BOOK REVIEW: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Once in a while, books come along that feel special, books that leave me choked up for no reason, books that make me feel like I’m on a runner’s high when I read them.

The Good Luck of Right Now is one of those books. It almost feels like it was written for me.

The plot is unremarkable: Bartholomew Neil, a man implied to have an intellectual disability who recently lost his mother, processes his grief with the help of his doubting priest Father McNamee, his troubled grief counselor Wendy, his cat-obsessed, alien-fearing therapy buddy Max, and Max’s sister Elizabeth AKA the Girlbrarian AKA Bartholomew’s dreamgirl.

The events are relayed through Bartholomew’s letters to Richard Gere, his mother’s favorite actor, with whom Bartholomew feels he shares a spiritual connection.

Epistolary novels are my favorite–you as the reader learn so much from the narrator’s limited (and often unreliable) perspective by what they exclude, focus on, and misunderstand.

I started to love the book almost midway through when tensions escalated between Bartholomew, Wendy, and Father McNamee. The book gave an honest and accurate portrayal of what it’s like to live with an abuse victim, struggle with doubt, and deal with negative self-image. Throughout, Bartholomew describes an “angry little man” who lives in his stomach and shouts abuse any time he makes a mistake, a phenomenon any self-conscious person can relate to. Though not directly related, these lines stuck out all the more because of it:

And what is reality, if it isn’t how we feel about things? What else matters at the end of the day, when we lie in bed alone with our thoughts?

The ensuing scene, where the Father and Bartholomew fail to convince Wendy to leave her boyfriend, was spot-on–not sure if Quick has had loved ones in abusive situations, but he nailed it.

While the emotional moments were good, I kept reading because I was desperate to know: WOULD THEY EVER MAKE IT TO CAT PARLIAMENT?

I was still wondering down to the last 10 pages, speedreading like crazy to find out.

If I had one critique, the ending seemed a bit rushed because so much was packed into the final pages. Still, I preferred it to the more ambiguous ending of Silver Linings Playbook. I like, too, that it was happy; endings don’t need to be tragic to be satisfying.

Great read deserving of space on your bookshelf.

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: That’s what editing’s for

I should stop picking on Janna Nickerson. There are other terrible books out there. It’s just that Eyes of War has given me so much material.

Today’s passage has bits of entertaining silliness, but I found myself actually angry while rereading it.

For some reason, Ms. Nickerson doesn’t seem to understand how plurals work.

Unless they meld together to form one consciousness, multiple creatures cannot be called “a rogui.”

Did no one edit this book before it was published!? Mistakes like this drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter how genius the rest of the book is if it has three glaring grammar errors in two pages.

Yes, this holds for bloggers, too…

…which creates quite an incentive not to screw up.

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: Megumi Hanajima

This isn’t the first time I’ve posted about Fruits Basket. I finished the series this weekend, so expect a few more Mondays featuring upsetting manga moments.

Megumi is all right as far as characters go. He’s Saki Hanajima’s precocious younger brother who could pass for her identical twin and hangs out with her friends so often everyone forgets how young he is.

Me and Will
Geez, what’s that like?

Occasionally, Megumi’s perspective helps the older characters move on and/or deal with romantic heartache.

Arisa Uotani, for instance: she’s in love with a guy named Kureno, who for one reason or another has decided never to see her again.

Arisa doesn’t know that Kureno has issues. Major issues. Issues that in America would land him in jail.

Tohru tries to intervene and speak to Kureno on Arisa’s behalf, but their conversation doesn’t go well.

Kureno: the literal worst.

Megumi walks in while Arisa and Tohru are crying it out and drops some wisdom:

There are some things that take a long time to acquire. Friends. Loves. Really… Nothing has been a waste.

I’m struck by how different things stick out to me whenever I reread Fruits Basket. Rin’s story hit me at a time when I felt I didn’t have any friends. I just graduated from college; for the past year, I’ve teared up whenever I read about beginnings and endings.

This scene with Megumi got me because of where I am right now. I’m jobless, single, living in my home town, separated from most of my friends by 160 miles, road construction, and some mountains. I’ve spent the last few months wishing I could fast-forward to the time when I have a job, or have moved to Oregon, or am rocking a sweet mohawk and owning my church’s “Fiddler on the Roof” auditions, because right now sucks.

Yet Megumi says what I’m going through now won’t be a waste. The things I want take a long time to acquire. I really want to believe that.

Megumi ends this section by saying:

Whatever happens in the night, morning still always comes. Always. Has there ever been a night that had no dawn?

(Emphasis mine)

Crazily enough, that’s biblical. I looked it up.

