Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Published May 23, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

25256386Until I read the premise of this book, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know about the New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history. It’s absolutely devastating just thinking about all the little lives that were eviscerated in an instant when the all-white school was blasted into smithereens on that fateful day in 1937. Could you imagine the media hype if this happened today? Three hundred lives lost. A brand new school blown to pieces. Neighborhood churches backed up with systematic funeral processions. The horror, the pain, the suffering—all of the agony that ravaged that small East Texas town is simply unimaginable.

I can tell you right now, my dear readers, this is not a light read. This is one of those stories that will sit with you long after you finish the last chapter. In the book blogosphere, this is what we call a “reading hangover.” That, in my opinion, is the mark of a good book. My biggest take away (no spoilers, I promise!) is that no matter how grim your situation may be, it does not have to be a dead end. Though that tunnel is dark and closing in around you, there’s always a way to claw out tooth and nail.  And even if you don’t make your way out, at least you put up a good fight. That’s what I got out of this story, and I hope more readers will pick up on this positive message.

This is also a story about true love. The blossoming romance between Naomi and Wash was so pure and sweet—a stark contrast from the cruelty and hate that overshadowed the hardscrabble oil-drilling town. Like Romeo and Juliet the interracial couple had to hide their star-crossed love affair deep within the piney wood forest. Some of my favorite scenes took place in their favorite tree—a safe haven reserved only for them and Naomi’s precocious twin siblings. But, alas, in the wise words of Robert Frost, nothing gold can stay.

With the threat of the gas explosion intensifying with each chapter, I knew that things were going to come to a head—and fast! When it all hits the fan, it’s impossible to stop reading. From beginning to end, this is a rough, bumpy ride. It’s not for the faint of heart, but well worth your while.

So when you feel like escapitng the world—including that addictive chirping device in your back pocket—why not transport yourself to another time and place for a while?  I may not have a special tree to climb into when life gets to be a little too much, but I’ll always have my books!

Want the scoop on this book? Read Ashley’s Q&A!

In Praise of Pit Bulls: An Apology by Author Beth Fantaskey

Published May 18, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe
Little Daisy, one of the cutest pitties to ever walk the earth!

Little Daisy, one of the cutest pitties to ever walk the earth!

If you follow my blog, you probably know that my world revolves around animals. I’m a proud mother of two furbabies and a staunch defender of pit bulls. You see, my pretty little princess, CeeCee Honeycutt Sinn, is a pit. She loves tolerates playing dress-up in her pinky frilly outfits and snuffles around the house like a pot bellied piglet. In my doting mother’s eyes, she is the most perfect creature on earth. Yet when I take her to the park, it’s quite apparent that people don’t see her that way. It’s not uncommon to see parents body-blocking their kids when they pass us by on the trail. Sometimes they’ll even cross the street just in case she might feel the need to gnaw off a body part. This, my dear readers, is a result of breed discrimination, which is sadly alive and well in today’s society.

Nothing boils my blood more than to see bully breeds depicted as vicious attack dogs time and time again in the news and pop culture. That’s why I called out YA author Beth Fantaskey via Twitter for inadvertently putting pit bulls in an unfavorable light in her book Buzz Kill (read my four-star review here.)  I must admit that I was rather rude about it, but I had to defend my CeeCee and all the other lovable, goofy dogs that are waiting for their forever homes at the local no-kill shelter Austin Pets Alive.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a response, so you could imagine my surprise when she told me that she has a pit bull of her own.  Not only did she apologize, she even offered to set the record straight about this wonderful, yet vastly misunderstood, breed of dogs. Without further ado, here is her open apology.

The best thing about writing a novel is, once it reaches booksellers, libraries – and readers – the work that you poured your heart into is available for everyone to see.

This can also be the worst thing about writing a book. 

Once it’s out there, it’s out there.  You, the author, might grow and change.  Or learn something new that reshapes the way you think.  Or, worst of all, regret your words.

But when a book has gone to press – and to Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and independent sellers, etc. – there’s no turning back.  I don’t know of any major publishing house that will recall your story just because you’ve had second thoughts.

