Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Sophie's Choice by William Styron

Sophie's ChoiceSophie's Choice by William Styron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this book a while ago, but I couldn’t decide what to think of it, so I held off on writing a review. But it really deserves a review, so I’m making myself sit down to write one before I forget what I wanted to say about it. I really wanted to love this book, and I did…until about ¾ of the way through. I wish I’d hated the whole book, because that would have been better than taking an amazingly written, moving story and ruining it with a pathetic, self-indulgent ending.

First, about the writing. Styron’s writing is so luscious and delicious that sometimes I had to stop myself from actually licking the page. It was so rich and full of beautiful words and phrases that made me almost drunk with the prose. But, in the end, all that delicious richness left me with a stomach ache. It seemed like Styron fell in love with his own story and his own voice and it killed the book. Literary vomit was the end result.

I’d heard of this book and the movie a few times, but I didn’t even know what it was about before I picked it up. I knew it was supposed to be devastating and heartbreaking. What surprised me was how funny the book was. Told through the eyes of Stingo, a chronically horny twenty-two-year-old in the late forties, the humor in the book kept it from growing too dark. The protagonist’s sexual frustration and foiled attempts at getting laid made me laugh out loud. Throughout most of the book, I loved the story almost as much as the writing. There were several fifty or hundred page chapters I could have done without—long asides that did nothing to advance the plot and instead distracted from the narrative. I would have liked to hear more of Sophie’s story and less of Stingo’s.

The first part of the book was so dull I almost skipped it. I found some of it offensive or in poor taste, but I kept reading. Once Stingo meets Nathan and Sophie, the story gets better.

Nathan was brilliantly created and captivating, the best character in the book by far. Until…he has schizophrenia AND a coke addiction? It just didn’t ring true. I thought the story would have been stronger if he was just evil. Or schizophrenic, but with the good job he said he had. Once I found out that he had lied and was basically an invalid, the book just went downhill from there. It seemed inconsistent with the story, and it rang false to me. He was the best character, complex and full of rage and guilt and issues, and then Styron ruined it all by making him just some crazy guy who made up stories. I wanted his brilliance to be real, not a drug-fueled delusion.

Sophie’s character was developed well, as was Nathan’s. But again, towards the end of the book, it all started to seem hackneyed and false. Over three months she goes from beautiful, refined, and poised to this brazen lush who describes in detail how much she loves sucking cock? I doubt it. Even when she was drunk, she wasn’t the kind of person who would do that. I didn’t believe it. She was developed in a certain way, and then Styron wrote her doing all these things that her character would not have done or said.

Stingo: Although I felt for the guy and his obsession with unrequited love for Sophie, I started to lose sympathy for him at about the same time that the whole book fell apart for me. I understood that he was sexually frustrated, but it seemed like Styron kept building and building on that when he could have been focusing on something more interesting, like Sophie’s time in Auschwitz. And after a while, Stingo just seemed like a nasty pervert, so I lost sympathy. I really didn’t need to hear all about his wet dreams and such. And he was very rude to all the women in the book, which did not endear him to me. Then he takes advantage of drunken, heartbroken Sophie in a cheap hotel somewhere. Really turned me off.

From close to the beginning, I knew Stingo would probably hook up with Sophie, and I knew when he did, it would ruin the book for me. And it did. If not for that, this would have been one of the best books I’ve ever read. Now it’s a 3. It was just not believable that this beautiful, sexually insatiable thirty-year-old woman would have sex with a young guy who is only a friend and say he was a great lover. He was basically a virgin, and yet he claims his very first time he rocked her world even though she was quite experienced. Yeah, right. It felt like Styron fell in love with his own character and wanted to give him everything he ever wanted instead of telling the ‘truth’ of the story—what would have happened to those characters in that world. He based Sophie on someone he met but didn’t know—obviously someone he wanted to fuck. So he let Stingo do it for him. I just didn’t believe a virgin could rock Sophie’s world after she’d been with Nathan, her great love and lover. No way.