Psalm 30:5
For His anger lasts for but a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Amen. That’s what I’m believing today.

Need cheering up?
Feast your eyes on the wonder that is Kakeru Manabe. He’s the funniest character in the manga and has some of the best lines (“IT’S A NATURAL PRINCESS OLD MAN!”). One of my friends is the female version of Kakeru and I feel so lucky to have her.

See, for example, how Kakeru comforts his closest friend:

Punch you into sun

Oh, Kakeru. Everyone needs a Kakeru.

BOOK REVIEW: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Warning: So many spoilers. If you’d like a summary, scroll to the bottom of the review.

Hey, Shadow and Bone. C’mere. I wanna talk to you.

Sit down, Shadow and Bone. How have you been? I’ve been hearing really great things about you.

You know, I really liked you at first. I mean, really liked you. Your first 90 or so pages had some of the tightest writing I’ve read in a while. I just tried to read A Court of Thorns and Roses and had to put it down after 50 uninspiring pages. With you, I was hooked immediately. You established a world populated by Grisha, this universe’s version of benders. You introduced me to your main character, Alina Starkov, tricked me into caring about her by giving her a shady past and an unrequited crush on her best friend, and didn’t skimp on action. You told me everything I needed to know in a manner of pages: the country of Ravka (AKA Fantasy Russia) is at war with its many neighboring countries and travel anywhere in the country is complicated by the existence of the Shadow Fold.

What is the Shadow Fold, you ask? Well, that’s ridiculous, Shadow and Bone, you should know, but I’ll remind you: the Shadow Fold is a region in the middle of the country completely covered by darkness and populated by terrifying monsters called the volcra. Travel across it is dangerous – characters are counted lucky if they die quickly.

Barely 30 pages in, Alina and her friend Mal are attacked on the Shadow Fold. Alina saves Mal by unleashing a hidden power and driving away the volcra. Turns out not only is she a Grisha, she’s a Sun Summoner, the only one of her kind.

Alina is introduced to the Darkling, the leader of the Grisha with “great powers.” All I’m really clear on is he can create darkness and cut men in half. I am clear on how hot he sounded. Thank the internet for fanart.

Shadow and Bone, you had me where you wanted me. You gave me great action, an interesting protagonist, and the promise of hot romance.

So, what I want to ask is this:
WHAT HAPPENED?

I have three big problems with your story.

1. You turned an interesting story into high school politics

I’ve read books before, Shadow and Bone. This is not the first time I’ve read a story where the protagonist learns new skills at a prestigious academy and faces difficulty and social rejection. Heck, there’s a pretty well-known novel about a boy wizard who goes through the same things!

Who doesn’t remember this book?

I loved Harry Potter and The Lioness QuartetI’m not saying you can’t make this the plot of your YA fantasy novel.

My problem is that magic wizard school ISN’T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR. You spent 90 pages throwing me scary monsters and quasi-Scandinavian assassins, and you followed that up with Alina’s struggles with homework. FOR 100 PAGES.

2. I was promised “heady” and “poignant” romance and you didn’t deliver

As I mentioned before, the Darkling was pretty hot. He and Alina had some chemistry, which I was interested in seeing develop.

Instead, the Darkling disappears.

When he does speak to Alina, it’s to pass on exposition. Your Exposition Fairy, hard at work. Their relationship didn’t so much develop as…happen. Out of nowhere.

One minute, it’s all exposition about a magical stag that could help them destroy the Shadow Fold. Then this happens:

He looked down at me. The cold air had put a flush in his cheeks, and the lamplight shone in his gray eyes. “Alina, if I tell you that I believe we can find the stag, would you think I’m mad?”

“Why would you care what I think?”

He looked genuinely baffled. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I do.”

And then he kissed me.

Not 20 pages later, he and Alina almost have sex against a wall during a raucous party. WHAT IS HAPPENING? It’s Octavia and Lincoln all over again!

What really peeved me was how you brought Mal back in. For the BULK OF THE NOVEL, Mal sleeps with other women, expects Alina to be his wingwoman, and generally doesn’t care as much about her as she does about him.

I’ve been in this kind of friendship. I know how this feels. There’s no point in hanging on to an uneven relationship. Alina realizes that though she has made Mal a priority her entire life, he doesn’t care about her. I thought her letting go of this friendship was a good step toward character development.

Then you brought Mal back.

Up to this point, you had done nothing to make Mal remotely likeable. To remedy this, you have Mal slutshame Alina for being into the Darkling. Later, while helping her find the stag, he picks fights and is nothing but rude to her the entire time.

SUDDENLY, he’s declaring his love for her. “I’m sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina,” he says. “But I see you now.”