I have to confess that I’ve written some things that I regret, including a particularly expletive-laden paragraph in my novel Jekel Loves Hyde.  But few words haunt me like my use of “vicious, fighting breeds” to describe pit bulls and Dobermans in my book Buzz Kill. 

It’s meant to be a joke.  The heroine, Millie Ostermeyer, is frustrated by the fact that her crush has repeatedly compared her to different types of canines, over the course of the story.  As Millie and Chase finally dance at a school formal, she begs him to knock it off. 

I honestly didn’t think much about my phrasing when I wrote the book several years ago.  I didn’t know anything about pit bulls, especially, beyond headlines about illegal fighting rings.

Then I met Daisy.  My pit bull-boxer mix, who stole my heart when I saw her picture on a rescue website, here where I live in Pennsylvania.  That little pup had the most soulful eyes I’d ever seen. 

I didn’t know she was part pit bull when I filed my adoption application.  I just knew that this ball of fur with the bright, hopeful gaze belonged with me and my three girls. 

Only when we brought Daisy home, and I started to walk her, did I discover I had a “pittie.”  People would come up to me on the street and say, “That is a gorgeous pit bull.”  And I would give them a funny look and reply, “Um, no.  This is a boxer.” 

One day, after going through that exchange yet again, I searched for images of boxer-pit bull mixes online.  And, sure enough, there was Daisy.  After Daisy.  After Daisy.  And the more I read about pit bulls’ blocky heads and wriggly butts, I realized, “My pup is more pittie than boxer.”

That’s a good thing.  Big Pup, as we often call her, is a treasured member of our family.  In fact, I can’t imagine life without a pittie or pittie mix, now.  I’ve come to know many of these gorgeous dogs, and I am smitten with their sweet temperaments, their big hearts – and the way they use their prodigious muscle to bowl you over with affection.

I’m so sorry I ever wrote that line, however innocent my intentions were.  I hope this blog post helps, in a small way, to set the record straight. 

If you’re considering adopting a dog, please don’t rule out pit bulls – unless you’re not a fan of loyalty, playfulness and boundless love.  But if you ARE looking for those qualities in a canine companion, you can’t go wrong with a blocky-headed mutt with a wriggly butt. 

Princess CeeCee approves this message!

Princess CeeCee approves this message!

Chick Lit Cafe’s Pick of the Month: Sister Dear

Published May 15, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

27191173Since my big sissy’s turning the BIG FOUR-0 in just a few days, it’s only fitting for me to dedicate this one to her…not that she’s evil or nothing. Well…there was that time when I noshed on all the pizza at her slumber party and she tried to throw me out,  but that’s besides the point! In all honesty, my sister is pretty great and now I’m appreciating her even more. But I should note that I was the life of the party and she was just jelly that her friends were digging my vibe.

Moving on! Imagine, if you will, being on top of the world. You’re young, beautiful, privileged and ready to jump into medical school at a top university. Then, in one ill-fated night, that charmed life morphs into a nightmare. Someone frames you for murder and you’re suddenly in a hideous orange jumpsuit scrapping with real killers in a high-security prison. Enter Allie’s world. It’s not a good place to be.

The story begins when she gets out on bail and is immediately ostracized by her entire hometown, including her daughter. Everybody—maybe even her own parents—believe she killed the town’s beloved football coach. It’s up to Allie to clear her name. Not an easy task for someone who’s out on parole and under the scrutiny of the shady town sheriff.  There’s a lot of skeletons in that guy’s closet, and she’s determined to dig them out.

As she pieces together the clues—with a tiny bit of help from her former flame—she finds herself in a whirlwind of lies, deceit, conspiracy and drugs. To make matters worse, her sister—the one person who should be helping her fight for justice—is mysteriously out of the picture. But is she really? Us readers get in on her nasty little secrets because the  chapters are told through multiple perspectives. We learn early on that sister Emma was perfectly happy letting Allie rot in jail. It gave her the perfect opportunity to be a helicopter mom to her troubled niece. Boy this sounds like a Lifetime movie waiting to happen! Although we’re not sure who exactly orchestrated the perfect crime, it’s clear that Emma is one manipulative bitch, and I wanted more than anything to see her taken down and shipped away to the land of orange jumpsuits.