This book had a great story to tell, but unfortunately, it was mixed into a story that I had no desire to read. The whole book is this relentless trek towards Sophie’s choice and her demise. And then it’s all cheapened by this detailed sex scene where Stingo gets all he ever wanted and fucks her brains out. Really? Ugh. I read somewhere that Styron was accused of eroticizing the holocaust. Um, hello, because he DID. He also eroticized everything else. The book was beautiful and I devoured the sexually charged writing, but the plot lost all the momentum in the end. For me, it would have been much better if it had focused on the choice and the consequence without the completely unbelievable sex scene, which replaced the much more poignant climax of the choice. Completely ruined the book and detracted from the impact of the choice, which was what the book was supposed to be. It was called Sophie’s Choice. Not Stingo’s Fantastic Fuck.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Guest Author: Interview with Traci Hilton

1. Tell us about your current work

Eminent Domain, the sequel to Foreclosed: A Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery. was just released in April. It continues the story of Mitzy, her real estate office, her fiery relationship with Alonzo Miramontes and the trouble and the Victorian mansion, which is more work than they were bargaining for. In Eminent Domain, Mitzy has to contend with the Feds, the City Council and just possibly the mafia (again!) And of course, she has to figure out if her business sense and her Christian values go together or not. (You know, is it okay to send the FBI a pod of toilets when they really want the antique furniture?)

2. How did you come up with the idea to write this book?

I love cozy mysteries and really wanted to create an amateur detective that hadn’t been overdone. As a Realtor she has access to all sorts of private property and every new job is a new cast of characters. It seemed a natural fit.

3. How long have you been writing?

Probably since I first learned my ABC’s. I’ve been writing novels since 2008 and before that was an award winning playwright.

4. Is this the first book you ever wrote, or do you have more (published or unpublished) that you wrote before?

Foreclosed, the first Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery, is the first novel I’ve completed. But I’ve got four or five that didn’t hatch, so to speak.

5. Describe your writing process.

I scratch ideas on any paper I can find. Then I organize them, outline them to make sure there is enough there for a proper novel, and then I get to it. Eventually I story board it to make sure the story is actually in order.. Then I send it off to every writer’s best friend, my amazing editor.

6. Who are some of your literary influences? P.G. Wodehouse for his overthetop, lighthearted humor. Agatha Christie for her tightly written, perfect mysteries. And Neil Simon, the king of dialogue.

7. What kind of books do you read, and is it different from what you write?

I read tons of cozy mysteries, like the Jane Austen series by Stephanie Barron. I also love lengthy family sagas like And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmier. Another favorite was Life of Pi. I just love really well written, meaty books.

8. Where do you come up with your characters? Do you base them on people you've seen or met?

Inspiration can come from anywhere! But I do see parts of my family, myself, and my friends in my characters. One of my favorite characters in the Mitzy series is Ben the graphic designer. He’s a namby pamby kind of gadget geek. I’ve known so many of those guys over the years. Ben is my homage to their absurdity.

9. Do the names of your characters reflect anything or mean anything in particular? Is there a reason behind the names you choose?

Well, Neuhaus/new house…it just seemed perfect. A great moment for me was when a real Realtor named Neuhaus who had read my books contacted me on Facebook. Otherwise, I go for names that are legit to the era and age of the person and just “sound” right to me.

10. Is this part of a series, and if so, when will the next book be available?

Yes, yes it is. The third installment, tentatively called Death Buys a Condo will be available this winter.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Marketing blahs

Well. It seems like forever since I've posted just a regular old post from me, about this journey I've undertaken to publish my own novel. It's hard work. Harder than I thought possible. I spend hours online, until my eyes are dry and my contacts blurring. Doing what?

Not writing. Not editing. But that evil monster, Marketing. Yes, sometimes it seems it has taken over my life, and all my time for writing. It's shameless, and somewhat embarrassing, to have to plug my book. Tell people I don't even know that they should read it. Even giving it away for review is somewhat akin to begging ('please give me a good review!') I pray as I hit 'send' on my years of hard work, sweat, and laboring over word choices, sentence structure, dialogue order...all for free, in the hands of a reader who might hate it and give a 1-star review.

(Thank God I haven't gotten one of those yet).

So, is all that marketing work paying off? Are my hours of discussing Twilight translating into sales? Hard to say. It's a slow process. I can only hope it will one day lead somewhere. For now, I'm setting up a blog tour. More hours of work. I will post the dates when I have it all figured out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Stranger with my Face by Lois Duncan

Stranger with My FaceStranger with My Face by Lois Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know what to expect when I got this book from the library. I had heard of the author, but I'd never read anything by her.

Duncan does an amazing job creating suspense. It was SO HARD to put this book down every time I had to stop reading. It caught me and never let go--the pace is relentless. This should be required reading for suspense writers, because so many get it wrong. Duncan is a master.

