PLACEBO JUNKIES: A Book Review

This book is…. interesting.

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So at my local library, they have a display near the front of the YA section with a bunch of random YA novels. This is where I found Placebo Junkies by JC Carleson. I had never heard of it before, but it sounded interesting. The summary includes a reference to Trainspotting and I am drawn to that movie, so I figured that this book would be right up my alley.

It was, uh, interesting.

The plot is definitely unique. I didn’t even know that people genuinely make careers out of being human “guinea pigs” (or do they? was that something made up for the purpose of plot? I will have to research this). It was strangely wonderful to read about the abuse these people put their bodies and minds through for nothing more than some quick money. I mean, sure, volunteering for an experiment or two sounds cool, but these people do dozens, some of them at the same time. It sounds extremely dangerous, but in that thrilling, badass way. The premise is definitely captivating.

But something about the characters feels… off. It’s almost like watching them through two layers of glass and it’s starting to fog up. For a first person narrative, I never once felt close to Audie. In fact, I never even liked her. I almost feel like I don’t even know her. Now, it’s possible that the plot explains the reasons behind this. These people are under a lot of drugs, and Audie’s childhood was certainly traumatic and scarring. Then, there’s the “plot twist” which would further explain this distance. But I don’t really think that’s an excuse. I read to connect, and I felt no connection to any of the characters. It was kind of a bummer.

Then there was the plot twist. I won’t spoil it, but let me just say that I did not see it coming at all. Maybe I just hadn’t picked up the clues because, frankly, the novel is kind of boring at times. I would zone out and my eyes would glaze over the words. Or maybe I did notice the clues, but I dismissed them because this world is so unfamiliar to me: anything I thought strange, I just brushed aside because I didn’t understand the culture of “professional guinea pigs.” Or maybe I didn’t see the twist coming because it was completely unnecessary. The twist makes sense, and it does add a nice what the fuck? moment, but the book already had me asking that question nearly every other chapter. The story was already interesting, and I feel like the novel would have felt a lot more satisfying without the turn of events. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

So the novel is interesting. It’s an interesting culture, and an interesting life, filled with unknowable characters. It’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever read. I know I keep dropping the word “interesting,” but that’s all I can think of to describe it.

Interesting is not synonymous with good.

2.5 pills out of 5.

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READY PLAYER ONE: A Book Review

This might be the most fun book ever written.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a novel that will make you nostalgic for a life you never lived. While this story is set in the future, it is focused on the past. Particularly, the 1980s. Now, I was born in 1995, but I love the 80s; there’s something about that decade that pulls me to it and completely fascinates me. The characters in this novel feel the same way, as they obsess over obscure and long forgotten 80s television, film, and video games. It’s strange, reading a dystopia that feels like it happened 30 years ago. But maybe that’s what makes it so brilliant.

So the plot of the novel is a basic video game plot, when it comes down to it. Wade is the underdog hero, and IOI are the super powerful villains that somehow he must beat. If you’ve played a video game or watched a movie, then you know that “somehow” is going to involve a lot of team work and a lot of outrageously genius plots. It’s a great read, both fun and exciting, but there’s a darkness that swims just underneath the surface. It doesn’t take much to realize that, as much as you want to sink into this world, maybe it’s best that you… don’t.

For you see, planet Earth is in ruins. Life is so terrible and reality so disgusting that everyone has retreated into virtual reality. The life that these characters life is, essentially, fictional. They live in a video game. But if they’re living inside it, and portraying themselves in it, then is it any less real than life here on Earth?

That, my friends, is the true message in Ready Player One. Sure, it’s a totally fun nostalgic adventure, but it’s also highly philosophical. It questions what is real, and what is truth. It makes you see what the internet is doing to not only ourselves, but to the planet. It shows how prejudice and preconceptions ruin any chance for freedom, but how something as simple as a video game can be the escape we all need. Freedom, it seems, is only attainable in this virtual reality, where people can be whoever they want to be. But at the same time, is this freedom really living? Is it worth its cost?

Ready Player One is fantastic. FANTASTIC. It’s fast-paced and adventurous, but it’s also kind of sad. But the best part is that this is a future I can actually see happening.

I’m not sure if that makes me happy or sad.

4 video games out of 5.

I CRAWL THROUGH IT: A Review

Is this what being high feels like?

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I Crawl Through It by AS King is one of the weirdest books I have ever read. The book jacket calls it “surrealist,” and that is the best description for it. This novel is like falling into a Salvadore Dali painting, where everything is bizarre and twisted but yet, somehow, as if by magic, the truth lies underneath and it all makes sense.

