enjoyed the ‘40s baseball facts that Joel used to win some big money bets, descriptions of the social norms of the time, dirt-cheap prices and references to Pearl Harbor and the impending war. He found himself enjoying the last beautiful summer before that attack, before the young men were drafted for the war, and all the while, he had to suffocate his knowledge of the country’s inevitable fate. It was a balanced mix of romance, chaos, friendship and dilemmas as Joel made himself as comfortable as he could in 1941. I didn’t blame him for falling in love and making new friends. He had no idea if he would see his modern world ever again. He managed to make a best friend, break a heart, steal another man’s fiancé, become a remarkable salesman and win over a family’s love in just six months thanks to the perfect timing of a rare planetary alignment and contact with an old mine.  

What made this book so compelling was watching a modern-day playboy find ways to fit in with his grandmother’s generation. It made me wonder if I could have pulled that off so smoothly. Joel’s controversial love story with Grace was very touching and won me over. I liked that it wasn’t cheesy but believable, and the sacrifices they made for each other were bold and moving.

I remained eager as the story progressed. I couldn't wait to know how he’d let all these people go if or when his time came to return to 2000. Heldt did a wonderful job of covering Joel’s tracks as he tried to hide his true self. No matter what they asked him, Joel had an explanation for everything. I He stayed with his new friend Tom's family, and it was a tense scene when Tom's mom was innocently snooping and discovered Joel's cell phone! She urged her husband to ask him about it, but that never happened.

The time eventually came when he knew he had to make  crucial decision, stay or leave the '40s and the love of his life behind? He put two and two together after seeing a news report about a rare planetary alignment in ‘41, and he knew what he had to do. Logic was his guide in deciding to head back to the mine in hopes of rediscovering the portal back home to 2000. It left me feeling sorry for his ‘40s entourage, thinking of how they would suffer sadness and shock if he disappeared from their lives, especially Grace who had made him her entire world.

I was disappointed by the ending of this book as it seemed way too abrupt. Yes, it was a happy one and all, but it seemed rather forced, like Heldt was so exhausted after writing this whole, amazing story that he just wore out at the end and hurried it passed the finish line. Don’t let that idea stop you from reading this book, though. Opinions about story endings are subjective, and this is MY book review. So you might feel differently about it. Despite being left dehydrated at the end and wishing I knew more about how Grace found her way into 2000 and how she reacted and adapted to the new age of technologies she’d never seen the likes of, I am glad I read it. It left me wanting more. If this was a series, I would have wasted no time in getting book two. Best of all, it left me thinking about the story hours after I’d finished reading it, which is a great sign! So, I highly advise you to read The Mine!

I give this book my 5-star rating!