I’ve been reading Laura McNeil’s books ever since she published her debut novel Stay Tuned. I’ve always liked her lighter stories of romance and self-discovery, but I especially enjoyed her past two suspense novels. She’s taking a walk down the dark side and I like it! She does a fine job crafting some truly despicable monsters, making me wonder if she’s ever encountered people like this in real life…jeez, I hope not! Another art she has mastered is the cliffhanger chapters. The alternating POVs keep the story moving at a supersonic clip.   This is a pretty tricky maneuver for authors. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s about as annoying as trying to watch TV with some jerk-0 constantly flipping the channels.

If I had to get nitpicky, my only piece of criticism is to take the characters to an even darker place. There’s no doubt that Emma is a twisted sister. Clearly that darkness has been there all her life, and I’d like the author to linger a little longer on the deep-seated evil that drives her to do such wicked things. As for the other antagonists, it’s clear that they are just weak-willed people who are only looking after themselves. But Emma is kind of a fascinating specimen—a bad seed I’d like to get to know a little more. That’s the kind of stuff that gets under my skin, keeping me up all night.

Either way, this book is definitely worth your time if you enjoy thrillers. There’s even a touch of romance for chick lit fans. The author really set the bar with Center of Gravity (read my review here), but boy did she deliver with her sophomore suspense novel. It’s safe to say that Laura McNeill is one to watch!

Read This Not That! A Roundup of Thrillers, Chillers and Ghostly Delights

Published April 17, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Well hello there, my lovely readers! So sorry it’s been a zillion years since my last post. Life is crazy. You know how it goes. I may be a busy bee, but there’s always time for reading. These past few months, I’ve tried out a few new authors. Some are going in my top 10 list…others not so much. Here are a few hits and misses from my reading list.

READ THIS!

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

23746004 Wow- what a rollercoaster ride! From start to finish, I was glued to this story, dying to know who was taunting Tessa Cartwright with the little yellow flowers that haunt her dreams every night. The only survivor of a serial killer, she is known as a “Black Eyed-Susan.” This name is given to all the girls who died horribly at the hands of a child-killing monster. The author expertly shifts the story back and forth between grown-up Tessa and teenage Tessa as she struggles to overcome the unimaginable horrors she witnessed as an abductee.

Now with a teenage girl of her own, she must work with forensic scientists to catch the killer before her kid suffers the same fate of those hollow-eyed girls.  The stakes get higher when an innocent man accused of the killings is about to walk the green mile. Since Tessa’s memory is rather spotty, it’s hard to tell if we can rely on her for answers. Could she be the one planting those flowers outside her bedroom? Is she really being haunted by the ghosts of the dead girls, or are the voices just in her head? Hard to say. You’ll have to read the book. Trust me, it’s worth your while.  The ending is a real kick in the pants!

Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt

24727118This was the perfect audiobook for a little road trip to East Texas and back. Filled with malevolent ghosts, magic and mayhem, this book made the miles fly right on by! The story begins when Luke Manchett inherits a boatload of ghosts from his dead father. You see, his estranged dad was a famous TV ghost hunter, who accumulated quite a bit of paranormal baggage throughout the years. Since he couldn’t take them with him into the netherworld, he dumped his burden on his hapless son, along with stacks of cryptic notes and a magically locked copy of The Book of Eight.  Gee, thanks a lot, deadbeat dad.

Poor Luke has no idea what to do with the eight unruly ghosts (aka hosts), and things go from bad to worse when they realize that their new necromancer is totally clueless. Gee, this kind of reminds me of what my sixth-grade class used to do to our substitute teachers. But I digress…this is a very fun supernatural thrill ride that is sure to please fans of Neil Gaiman. If you enjoy atmospheric horror stories set in foggy ol’ England –complete with overgrown cemeteries and spooky manors—this book is for you. I highly recommend saving it until Halloween.  Oh and for all my fellow dog lovers, there’s a furry sidekick named Ham who plays a key role in the story. Dogs rule and ghosts drool!

