Cringed On Multiple Occasions

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My Rating: 1/5 Stars

While I can’t guarantee I will honor all fan requests, I was certainly intrigued and rather humbled with my second piece of reviewing fan mail, and the first one with a request for a specific novel which sits in my TBR queue. In this case, a fan wanted to know my thoughts on BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. Like the great quarterbacks, I rather enjoy pretending when I sit down to write a review that I’ve never written one before, that no one actually reads this crap, and that I’m only entertaining myself (most of the time) and my wife (some of the time). Selective amnesia helps me stay sane, and it prevents the writing well from turning as bone dry as Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So why did I choose to honor said request? To sum up (and I’m paraphrasing), I was called a genius and one brilliant sonofabitch. With that kind of support, it was hard to say no, even though I now feel as though I have this tremendous responsibility to write even better and more appropriate reviews in the future (so we’re back to that wonderful selective amnesia), and now we’ll move forward with this review.

I’d say the best way for me to sum up this novel is I don’t understand the hype. No, it goes deeper and extends further than that. I actually cringed on multiple occasions while reading said novel, and I might have started viewing “Trav” as a four-letter word much worse than the usual conglomeration of four-letter words, and I started using epithets left and right that shall go otherwise unnamed for fear of constant reprisal. I probably would have tossed my Kindle through the nearest open window if I hadn’t learned how to control my emotions, and still there were probably one or two close calls. And it was a good thing I had learned this basic function because neither Travis nor Abby had, and multiple therapy sessions, a straightjacket, and a room filled with padded walls still wouldn’t have solved their problems.

Even a chipmunk who had consumed one too many acorns could see where the storyline was headed. The billboard was neon red and flashing from about three miles away. The predictable romantic roadblocks and turns ensued with neither individual offering up much in the way of intelligence or even reasonable competence. *BEGIN SPOILER* Instead of the happily ever after ending, a more fitting finale would have been for the romantic partners to get hit by a Mack truck, followed by a bullet train, and then whacked by the propeller of the nearest helicopter. *END SPOILER*

The dialogue made me want to pass out a thesaurus instead of cotton candy, while the prose was peppered with exclamation points, cringe-inducing language, a wishy-washy in need of a backbone heroine, and way too many people to hate within the confines of one novel.

Sure, I made it all the way to the end, but that was due more to my perseverance and thoughts of writing a review to expunge my feelings than it was to a favorable plot, charming characters, and winning prose.

Side note – I didn’t know about all the hoopla surrounding this author and novel until more recently. I must have stuck my head in a cave for more than a few days. Had I known about it, it wouldn’t have changed my decision to read BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, nor would it have changed my opinion of said novel. But it’s hard not to be disappointed in my author brethren for the immediate and scathing backlash about a reader’s opinion. Last I checked this wasn’t North Korea, and everyone is still entitled to his or her opinion, but maybe my few days in a cave was much longer than I realized. Either way, I’ll continue to support my fellow Goodreads reviewers the only way I know how…with my writing.

Soap Opera Monday

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Claudia Silver may be in her twenties, but she hasn’t left her teen years firmly behind. She has about as much sense as a love-struck fifteen-year-old left on the subway overnight and who might be prone to hallucinations on more than a few occasions. But I loved her anyway. That’s fucked up, right? Yeah, I thought so, too.

But like all teenage fantasies it wasn’t a perfect match, nor was it even a near perfect one. In fact, I abhorred her and loved her in nearly equal parts. There were occasions where I wanted to give her a hug, and there were plenty of occasions where I wanted to slap my forehead, scream, and run in the opposite direction. By the end, I might have had a nice semi-permanent red spot along with a decent amount of brain damage, and possibly finished my cardio for the entire month of March.

So what gives? I might have reached a new level of softness around my middle, or I might have just discovered a hidden gem in the midst of a woodpile before the entire stack of debris was doused in kerosene and set ablaze. I’m still processing and evaluating all the inputs, but I’ll go with the hidden gem option for two hundred Alex.