BOOOOO! BOOOOOO! BOOOOO! After “graciously” forgiving Alina for considering sleeping with the Darkling ONE TIME, Mal says, “We found our way back to each other, Alina. That’s all that matters.”

NOT TRUE! Call me crazy, but I think sleeping with every other girl ever and being a terrible friend still matters!

3. You didn’t foreshadow your big twist

Come on, Shadow and Bone. I JUST POSTED about obvious foreshadowing yesterday. You went to the opposite extreme with no foreshadowing at all.

As I said yesterday, when I come to a twist ending, I want to be surprised, but I also want to feel like I should have seen it coming. When I reread a story or rewatch a movie, I want to see all the little clues I missed that lead up to the big reveal.

There were no such clues with you, Shadow and Bone. 

Page 236, the wise old mentor reveals that the Darkling…is eeeeeviiiiil!

And Alina feels so foolish, because she should have known!

…how?

Because he killed a guy by cutting him in half? He’s an immortal being with intense power. That guy was trying to kill his Sun Summoner. Still on the Darkling’s side.

Because he can create darkness?

Because he wears black on the time? Seriously, where were your clues, Shadow and Bone?

You gave me no reason to hate the supposed villain! It’s not a good twist if it came out of nowhere!

I should have known he was the opposite of how he was portrayed! How could I have been so stupid?

I wanted to love you, Shadow and Bone. I gushed about you to my little brother, telling him “this is how you write a fantasy novel.”

Shadow and Bone, you made me look like a fool.

Want to know my final verdict, Shadow and Bone?

Excellent first 1/3. Disappointing latter half. Don’t read it for the romance. Worth a read…as long as you get it from your local library.

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Father was acting very suspiciously

Know what I like? Foreshadowing.

Without foreshadowing, a writer’s twists can come out of nowhere and make about as much sense (see: “Frozen”).

If you’re going to drop a huge bomb later on in the story, it’s best to drop little hints before it happens.

Or, you could do what Janna Nickerson does, and make it incredibly obvious that something is going to happen.

I like to call this “obvious foreshadowing.” Good foreshadowing makes a reader go, “How could I have missed that!?” Obvious foreshadowing calls attention to itself.

“LOOK OVER HERE! OVER HERE! THERE’S A PLOT POINT COMING AND IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT THAT YOU KNOW ABOUT IT AHEAD OF TIME!”

“Here I am.”

“AAAAAAAAGH! WHOOOOOA! A PLOT POINT! NO ONE SAW THAT COMING!”

Why is Mat’s dad acting so suspiciously? That will be revealed later. The answer will be magical.
(Did you get that? Magical. It has something to do with magic. Probably. Ooooh, it’s a mystery..)

Also, why didn’t Mat’s dad think to ask how Mat got home until an hour later?

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: Rin Sohma and Tohru Honda

Minor Fruits Basket spoilers today. If you don’t want to know who the horse of the zodiac is, read no further.

I have a pattern: whenever I read Fruits Basket, I cry.

The series’ halfway point is usually where I get emotional. People think Fruits Basket is just a dumb shojo manga (I could name names…you know who you are), but there’s some really intense stuff in it.

This time around, I started sobbing in volume 4.

However, I just finished Volume 14, which is a real doozy, so today’s post is about Rin Sohma.

Rin, much like Ronan Lynch, has had a messed-up life. It would be hard enough being possessed by an ancient spirit. Imagine your love life complicated by the fact that whenever someone of the opposite sex hugs you, you turn into a horse.

Imagine your happy family shattered the first time you questioned the sincerity of its happiness.

Imagine developing ulcers due to the stress and having your parents punish you for it.

This all happens to Rin Sohma BEFORE the story even starts.

You might have noticed some similarities in the characters I’m drawn to. A lot of the characters I like are really, really mean. Rin lashes out at everyone, does questionable things to obtain information, and says hurtful things to little kids. She hits her boyfriend and, as a horse, tries to kick Tohru in the face.

But Rin would do anything for the people she loves and is honest about what she needs. After the head of the family calls her “pathetic,” “completely hopeless,” and “rotten to the core,” then PUSHES HER OUT A WINDOW, all Rin thinks as she falls is:

But Haru did want me. There was someone who wanted me, even though I had been told that I was unwanted. I’m happy… What a happy thing.

Rin later admits why she is so mean to “kind” people:

I hate for kind people to suffer. To see them get hurt.

She pushes away her loving boyfriend and Tohru Honda because she can’t stand to seem them become collateral damage.

She finally breaks down in front of Tohru and admits her weakness. She ends up crying in Tohru’s arms for hours.