NOT THAT!

The Hand that Feeds You by A.J. Rich

23492651Oh dear…I really wanted to like this book. My dad insisted that I read it because the mystery centers around animal rescue. To the author’s credit, I commend her for addressing breed discrimination and giving some love to pit bulls. I truly believe this book is meant to win over animal lovers, but surprisingly it had to opposite effect.

The lead character, Morgan, went from hero to zero as soon as her dogs were in peril. At first I thought she was great. She rescued two pit bulls from death row and gave them a cushy place to stay until they could find a forever home. But it didn’t take very long for Morgan to slip right off her pedestal when she described the dog-hating, manipulative asshole she was about to marry. Why would an educated, animal-loving woman shack up with a man who mistreats her dogs? Major red flag! Well according to her master’s thesis, she’s a perpetual victim. Since she’s powerless to her psychosis, she inevitably puts herself into harms way—from jumping into a car with rapists to hooking up with strange men on Tinder dates. Her reckless behavior is apparently out of her control.

So yeah, this woman is an odd duck, and she gets even more strange as the story unfolds. While her poor dogs get framed for murder, she checks herself into a mental hospital for a few weeks. Eventually she decides to do something about her dogs and hires a lawyer. Hooray – she’s finally taking action! Well, not so fast. You see, she’s much too concerned about the hot lawyer flirting with the animal rights activist lady. In between court hearings, she’s empowering herself on skanky one-night-stands. You go girl. Unfortunately (spoiler alert) her sweet pit bull was sentenced to death due to breed discrimination. She was sad for maybe a nanosecond, but then she went back to crushing on her lawyer. Ugh. There’s a reason why this woman had no friends or family that cared to stick around. She’s awful, and I’m really surprised I stuck with her throughout this mess of a story.

How to be Bad by E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle

23615098In all fairness, I will tell you up front that I only listened to two hours of this thing on audio until I decided I couldn’t stand the main character any longer. This girl is AWFUL! Supposedly she gets better as the story unfolds, according to my fellow reviewers. I hope that’s true, but I just don’t have that kind of patience.

The unfortunate lead character of the story, Jesse, is a self-righteous god-fearing mean girl who treats everyone around her—even her own mother—like garbage. In the very first chapter she slut-shames her mom (who, I should add, is going through a breast cancer scare) for having some fun on a Friday night. Then she belittles her fellow waitress for wearing designer jeans—and just when she couldn’t get nastier, she brags about how she antagonizes of her brothers’ many heart-broken girlfriends.

I’m pretty sure I met this girl in school—the one that has a mustache and devils horns scribbled all over her picture in my high school yearbook. I have no desire to cross paths wiith that girl ever again, and therefore I had to let Jesse and her little clique go on their roadtrip without me.

 

Reading Roundup: Murder, Mayhem and Ghosties Galore!

Published March 6, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

I’ve been reading like a fiend this past month—and not one review to show for it! In a perfect world, I would spend my days reading on the chaise lounge with my chubby cat and my nights toiling away on my book, which has been left stagnating in Scrivner for months. Needless to say, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with my poor little book blog! So in the interest of saving time, I bring you some short and semi-sweet reviews for a few books from my reading list.

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203I really wanted to love this book. It’s got everything I could ever ask for in a paranormal-infused historical mystery filled with hunky bluebloods and soul-sucking demons from the bellows of Hell! But alas, I could not pay attention to the story to save my life. As the narrator droned on and on about the setting—in excruciating detail—my mind kept drifting off to my to-do list….not a good place to be. Really, my dear readers, I tried to get into it. I’m pretty sure my iPod sighed as I continuously hit the playback button. By the time the story finally picked up, I was too annoyed d to continue. The whole “Dark Days Club” storyline did not appeal to me in the slightest. I like paranormal thrillers to be rooted in some sort of lore. This just seemed like a bunch of arbitrary nonsense that stemmed from a bad dream. Another reason why I chucked this thing into the DNF pile is that I couldn’t connect with any of the characters – least of all Lady Helen. Supposedly she and Lord Carlston are headed toward a steamy bodice-ripping scene, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Aside from some “amused smiles” (romance authors love that shit) he shows no sign of affection whatsoever. In fact, he treats her the same way an annoyed brother bats away his little sister. Why he is so rude, I do not know. Nor do I care. I’m just glad Audible has such a great return policy!

Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

23492835After chucking a lame book into the DNF pile, I always turn to an author who I love and adore. It’s like going to my favorite restaurant that guarantees delicious food and fabulous service. So of course I had to check out the latest installment of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mystery series! They are the best private investigators in the Arizona desert! The genius of the series is that it’s narrated by Chet, a 100-plus pounder of a dog who will stop at nothing to capture the bad guys and keep his partner safe.

It sounds kind of silly, but this concept really works! Oh how I wish I could meet Chet in person so I could scratch him behind the ears and spoil him with Slim Jims. All the books are great, but this one might be the most suspenseful! There’s a lot of danger – in both the crime-solving and romance departments. Not only are they pursuing a bunch of cactus-smuggling murderous thugs, they’re also at risk of leaving their beloved desert and moving to gloomy old London. NO NO NO! This cannot happen. I have always loved Bernie’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, ever since she rescued Chet from the pound. However, I will cross her off my Christmas card list if she whisks them away from their home! The books will never be the same without Bernie complaining about the aquifer, a concept that is completely lost on Chet – or their sunset rides through the desert in Bernie’s beatup old Porsche.

I truly enjoyed this book, but I’m worried. I hope I’m wrong, but the author seemed to be dropping hints that it’s coming to a close. Bernie would miss a clue and ask himself, “Am I losing it?” And after another dog-napping attempt, he starts to wonder whether or not he should retire Chet from the Little Detective Agency.  Nope, not having it!

If the series does end, I hope that a new one will pick up with the new Chet-lookalike puppy. Until then, I will just have to cross my fingers and hope that the end is not near for my beloved ace detectives!

Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey

imagesLet me start off by saying that Millie Ostermeyer is a girl after my own heart. She’s a Nancy Drew fanatic, a junk food connoisseur and an ace reporter—pretty much everything I could ever ask for in a young amateur sleuth.

It was a lot of fun tagging along with this girl detective as she solved the case of the murdered high school football coach. Considering Coach Killdare’s long list of enemies—including Millie’s widowed father—she has a lot of ground to cover. And when her dad becomes Suspect No. 1, she will stop at nothing to hunt down the perp.

Good thing she has the mysterious high school hunk on her side. Together, they search for clues and narrow down the long list of suspects with ample motives for wanting the coach (aka Hollerin’ Hank) dead. And if clearing her father’s name isn’t stressful enough, she must also deal with her mean girl nemesis who is determined to turn the crime into tabloid fodder for the school paper. She’s also falling in love with a boy who’s dealing with a LOT of emotional baggage. Oh and her father is dating the school librarian on the sly. Is nothing sacred in this sad, cruel world?

If you love a fun mystery with lovable characters, witty dialogue and cliffhanger chapter endings, I highly recommend this book. Fans of Peter Abraham’s Echo Falls mystery series are sure to enjoy this fun little whodunit.

Say Yes Yes Yes to Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Year of Yes’!

Published February 13, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

25690958First off, I just want to thank my running buddy/dog video marketing pal for recommending this book. The few TV shows I tune into pre-date the Grey’s Anatomy era (can’t get enough Mulder and Scully!) so I’m not at all familiar with Ms. Rhimes’ work. Judging by the book cover, I would’ve assumed this was just another piece of gobbledygook for the self-help rack.

In a sense, this is self-help, but without the “no duh” pop psychiatry and mind-numbing filler. It all depends on how much you see yourself in this brilliant woman, and whether or not you’re brave enough to follow her lead in saying (or in my case, whimpering) yes to every personal-growth opportunity that scares you silly. Televised public speaking, anyone? Just shoot me now.