I was more than a little entertained, even if I wasn’t exactly rescued. CLAUDIA SILVER TO THE RESCUE reminded me of a soap opera, so it wasn’t all that surprising when this little tidbit was actually discussed in a bit of depth in the novel, and it reminded me on more than one occasion of how lucky I am with my family and my relationships and my job situation, because I really don’t endeavor to find out how much worse it could get for myself, but I have no problem reading about somebody else’s problems over the course of 259 pages or so.

Redneck Poetic Prose

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemper might just be the best redneck I know, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. If I ever need to know about the best lawn ornaments, or how to best utilize my Cool Whip salad bowls, or what to do if I get more than a few IQ points deducted on account of my accent, or if I need to know what to do with the dead body in my backyard, I’d probably try to get in touch with him. And if I ever decide to start a crystal meth operation in my garage, I plan on getting in touch with Daniel Woodrell—he just doesn’t know it yet.

This book might have landed firmly in a brand new category. Wait for it…wait for it…redneck poetic prose. My teeth might have been covered in pop; the bag of Doritos stuffed in the corner of my pantry started looking pretty good, even though I’d just eaten a steak dinner; I wanted to find a beagle with a slightly lopsided ear and a short leash, after I punched out my two front teeth with a Coke bottle. I’ll show all the lovely ladies my farmer’s tan as I ride around on my John Deere, tractor that is, and I plan to wander off in the woods over the weekend and get lost for approximately twenty-four hours.

All I need is a Four Wheeler and I’ll scream yee-haw at the top of my lungs. Life will be pretty nice, but it might be even better within the confines of WINTER’S BONE, as I long as I can continue to live vicariously through Ree Dolly, and not actually have to experience the trials and tribulations of her Ozark-infused life. But she’s one tough walnut sitting rather nicely atop a piece of peach cobbler, and I devoured this prose so fast I might have caused myself a bit of acid reflux, right before I went back for seconds.

The dialogue struck me with as much force as an uppercut, and the abject poverty nearly caused me to start handing out ones. But it’s not all toothless smiles and haphazard grins and next-of-kin. There is hope and promise contained within the sparse prose. You may just have to get the crap kicked out of you first.

The Shellacking

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

With the séance concluded, we’ll let the shellacking commence. His name is Bond. James Bond. He might drive cars with a speed best reserved for the autobahn, and he might refer to women as girls, and he might have trouble keeping his penis in his pants, and the comma in his hair might be best reserved for a male underwear model by the name of Sergei, who hails from the cold war, and fights crime on the government’s dime. But like any good government agent, he sometimes shows a certain amount of ineptness in the face of impeding danger.

He has too many near-death experiences to list, and his list of conquests might be best reserved for the bathroom stall at the local truck stop. Even if we’re the ones that are supposed to have a good time, it sometimes feels like you’re punching a time clock and staring at a dark spot on the concrete wall while you bide your time waiting to make your grand exit from the funhouse.

I’ve found I like myself better when I don’t read too many Bond books in a row, otherwise your Dr. Yes might turn into DR. NO. You might even be prone to screaming and cold bouts of terror and little green men in dark suits and sunglasses might come to take you away, or toss your body out to sea to swim with the fishes.

Dammit Dennis, I started writing the wrong review. I’m supposed to like this book, and I certainly do. But there are certainly a few problems that have caused me to dig in my heels and question the exact limitations of my sanity. First, the women. I feel like I have the script to the next episode of America’s Next Top Model complete with knife-wielding women and machine gun brasseries. The villains sometimes exhibit a bit of cartoonishness in their evilness, and I found myself dancing away from the swarm of centipedes headed in my direction, most of whom probably had poisonous pincers, or at least the appearance of such. The profuse sweating congregated on my chin, and the sight of myself in a mirror nearly caused me to shed my skin.

But Bond wouldn’t be Bond without a certain amount of male charm and chauvinism that saw its best days in the dark ages. His confidence marches onward without question, and the action plays out at more of a silent movie pace with the screams held on the inside.