Being alone

Tohru tells her something that hit me really hard: “Being by yourself is scary. Being alone is a frightening way to live.”

Hear, hear.

Later, Rin reflects on why Tohru is such a calming influence for everyone around her.

People can’t help but be drawn to someone like her. People who know how scary it is to be alone can’t help loving others.

This makes me wonder about the people in my life who are always happy. What sorts of things have happened to them that I don’t know about?

Stop relating to my real life, Fruits Basket!

Just hold me, Kyo.

Need cheering up?
Look at this picture! All the animals! See how happy they all are!

Yeah…not my best find.

[Note: I realize today is Tuesday. I was doing some other writing yesterday and completely forgot about blogging.]

The Men of Lunar Chronicles

Ahoy! Thar be spoilers here!

We return to my favorite series to examine each of the heroines’ love interests.

Carswell Thorne

I was not a Thorne fan when I started reading. It had something to do with his bravado, self-appointed title of captain, and sensitivity to prison soap. Kai puts it perfectly in Scarlet.

[Thorne’s] prison photo showed him flippantly winking at the camera. Kai hated him immediately.

Thorne grew on me, though. He has a roguish charm and enough street smarts and survival skills to last a few days in the Sahara. He’s funny, too, finding time for sarcastic repartee during battle.

Much as I love Kai, I ship Cinder and Thorne because while he drives her crazy, he always has her back. It’s hard to find guys willing to unfasten your control panel and reboot your system these days. No, that isn’t a euphemism.

Thorne provides a good bit of comic relief as the series gets more intense. Still, his more cinematic moments make me roll my eyes, and his relationship with Cress is one of the series’ weaker aspects. I’ll take my men with more savvy and less swagger, thank you.

Emperor Kaito

You don’t woo women by being sassy (*ahem* Thorne). You listen to them, buy them thoughtful presents, and invite them to balls. In these ways, Kai has the jump on his fellow love interests. Kai is young, angsty, inexperienced, and honestly kind of dumb, but he tries. Out of all the girls vying for his attention, he pursues Cinder. He’s not put off by her manly hobbies, her sarcasm, her alleged lack of femininity, or her status. He finds out she’s both Lunar and a cyborg and is only upset she didn’t tell him sooner.

Plus, he keeps the cyborg foot Cinder leaves behind at the ball. That’s precious.

Cinder kidnaps him on his wedding day and it is perfect. They are perfect. I lied about shipping Cinder and Thorne; Kai and Cinder are wonderful.

Wolf (AKA Ze’ev Kesley)

Freaking Wolf. He’s basically Kai, minus the sassiness and quintuple the angst. Throw in some murder, tattoos, animal instincts, intriguing scars, and physical perfection.

Voila. Wolf.

I’m a sucker for antiheroes and characters who strive to be better. Wolf does messed-up stuff, but he wants to change.

All that I love about Wolf is evident in the way he treats Scarlet. I love how he goes out of his way to protect her. It’s sweet…and kind of really hot. Of all the ships in the series, the Scarlet/Wolf romance made me swoon the most (so far). Palpable sexual tension, much more so than witty banter, is my favorite thing.

My favorite part in Scarlet is when Wolf nearly drops Scarlet off a train and freaks out, thinking he might have hurt her. All Scarlet wants is a hug, and this is the moment he finally allows himself to give her one. When I read that part, I cheered through my tears (I get really emotional about Lunar Chronicles, okay?)

Wolf gets a little annoying in Cress when he’s rendered nearly catatonic after Scarlet is kidnapped. Even so, I like how Meyer addresses it. I know how wrecked I would be if my significant other was in danger and I couldn’t help them–that’s some traumatic stuff. Wolf consoles himself by sleeping in Scarlet’s bed because it smells like her–ADORABLE. Even while mired in anguish, Wolf helps his friends when they need him.

And, even though it’s just a bunch of numbers, Wolf has a tattoo. Win.

Jacin Clay

Oh, Jacin Clay.

Jacin’s big problem is he’s mean. Really mean. And snarky. He’s angsty and bitter and does questionable things in order to survive. Marissa Meyer made a comment about readers not liking him. Despite everything I just mentioned, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. I mean, come on:

  • He’s funny.
  • He’s super brawny.
  • He has “beautiful eyes and the rising sun in his smile.”
  • He manages to be my favorite while having a blonde ponytail. That’s some good writing right there.

Part of it might be the forbidden love angle (I have a thing about bodyguards who crush on their charges.) Though he claims not to be, Jacin is SUPER into Princess Winter. Rereading Cress with this in mind made for much squealing.

Also, how can you not love this quote?

“I serve my princess. No one else.”

This is why I can’t read Lunar Chronicles in public.