And that is the beauty of it.

I don’t want to spoil this book. It’s so strange and it’s so much fun to slowly fall into it. But to give you a taste of what you’re about to fall into, I’ll summarize all of the characters.

Stanzi is the protagonist. She is the girl who believes there’s another person inside of her.

Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. Stanzi can only see it on Tuesdays.

China is the girl who swallowed herself.

Lansdale is the girl whose hair grows when she lies. She cuts it every day.

Then there’s the man in the bushes, who sells alphabet letters for a kiss.

Meanwhile, someone is sending bomb threats daily to their school.

The best part of the I Crawl Through It is that these characters all make sense. Yes, it’s surrealist and strange, but it all makes sense. It makes sense why Stanzi is two, and why China is inside out. Their stories aren’t that strange afterall.

AS King is one of my favourite authors, and I Crawl Through It does not disappoint. If you’re looking for something very different, but still easy to read, I definitely recommend you check this book out.

3.5 helicopters out of 5.

THE RAVEN CYCLE: Some Thoughts

This is less a review and more of a thought post about my new favourite obsession.

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Forget Stranger Things. The Raven Cycle is where it’s at.

I first heard about this series some number of months ago. I really love The Mortal Instruments, and a bunch of people I follow who watch Shadowhunters were currently reading or had read The Raven Cycle. It was somewhat annoying to hear them constantly speak of it, so I decided I wasn’t going to read it. Fast forward to about a week ago, when I spontaneously took the books out at the library because I needed a new series to read and I thought why not? I knew nothing of the series, just that there was *maybe* a gay couple (either that, or it was a fanon gay couple).

I did not expect to like the series, so you can imagine my surprise when I fell in love.

First, let’s get the negative off of our chest. These books are difficult. I don’t mean difficult to read– I zoomed through all 4 of them in a week– but they’re difficult to understand. Maggie Stiefvater has created a world within this world, and while I absolutely love that trope, it does mean at times it’s hard to understand why X happened, or what Y means. You figure it all out eventually, but it’s not as clear as in other series, like The Mortal Instruments for example. Of course, the difficulty means that it’s more sophisticated, which makes the series much more interesting in the end. So it’s not all bad.

Also– Stiefvater likes to build up for the entire novel and then rush to a climatic resolution within the last 50 pages (or less). This is VERY STRESSFUL but I kind of love it. Even the bad isn’t that bad.

All in all, as weird as this may sound about a fantasy series, I feel like the novels are more about characters than plot. Which I adore, because characters can make or break any book. They definitely make this one.

I loved. Everyone. And I mean everyone. The only character I didn’t like at all was Piper, and that’s because she was a total idiot. I love Blue and her feisty sensibility. I love Gansey, and his ability manipulate and the fact that he rarely chooses to do so. I love Adam, and his broken edges and knowing heart. I love Ronan, the most broken of them all, with the softest soul of them all. They’re all masterpieces.

And I love this series. I love how it explores something new, and something I personally had never read about before (psychics and magic and dreams, in case you were wondering). I love the humanity of the characters, and how they’re all broken but hold themselves together. I love the relationships, and I love the heart they all share.

As Blue says, I fell in love with them all.

 

5 ravens out of 5.

TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME: A Review

Books like this are the reason why I read.

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Sometimes, I read books that I despise. These books rub me the wrong way, in terms of character, plot, or style. Sometimes, I like reading these books. They’re fun to bash, and they remind me of what’s important to me, and what a ‘good book’ means to me. I did not like the last book I read, and I think that might have made Tell the Wolves I’m Home just that much sweeter.

I love this book. It came to me just when I needed it most.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is about AIDS, but it’s not about AIDS. I found it searching for a book about the illness, but what I got was much better. It’s a story about family, and relationships, and the so many different types of love in the world, and how sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the next. It’s about art and illness and making the most of this mess we call life. It’s about grief, and uncles, and sisters, and…. life. It’s about life.

June is such a wonderful character. She’s so relatable because she is broken yet whole, just as we all are. She may be 14, but she reminds me of a soul much older. She’s confused and lonely, but headstrong and caring. And goodness, she loves with all she has without ever needing to say the word love. I got mad at her a few times, but these mistakes made me love her more because I understood where she was coming from. If you don’t love June, then you were never an awkward, lonely teenage (or adult…) girl.

But June isn’t the only great character. Every single character is fleshed out, relatable, broken, and lovable. There was not one I disliked, because even when I hated their choices, I understood and I think that’s the most important part of it all.