My love-hate relationship with Bond continues onward and possibly upward, and I shall let a bit more time pass before I constipate myself with the next installment.

As far as where this book falls within the first six installments of said series, I don’t really feel qualified to make such judgments. But I can tell you I liked it better than FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE without thinking too terribly hard about it.

Son Of A Walther PPK

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

My biggest complaint with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE—aside from the usual male chauvinism and innocent women who need a real man—I was well into this novel (over a third of the way) before Bond made his appearance. Did I really need to know that much about Mother Russia? I think not. I’d have been happier with much less, frankly, and I would have kept a few more sanity points.

I even debated skipping ahead, but since I’ve approached my task of reading the entire Bond series the way one might approach a calculus exam, I trudged onward, even if there were times in the beginning where my unhappiness reached a near monumental level.

And then Bond showed up in all of his male glory and all was right with the world. Or at least I thought so…until two tribal women in loincloths fight each other to the death, one with a massive bosom and the other a little less endowed, as the sun glistens off their naked, perfect bodies. Excuse me…what? Son of a Walther PPK! My inner goddess just cursed a red, white, and blue streak. And I probably fainted from a heatstroke.

At this point, I might have actually cheered for a buxom beauty the size of a tank to haul off and repeatedly whack Bond with a knotted rope while his pants are around his ankles and a group of Russian women stare on in equal parts delight and horror. Turnabout is fair play, right?

Other than being young and nubile and having looks that could kill, I was not particularly impressed with Tatiana Romanova. She might have had a certain amount of innocence, but I wasn’t buying it.

This supposed thriller left with me few thrills, except for the one I received when I finished it.

Side bar – I’ve started watching Mad Men. The reason I mention this is between reading the Bond novels and watching that AMC show—which end up being somewhat enjoyable for entirely different reasons and equally aggravating for the rampant, raging sexism—I feel like I’m next in line for lung cancer, even though I’ve never smoked a day in my life.

Overhyped, Undeserving

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My Rating: 1/5 Stars

Where’s the payoff? I’ll tell you: It doesn’t exist. For three books, I followed and even bought into the relationship between Bella and Edward. All the heavy petting, French kissing, and whispers of you’re the one filled the pages to the point of seeping out of its edges, and yet I continued to read, because I believed there was a prize at the end of the rainbow. A prize worth consuming four books, countless hours, and pouring over nearly 2500 pages worth of teenage angst. And what happened? Nothing. There was a buildup to “the moment” about as large as a tidal wave ready to take out Charleston, SC, but when the moment was finally upon the two young lovers, the door slammed so hard in my face that it rattled the walls. And then there were more “moments” and on each occasion, the door slammed so hard that the foundation nearly cracked in half. Sure, Stephenie Meyer described the sex that took place after the fact, but I felt like I was on the outer edges of the horizon waiting to break through the atmosphere.

After the first lack of production, I nearly tossed my Android out my window. And the other scenes, or lack thereof, only led to more disheartenment. Was I a bit overzealous? Possibly a bit too overeager? Probably. But I bring you back to that number again: 2500. Did Stephenie Meyer need to go into pornographic detail? Absolutely not. But if this was a relationship that changed both Bella and Edward and their entire families, and a relationship worth confronting the Volturi over, then I wanted more than a bit of French kissing, longing glances, and heavy petting: I wanted a peek inside the walls of the bedroom. In fact, I feel like I deserved more, so BREAKING DAWN ended up being one giant letdown for me. I’d even go so far to say it was the mother of all letdowns.

But what scares me even more than that is that this is a book (and a series) marketed toward teenagers. What kind of a message does it send when your baby eats you from the inside out? What kind of a message does it send when Bella was meant to be a vampire? She literally transforms from an awkward, uncoordinated teenager to a perfect vampire with grace, precision, and poise in a matter of days, completely capable of controlling her thoughts and thirst. Every other vampire and every other vampire series places much more emphasis on the control factor (control of thirst and desires), and that it is never really under the vampire’s complete control, and yet here we are with Bella, the perfect vampire. It’s almost laughable in its utter simplicity.