That said, I didn't really care for the main character. I tried hard to like her, and succeeded only partially. I did have sympathy for her, but some of her decisions were just so stupid it made things harder. Like, how did she NOT know Leah was evil? And I found parts of the book way too predictible for a suspense novel. I knew the second Leah tried to get her to leave her body that Leah was going to steal it.

Overall, though, I did enjoy this book. It was very well crafted. A little less foreshadowing would have made me like it more. Also, the whole thing with the boy with the damaged face really added interest to the story. I liked how the ending was good, but not all shiny happy, either. For some reason I didn't really believe in the relationship between the protagonist and the boy with the messed up face, though. It just happened so suddenly I was like "WHAT? Since when? Come on, make me believe it a little more than that.

Fun, interesting, absorbing read. Very exciting and suspenseful.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Guest Author: Angry Vince (an interview)

Hey guys! I've decided to start letting some other writers do my work for me, since I'm a lazy blogger and all. So from now on, until further notice, my Mondays will be dedicated to authors I think are awesome, or books I think are awesome, or interviews I think are awesome. Maybe a stop on a blog tour, or a guest post, or whatever said author wants to write about. So, without further ado, please welcome Angry Vince!

1. Tell us about your current work.

Have just finished “What Makes You So Angry Vince” Blurb:

Many people have written insightful autobiographies and heart-rending stories of their own tragic lives, tales of heartbreak, hardship and redemption that leave the reader emotionally captivated and gasping for air. In a world full of millions seeking meaning in their own lives, these books stand out as beacons in the dark.

Angry Vince has read none of these books.

He is vaguely aware of them and, after someone explained the basic concept to him, thought that this would be an easy gig and could help pay off his Nigerian ferreting debts.

Through a collection of half-remembered episodes and gently constructed lies, Angry Vince explores what has taken him from a young boy contemplating suicide over a library book to an ex-world-traveling ex-karate instructor with a (former) drinking problem and children of his own. His careful exploration of his memories through a combination of hypnotherapy and rubber mallets have slowly revealed the bizarre events that have made him who he is today.

2. How did you come up with the idea to write this book?

“What Makes You So…” was devised as a means of deconstructing my own nostalgia through revisiting the events of my youth. The premise is that Angry Vince is so because grown-up life pales in comparison to his earlier years, the stories told give lie to that.

3. How long have you been writing?

Off and on for decades, published long ago before having to find a ‘real job’ and only now publishing again.

4. Is this the first book you ever wrote, or do you have more (published or unpublished) that you wrote before?

I have two unpublished works which I will be updating in the near future, but in the meantime I am finishing off “Hans and Stefan: Space Panzer Commandos” and “Have Sex, Will Travel”

5. Describe your writing process.

Day dream, make mental notes and then write at a hundred miles an hour when I get some free time.

6. Who are some of your literary influences?

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, both for their unstated British wit and their view on the absurd.

7. What kind of books do you read, and is it different from what you write?

I tend to read a lot of Pratchett, re-read Adams (unfortunately there will be no more books there), but also science fiction (Turtledove) and plenty of Frederick Forsyth. Forsyth has been going for decades and has a relatively simply flow to his writing which belies the incredible amount of research he does.

8. Where do you come up with your characters? Do you base them on people you've seen or met? My not-quite-biographical works are based on real people, but caricatures of them.

For my fiction I start with the concept / sketch of a plot, build a character to fit and then see what they do.

9. Do the names of your characters reflect anything or mean anything in particular? Is there a reason behind the names you choose?

My protagonist in “Hans & Stefan” is named Hans Witzblattname – it’s a joke name ;-)

10. Is this part of a series, and if so, when will the next book be available?

“What Makes You So…” is being followed by “Have Sex, Will Travel” which is a not-quite-biographical novel regarding a dozen teenagers working in Japan. It contains murder, romance, suspense and lost train tickets.

Angry Vince

Friday, June 17, 2011

I got a great review on Amazon!!!

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but I've been super busy. Anyway, I got my first customer review on Amazon, and I couldn't be happier. So this is me, smiling :D

5.0 out of 5 stars A smashing debut, May 23, 2011

By Mr. Aman S. Anand - See all my reviews

This review is from: The Superiors (Kindle Edition)

The Superiors is an enthralling novel that sets out an alternate future where vampires have taken over the world and humans are now their minions. The author's considerable talents shine through as she conjures a dazzling new world with a fascinating protagonist, Draven Castle, at its centre.