Her Year of Yes began when she overheard her disgruntled big sister mutter, “You never say yes to anything.” Until this moment, she never really reflected on the reasons why she turned down the many perks of her job. You see, this woman pretty much owns Thursday night. For my fellow retro-TV fans, I should tell you that she’s the mastermind behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Whoa!

So yeah, she’s kind of a big deal. But yet, she’s a house mouse. Red carpet events, jet-setting adventures and VIP rooms are no match for a quiet evening at home with Dr. Who and a nice glass of merlot. Being the closet introvert that I am, this totally makes sense. But, hey, you’ve got to have balance, right? Deep down, she knew something was very wrong. So when her sister muttered those six little words, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that she was in fact miserable.

One of the many things that I find truly remarkable about this woman is that she does not take words lightly. Every passing comment or passive-aggressive jab has meaning, but many of us just shoo them away like a pesky fruit fly. Not Shonda. She will sit back, swirl those words around in her brilliant mind and come away with a new perspective about herself and others. She would find moments of clarity in everyday moments, like when her toddler greeted her with grubby hands asking her to play. Dressed to the nines and late for a red carpet function, she was well within her rights to tell the kid to take a raincheck. But yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing out on something even bigger than those dazzling A-list parties. She realized right then and there that when her kids asked her to play, she would always answer with an emphatic “YES!” Why? Because soon enough they won’t want to play with their mom anymore, and well…it’s just love. Now that’s a pretty cool mom, folks.

While we’re on the topic of motherhood (a concept that’s foreign to me), I just want to commend her for keeping it real. She used a beautiful analogy that captures the plight of so many moms who are trying to keep up with the Martha Stewarts of the world. Back in the days when Whitney Houston reigned supreme, she would torture her hair for hours to get those curls that only Whitney could pull off. When she found out that her idol was in fact wearing a wig—and that Whitney was living a lie–she was devastated about the many wasted hours of trying to accomplish the impossible. It made her realize how so many women parading as “perfect moms” are just smoke and mirrors. That’s why she is adamant about telling the world that she has a nanny and that no woman should be ashamed about asking for help.  She so eloquently points out that women are not superheroes, they’re not martyrs, and they shouldn’t (this is the best part) ever say that motherhood is a job. I’m not a mother, but I am the product of a mother who treated child-rearing as job on par with cleaning toilets.

Thank you, Shonda, for pointing out that motherhood isn’t about punching in the clock and bragging about your martyrdom.

“Powerful famous women don’t say out loud that they have help at home, that they have nannies, housekeepers, chefs, assistants, stylists… They don’t say out loud that they have those people at home doing these jobs because they are ashamed. Or maybe a more precise way to say it is that these women have been shamed.”

I could go on and about the chapters in this book that sang to my soul, but this review is turning into a novella. I’ll leave you with one lasting thought that Shonda brought up in her Dartmouth commencement speech (one of her many scary “yes” challenges). There are dreamers and there are doers. Dreaming is a crock. Go get your Nike on and just do it! Sounds like another platitude, right? Not in Shondaland. She smashed every goal with a vengeance—from losing over 100 pounds, to appearing on live TV, to writing this deeply personal memoir.

“Everyone’s got some greatness in them. You do. The girl over there does. That guy on the left has some. But in order to really mine it, you have to own it. You have to grab hold of it. You have to believe it.”

It was a real adventure accompanying Shonda on her life-altering quest. I hope that one day she will live out her fantasy of making jam in Vermont and writing novels all day. When it comes to screenwriting, she has the midas touch, so I have no doubt that anything she writes will be pure gold!

Now I must be off. I’ve got a book to write! No more dreaming—just doing from here on out! Thanks, Shonda, for the kick in the pants.

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Still looking for reasons why I finished ‘Looking for Alaska’

Published January 31, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

PicMonkey Collage
Oh wow…I don’t know where to even begin with this review. Okay, let’s start out by enumerating the most important elements of a good book. First and foremost a good read must have likeable, well-developed characters. Then, of course, there needs to be a plot. And let’s not forget that with every story, there needs to be believability. Even fantasy books have to be rooted in some semblance of reality, otherwise how are the readers ever going to relate to the story, the characters, the meaning of it all?!?