But yet why did I have such a hard time buying it? People and society aren’t perfect, so this whole concept seems a little too perfect for me. What message does this really send? That if you just become a vampire you can have it all: you can walk out in the sunlight (as long as it’s cloudy outside), you can have the perfect daughter, you can be more graceful and controlled than you ever thought possible, and you can have gifts that you couldn’t have in human form. Let’s sign up right now because I want in on this shit.

I mean, it’s gotta be better than the imperfect life that I’m leading right now. As for all those teenage readers that have consumed this series, let’s face it, being a teenager is a rather imperfect life. All those awkward moments, awkward situations, and that never-ending series of first times…these four novels say let’s skip right to being a vampire, because that’s where the promise land is baby. And that’s one promise I’m not really buying into.

Dichotomy Dilemma

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

When I finished ECLIPSE, I felt empty inside, like I was a seashell sitting on the beach, trying to become one with the waves. Sure, I had been entertained by the story itself and by the surrounding beachcombers, pedestrians, and dogs playing on the shoreline, or in this case, the vampires and werewolves and otherwise normal individuals who constitute the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s tale. But I felt less than fulfilled as I flipped the pages at a furious, breakneck pace.

It’s hard for me to explain the dichotomy because I don’t really understand it myself. The pace of the novel never really slows, but at the same time there’s not a whole lot that has happened in ECLIPSE or the two previous installments. Again, I really have no doubt that there is talent at work here: talent at world invention, character creation, and a unique approach to a rather traditional storyline. This novel, like the others, is filled with a certain amount of promise. But at the same time, this promise seems to go unfulfilled.

But do I want to keep reading? Absolutely. However, I do think the empty feeling will continue all the way to the end. And it’s hard not to feel a bit disappointed by this result. So the dance continues Stephenie Meyer, as I both admire and loathe you in equal parts, and if I ever figure out the answer to my dichotomy dilemma, I will have solved one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Mountain Of Empty Calories

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

After reading NEW MOON, I feel like I ate a mountain of empty calories without any real payoff at the end. Sure, it was an enjoyable read, written for a particular audience, and done very well in that regard; sure, it had a steady pace like a racehorse destined for some sort of glory; and sure, there was no point where I wanted to put the book down, toss it across the room, or throw it in a garbage can. But I feel like Stephenie Meyer could have offered us so much more.

The basic plotline is this: Edward leaves, Bella stays, and then Edward returns. As a teenager myself, once, I like to believe I offered the world slightly more depth than what this particular story entailed. Of course, maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. But it doesn’t mean I will stop this particular saga in midstream, nor will I postpone the third book.

Since TWILIGHT offered the reader a bit more than this one did, I suppose I had set slightly higher expectations for this one. Not grand expectations, mind you, but I did hope to be dazzled a bit more than I was, especially since there is talent at work here.

I am curious to see what happens to these two ill-fated lovers, but I hope the next two novels prove a bit more interesting than this one did. If you thoroughly enjoyed the first book, or even if you’re just curious to see what everyone is talking about, or if you happen to connect with these particular relationships on some level, as I did, or you’re using this series as a marketing study, you probably won’t want to miss this one. Otherwise, you may feel a little disappointed at the end.

Flapjack Connoisseur

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

So what can I say about TWILIGHT that hasn’t already been said? Honestly, probably not a whole hell of a lot. But has that ever stopped me? No way. But I realize I’m coming to the party after the house has already burned down, the cops have shown up, and they’re proceeding to take witness statements from a bunch of half-stunned, half-drunk teenagers. On the other hand, that’s not so bad either. Reviews are all about honest opinions, and I certainly have one of those.