The book's greatest strength is the quality of the author's writing. For example, the narrator makes astute observations such as, `he sensed her shift from blind panic to simple fear'. It is a pleasure to read a new author who has such a gift with language; it bodes well for the next instalments of what promises to be a gripping series.

At the heart of The Superiors lies the developing relationship between the Third Order vampire Draven and the teenage girl Cali. They share a peculiar chemistry that is subtle, which makes it all the more powerful. And it is through their blossoming rapport the reader hopes that humans and vampires may be able to reconcile in future books in this series.

The author ensures that she reveals enough of this world's back-story to leave the reader desperate to read the next instalment of the series while ensuring that she unveils enough of this vampire-controlled world to ensure that the Superiors is an excellent read in of itself.

Undoubtedly the book will be compared to other vampire fiction, but I would argue that it has more in common with the best film noir - both in terms of atmosphere and the intricate plotting. Without giving away too much, the ending is spectacular and sets up a thrilling second instalment.

The book market has recently been over-saturated with vampire novels, but this work comes up with a fresh and well-written approach that should compel any fan of the genre to give it a read.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin SuicidesThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I read Eugenides's other book, Middlesex, last year and enjoyed it very much. I had seen the movie version of "The Virgin Suicides" a long time ago and was not impressed, but I thought I'd give the book a shot.

For the first two thirds of the book, I couldn't decide if I liked it. Eugenides definitely draws you into that obsessive need to know what's going on in the girls lives, the obsession with their tragedy, and the mystery around them. He writes in a detached sort of way, almost journalistic, with very little emotion or color. It took me a while to get used to, but the book is engaging and easy to read, so I kept at it.

I love the intellectual part of Eugenides writing. If he wrote a narrative non-fiction book, I'd buy it without even reading the back. He has a way of putting information together so you learn lots of interesting things without being condescended. I love his 'historical' picture of things. I don't know about the accuracy, but it seems that he's probably researched to get every detail perfect. You get the feeling while reading that you are reading the truth, that you're being taught by an expert. His picture of the suburbian seventies, the neighborhood, the elms, the music, the fish flies, are all genius. I loved that part.

However, about half the book focuses on the promiscuous sister, the only non-virgin among the group. And the boys who watch her (the narrator and his friends) seem increasingly creepy and stalkerish as the book goes on and they get binoculars and stay up all night spying on the girl having sex. It really turned me off, and I was glad the narrator was only a minor character in the book because I really didn't want to know anything about him. Their obsession with the beautiful neighbors seemed harmless at first, but after a while I started wondering if he was going to go rape them or something. It was just too gross and obsessive.

The story of the girls is laid out well, though, through the eyes of one of their creepy, spying neighbor boys. I didn't find much humor in the book, even though the back says it's supposed to be funny. Maybe all the spying on a fourteen-year-old girl having sex with grown men was supposed to be funny, but it left me cold. Also, the book had a 'Flowers in the Attic' kind of feel with the controlling mother shutting her kids away. I didn't understand why someone didn't try to do something to help them. Even the boys, who proclaim to see themselves as grown men and to be in love with the girls, don't talk to their parents about any of this. Everyone just watches and ignores it. I guess it's supposed to be part of the 'suburbia is hell' theme, but... it seemed strange to me.

I probably would have given this book only 2 stars if not for the last fifty pages. Even though the book was told in such a straightforward way that I wasn't even moved by the girls suffering most of the book, I suddenly teared up when the last one dies. I hardly ever cry during books, and it took me completely by surprise. I was nowhere near crying, and suddenly my eyes just blurred over. So I have to give the author credit, because I certainly wasn't sad for the narrator. But the girls were so weird and tragic, and throughout the book, you get a sense that they are trying to reach out and no one is paying attention (probably because they are too busy looking at the girl's asses and trying to see up their skirts). At the end of the book, he says their suicides were selfish, but I think the selfish ones were the narrator and his friends, as well as the parents. It was obvious something was wrong, and no one did anything. Oh, except the boys DID masterbate and collect strands of the girls' hair.

The last fifty pages, which aren't about the boys being creepy little voyeurs, but about the girls and their sad demise, are moving, poignant, and touching. I felt a little bit of the author's views on suicide creeping in at the end, but it didn't affect the ending too much. And as usual, the little peeks of Greek culture shine like gems. Not much of that in this book, but the parts there were lovely. Overall, I was very disappointed by this book, especially as I loved the author's other book so much better, and found it funny, rich, moving, and beautiful in a way this one wasn't.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Ronnie's interview

Here is the 21 questions interview I did with the wonderful Ronnie Massey. Check out her website and blog for all kinds of cool stuff, including interviews and some of her own traditionally published books!