While June is the protagonist, I do not think she’s the main character. It is Finn who threads through each story, and ties them all together with a silky red ribbon. Even though he’s physically absent, he’s always there. Along with Finn comes the presence of AIDS. AIDS is Finn’s character foil, his dark shadow. With mention of Finn always comes mention of AIDS. In this way, AIDS is a character in the story, even if it’s rarely talked about, which I believe is essential in a story about the AIDS epidemic. It’s a ghost, invisible but always present and always pressing.

There’s something magical about an ending that makes you cry. You cry when the words touch something deep inside of you, maybe even something you didn’t realize was there. Any story that can make you cry leaves an imprint on your heart; a little stamp of pain or joy. Share these stories, so that we all can share these stamps on our hearts. Read Tell the Wolves I’m Home. The world needs more books like this.

5 black buttons out of 5.

ADAPTATION: A Book Review

Um.

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I picked up Adaptation by Malinda Lo because I was looking for a book with a lesbian or bisexual protagonist. This popped up in google and I thought to myself Oh, cool! A dystopia adventure with queer romance! Sign me up! There are 3 main genres of book I like (LGBTQ, dystopia, and “sick lit”) and this fit into 2 of the 3 so obviously I had high hopes.

Sometimes, what you think a book will be about is better than the reality.

So it’s not a dystopia. It sounds like one, but it’s actually sci-fi. If it can be even called that. See, sci-fi usually uses space and science to reflect or say something about current society. Maybe I’m missing something, but I didn’t catch that here. Or maybe I’m just not an aliens kind of girl. It’s probably more “speculative fiction” than anything.

The dystopia aspect disappointed me, but how did the LGBT romance do? Not much better.

It was a plot device. It moved too fast. Did it add anything to the story? Not really. Unless having a love triangle is vital to the plot. Which it isn’t. Ugh, Reese, just make up your mind. Honestly, the romance plot is eye roll-worthy. I had high hopes for a novel that portrays an LGBT romance that isn’t about the romance, but I was very disappointed with this one.

Also, how is Reese such an idiot? She’s such a bland character, yet she’s dumb as a post. She just acts, and never reacts or thinks of consequence. She’s trying to figure out what has happened to her, yet she blabs and gets angry and throws away every opportunity she has. I wish she was a bit more cunning, and had a bit more foresight, but hey, she is only 17.

I don’t really have anything good to say about this book. It’s not that it’s some terrible outrage to mankind; no, it’s just not a book for me. I was disappointed on all fronts and that’s that. I have nothing more to say.

1 human alien thing out of 5

THE PRICE OF SALT, or CAROL: A Book Review

Simplicity is bliss.

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My favourite love stories are the ones that feature the word “embrace.” Most contemporary love stories I read tend to focus on sex, fading to black, and kissing until lips are chapped and numb. I love older love stories, classics if I may, because these stories focus on the embrace, on bodies pressed chest-to-chest, and kisses that overpower the world. All too often, this world is one that is set against them and their love. Love isn’t a magical fix-all. In The Price of Salt, love does not fix all of their problems because love is actually what causes them. But love, the novel argues, is worth fighting for. Love transforms, love grows, but like the atom, it can never be destroyed.

The Price of Salt, also known as Carol is a lesbian love story from 1952  that was, for many years, referred to as the only lesbian love story with a happy ending. Crazy, isn’t it? But I have to admit, well-written lesbian love stories, especially those with happy endings, are still hard to find today. While Carol might not be a literary masterpiece, it is an important piece of literature, and a rather lovely one at that.

Carol is a slow burn. It doesn’t jump into the romance; rather, it lets the love slowly build, teasing the reader (and Therese). I’d personally rather read a slow romance than one that jumps right into it, so I was quite pleased with how the story is able to build in a way that never feels tedious or painful (although I do like romances like that too). While the novel promises a happy ending, it isn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. There is quite a bit of angst, prejudice, and hate, as one would expect from a love story written and told prior to the gay rights movement. These conflicts only draw attention to the strength of the love between Carol and Therese, and remind the reader that love is genderless. We don’t get to choose who we fall in love with, but we do get to choose if it’s worth the effort, a lesson Therese eventually learns through her relationship with Carol.

The Price of Salt isn’t an extravagant love story; rather, it takes a delicate, basic route. But that is far from a bad thing. The Price of Salt is like buttered toast, simple yet delicious in its own right. It’s comforting, and warming, and goodness, I love it.

The world needs more stories like The Price of Salt.

4 Christmas Dolls out of 5.

[note: I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I think I will write a post comparing the two when I do. Stay tuned!!]