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Like many folks by now, I have friends that love the series, friends that tolerate it, friends that hate it, and friends that will never read it. But with any book worth its mashed potatoes and gravy, it will have devoted fans, passionate enemies, and folks that politically resemble Switzerland and Canada. When it comes to books that have reached a broad audience, it’s the circle of life. And for the amount of money Stephenie Meyer now has shoved down the front of her jeans, she’s probably not going to complain too hard.

So what’s my take on the series? I did my best to reserve judgment until after I’d read TWILIGHT, which by the way wasn’t easy, since it has only managed to spawn four novels and five movies, the first four of which have grossed a little over a billion dollars domestic. And I’ll give you the bottom line, in case you want to stop reading sooner rather than later: I wouldn’t call it a well-written series, but I was absorbed in Bella’s world from the very beginning, and I found myself flipping pages like a flapjack connoisseur at the local Denny’s. I really wanted to know where Stephenie Meyer would take me, and I was more than willing to hop on board and go along for the ride.

So why does the series work? We can spend all day analyzing it from a multitude of different angles, but here’s the one undisputable point: She connected with a large group of readers who had either experienced a teenage crush firsthand or knew someone who had. Depending on how you look at it, I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have an all-consuming, all-encompassing relationship a number of years ago. Am I a better person for it? It’s really hard to say, but I ended up learning a hell of a lot from that relationship, and I wouldn’t be where I am now had that relationship continued on its sea bound voyage. So in the end, I could relate to Bella and Edward, and the devoted Twihard fanbase.

As for the rating, I feel like I should provide a slight explanation. I debated hard about giving it more than three stars, but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s a good novel, and a rather light read, but there was nothing great about it. Nothing that really made it stand out for me. Now I know there are probably quite a few people who will disagree with me wholeheartedly about my previous statement, and like Ms. Meyer, I’m okay with that.

Pedal To The Metal

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I liked this novel. Well, that might be a bit of an understatement. I really, really liked this novel. Probably not loved it, but I’m as proud of it as if it had been my own story. But then I love finance and interest rate fluctuations and bond markets and stock markets and financial analysis and market analysis and fundamental and technical analysis and trading and investing and growth opportunities and domestic along with overseas investing. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking stocks or bonds or mutual funds or index funds, as long as that fucker is growing faster than the inflation rate. So it’s probably safe to say I like the thought of making fuckloads of money in the financial markets. Will I get there? Probably not. But I’m going to have a whole hell of a lot of fun trying.

Sure, I may have to forgo even the most basic sense of morality, but any good analyst worth his salt has the moral code of a politician involved in the latest sex scandal who was then discovered to be funded by both North Korea and the Chinese. Analysts may be arrogant little pissants who put money before God and country and the almighty dollar, but if I were to have a lobotomy to go along with my serious injection of badass, I might wipe the floor with more than a few Yale and Harvard grads and then kick the crap out of a few Stanford grads to round out the equation.

One day I’d like to strive for some real intuitive investigative work of the financial persuasion where I call out some seriously bad dudes who like to twiddle their thumbs and play with numbers all day. Even if it means I get smacked around in a bar fight, tossed into the middle of a war game field exercise, shoved on a plane headed to Detroit in the middle of the mother of all power outages, and stared down by the SecDef, I might still consider it a good investment, or then again, I might not. It’s really hard to say at this point.

I even like the military with its rules and regulations and lack of creative thinkers and checks and double-checks and inside-the-box thinking and command directives and statuesque tendencies where the orders come down from above with a finger and a fist pump and smiles are rather hard to come by and the general wheels around in a Humvee and if I’m lucky, I might get to see another sunrise tomorrow.

THE ASCENDANT bounced between finance and the military with effortless ease, tossed in China and Las Vegas and Wall Street and the Midwest for good measure, and cut and recut as this brisk, relentless ride never let up. I might have passed a missile silo or two in my rearview mirror, and a nuclear reactor might have been ready to explode in my vicinity, but I didn’t care, because it was pedal to the metal, baby, all the way to the finish line.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.