This is the interview she did with me.

How long have you been writing? Forever! I used to make up stories with my sisters and write them in little notebooks when I was a kid. The storylines continued forever, like little soap operas.

What genre do you love writing the most and what drew you to it? I write mostly fantasy, adult and young adult. I like getting to make the world exactly how I envision it.

What authors do you follow and why? I'm a huge fan of young adult author Sara Zarr. Her books are more honest than most YA novels, especially YA romance. She doesn't follow the formula or write what she's 'supposed' to write, and that inspires me. I also love Cormac McCarthy's novels.

What inspired your current work? My current book, The Superiors, was inspired by a few other vampire books I'd read. I kept wondering why vampires hid in the shadows if they were so powerful, wealthy, immortal and invincible. I thought, if vampires really existed, wouldn't they use that power over humans? So that's what inspired me to start the series.

Do you incorporate parts of yourself or people you know into your characters? Absolutely. Some people would probably argue, but I think every character an author creates is a part of him/herself. Even the villains. After all, it came from the writer's imagination or experiences, so it's in there somewhere.

If you were stranded on a deserted island what three books would you want with you? Survival for Dummies so I didn't do something completely idiotic and kill myself by accident. His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman, would suck me in so much I'd forget all about being scared. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison, because I'd need a good laugh in that situation.

If your novel was being adapted for the silver screen who would you cast and would you want it to be a movie or a TV series? Adrian Grenier (Vince from "Entourage") was in my head the whole time I was writing Draven's character. Aimee Teegarden (the coach's daughter from "Friday Night Lights") would play Cali. Nicholas Lea (from "Kyle XY") would play Byron, and Marisol would have to be someone very beautiful, like Megan Fox or Salma Hayek.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors? Just keep writing, for yourself if no one else.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars, actually, but I have to click on a whole star.

This is an awesome book! I go through stages where I read one or two young adult books that are so badly written that I start thinking I’m too old for YA books, that they are all trite and cliché and all have the same characters with the same issues, the same stock scenes, and the same ‘problems.’ And then I read a book like Speak.

I’ve noticed that some adult books deal with difficult situations and issues in a way that’s so graphic it makes me feel sick. But young adult books, the good ones anyway, deal with tough issues in a delicate way. Anderson leaves no doubt in the readers mind about what happened to Melinda, but she doesn’t shove it down your throat and make you gag. The ability to deal with disturbing situations without graphic detail is one of the things that makes YA literature so great. At least in the hands of a writer as talented as Anderson. The graphic violence in adult books sometimes is such a turn-off that it makes the scene comic. Leaving things mostly to the reader’s imagination can make the scene even more powerful than giving all the gory details.

I’d seen the movie Speak a while back, so I already knew going into the book what it was about. So I thought the mysteriousness over what happened to Melinda might get on my nerves. But Anderson is a good enough writer that it didn’t bother me more than a little. I did, however, think it would have been better if she’d let the reader know why Melinda was so screwed up a little earlier—maybe at the one-third mark instead of the two-thirds mark. The only other thing I didn’t like about the book was Melinda’s sudden decision to speak out. It just happened too fast and without a catalyst. I thought something should have happened to make her break her silence. Instead, she suddenly just thinks that it’s spring, and everything is coming to light, so she’ll do the same thing. I just don’t think teenagers pay that much attention to things like that—especially teenagers as screwed up as Melinda.

The most surprising thing about the book to me was the author’s ability to write humorously about such a dark issue. The book could have been a depressing story about a girl with no friends, full of guilt and going crazy inside her head. Instead, it managed to find humor while never making light of the situation. The author’s ability to make a reader laugh on one page and tear up on the next is truly a gift. If Melinda had whined about her situation (and she had every reason to), the book might have gotten tiresome. But she has such a strong, funny voice that you can’t help but love her. She never plays the victim, even though she was one.

This was an amazing read for me. It should be require reading for all teenagers, male and female.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Interview with a Vampire Author

Ha, yeah, I know, that title is super cheese! But anyway, I have exciting news! A wonderful man and blogger, James Oh, has featured me in an interview on his blog! I'm very excited to have my first posted interview up. Click here to check it out! And follow his amazing blog while you're over there. Thank you so much James! I'm honored to be your author interview.