Now let’s dissect the many ways John Green ignored these key elements in this hot mess of YA fiction.

Likeable Characters

In this high school melodrama, I’m stuck with a whiny high school kid and his snarky clique of boarding school chums, all of whom are way too cool for school. Gee, does this sound vaguely familiar? Oh probably because the same annoying characters from Paper Towns were plopped into this book!

Remember that old MTV cartoon Darea? You know, the one about the emo monotone girl who mocked everything around her? Well if you enjoyed that, I suppose you might relate to these yahoos. I, on the other hand, got tired of the irony of it all. They were all so enveloped in their own little narcissistic worlds, save for the ringleader of the bunch, ironically named “The Colonel” who did have a few redeeming qualities. Come to think of it, this book might actually have been worthwhile if he was the lead character. But nope, we’re stuck in Pudge’s one-track mind throughout this sluggish journey of self-discovery. He’s that friend (we’ve all had one) who drones on and on about an unattainable crush, constantly ruminating about her mysterious ways. Who is the real Alaska? What’s driving her crazy mood swings? Why is she so self-destructive? WHO CARES?!? The girl in question—poetically named Alaska—is not in any way interesting, enigmatic or likeable. She knows poor Pudge has it bad, so she plays him like a fiddle, flirting, teasing and stringing him along just for fun. Playful and chummy one minute, downright evil the next (someone get this girl an exorcist!), Alaska is clearly surfing the extreme end of the bipolar spectrum. But, alas, this mysterious goddess rocks Pudge’s world, so he must make it his quest figure her out and ultimately get in her pants. And there, my dear readers, is your plot.

That's your cue to split, Pudge.

That’s your cue to split, Pudge.

The Plot

Halfway through the book I started to question when the plot would take shape. Come to think of it, that’s probably the point when you should call it a loss and toss it in the DNF pile. But like a good soldier, or idiot, I continued on. Like Alaska’s shameless teasing, the provocative chapter headings that counted down the “days before” kept me reading. What catastrophic even awaited this group of sardonic teenagers? Who’s gonna bite the big one? Please tell me it will be Alaska. Until we reach the aftermath chapters, the story slogs along at a snail’s pace. Here’s what we’ve got: Bored little rich boy demands to go to boarding school so he can find “the great perhaps.” He immediately joins the cool misfit clique (think Perks of Being a Wallflower). Then it’s nothing but chain-smoking, esoteric musings of “escaping the labyrinth” and pranks against the rich kids. When the catastrophic event finally hits, I’m already over it.

Believability

I’m sure Green has met a teenager at some point in his adult life, but it sure doesn’t show in this book. Though they were all absorbed in their narcissistic worlds (an intrinsic quality of this particular age demographic), these poetically minded kids were WAAAAY beyond their years. Apparently they are all child prodigies that can speak and think at a level that would put a 50-year-old philosophy professor to shame. That, my friends, is unfathomable. The sad reality is that kids express themselves in 60 characters or less, or whatever threshold it is that Twitter allows. I’m sorry, John Green, but the young Jack Kerouacs of the world are few and far between. I have no doubt that Mr. Green was one of those gifted kids who spent his Friday nights memorizing the famous last words of great American presidents (one of Pudge’s shticks). But the chances of finding a group of millennials who all have impressive academic hobbies such as this are slim to none. There’s this golden rule in writing called “write what you know.” Green clearly does not know teenagers. It would behoove him to spend a day studying them in their natural environment –a One Direction concert perhaps—and really listen to their dialect.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska's inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska’s inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

On a happier note, I must admit that Green is a highly talented wordsmith. It’s easy to get lost in his lyrical prose and esoteric musings. But just like a movie can’t solely rely on all A-list actors, he can’t get by just on pretty writing. I know that YA is clearly a marketable genre for him, especially after his smashing success with The Fault in the Stars. But if he insists on creating these mythical teenage geniuses—who all seems to be cut from the same mold—these books are always going to miss the mark.

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