Charlaine Harris

I considered doing this book by book, but I decided that would take too long and would ultimately be repetitive since I have basically the same thing to say about all of her books. She has great ideas but can’t execute them worth crap. Seriously, her Sookie books? Great idea! HBO took it to make a series and if HBO took it, you know it’s good. But if you’ve read the books, you know that they devolve, fairly quickly, into details about her cleaning her house and going shopping. Then, there’s the ever- annoying, everyone wants the main character thing. There isn’t a man that Sookie comes into contact with, except her brother, that doesn’t at some point want her or fall in love with her. I hate it when they do that. It is possibly my biggest literary pet peeve ever when everyone loves the main character, wants to jump her bones, is in love with her, or is jealous of her. I hate that crap. And it happens in every single book.

In her other series, where the chick, whatever her name is, can see the last moments of death when she stands at their grave, it happens again: great concept, horrible execution. Less of “everyone loves her and wants her” in this one, but it still happens more than I feel is normal. And, I didn’t read very much of it, but it also quickly devolved into boring, poorly executed crap.

I’ve read a short story by her that had a fairly interesting concept that I wouldn’t have minded hearing more about. Or at least, I would have liked to until I finished the story. After that, I had a feeling I knew where it was going.

Listen, I would like to like her more. I really, really would. I mean, I’ve met her at a book signing, she seemed like a really nice lady. She’s a mom and lives in a small town, and all on her own she started a kind of literary empire. Good for her! But until her writing improves and she learns what to do with her characters and their stories, I just can’t read her anymore. Someone let me know when she improves.

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Quotes I Love

“Fear is a traitor and makes us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt,” -William Shakespeare.
“No one’s perfect. Well, there was that one guy but we killed him,”  -anonymous.
“Live well, love much, laugh often,”- anonymous
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,”- Yoda
“Do or do not. There is no try,” -Yoda
“Beware the man of one book,” -Thomas Aquinas
“If people were meant to pop out of bed, we would live in toasters,”- Garfield
“Love all, trust few, do harm to none,”- William Shakespeare
“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles,” -Charles Chaplin
“There is no formula for success, except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and all it brings,”- Arthur Rubinstein
“The question that sometimes makes me hazy: am I, or the others, crazy?”- Albert Einstein
“I never look back darling, it distracts from the now,”- Edna “E” Mode (“The Incredibles”)
“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful”- Mae West
“The difference between stupidity and genius, is that genius has it’s limits” – Albert Einstein
“I don’t really like customers. And I’m not much for service. But other than that I’m a people person!”- Mike Rowe
“I used to compete in sports a lot, but then I realized you can buy trophies. Now I’m good at everything ” – Demitri Martin
“I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish” – Michelangelo
“Death: Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
Susan: With tooth fairies? Hogfathers?
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.
Susan: They’re not the same at all.
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.
Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what’s the point?
Death: You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?”   – “Hogfather” by Terry Pratchett

Thoughts

It’s always been amazing to me that people can watch the same movie, the same car accident, the same fight, the same argument, whatever, and see completely different things. I have two friends that are fighting, possibly never to reconcile, and I’ve heard two versions of the story. Each has a different spin on things and each says they’re the one that is right.

Everything we see is through the prism of our own experience, everything we experience is felt through a brain that is set up completely differently from everyone else’s. Honestly, it’s amazing that we as a species get along at all.

(Incidentally, I think this explains the difference in religion and how people experience it or need it in their lives, but that’s neither here nor there.)

“Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins

I finished this book yesterday, so it should be fresh in my mind but honestly the whole thing feels like a blur of impressions and crazy crap happening. So I’ll just tell you what I think and hope that it’s in some sort of order.

First of all, Katniss is screwed. Seriously, she’s never gonna shake her PTSD. To go from one arena, to fearing for everyone she knows, to another arena, to her district being fire bombed and most of everyone being killed, to a war zone. That kind of PTSD just doesn’t go away.

Second, what the hell is wrong with the Capitol? How could they do that to Peeta? That’s terrible! I realize in that a series where terrible things happen more often than not, it really shouldn’t seem like that big of a surprise that they did something terrible to him, but somehow what they did just seems so much worse. More personal, maybe. I mean, they didn’t just torture him, they reached into his head and twisted things around, twisted his memories and his reality, and twisted his emotions. They took away his love. His love for Katniss has been one of his main motivating factors for years. It’s so strong that he was prepared to die for her, more than once. And they just took it away. Just like that. Like it meant nothing, like he meant nothing. I realize that that’s a stupid thing to say about a group of people that firebombed an entire district and had hundreds of children slaughter each other for years but that… Death happens. Violent death. All the time. And in a war, bombs will be dropped and large groups of people will be killed. It’s a thing that happens. Even sacrificing the losers isn’t that unusual, not back in the old days. The way they did it was way worse than anything I can remember offhand from the history books, but it’s still a thing that happened. But to take someone and to take away a huge part of who they are, how they feel, who they love… that’s just horrible.

And on the subject of horrible things, lots and lots of those things happen in this book. All the time. It’s not a book to get comfortable in. It’s not a book that’s entirely enjoyable to read, I have to say. I hate to say it, I do, but it’s not fun. It’s a good book, it’s a good series, but it’s not one of those where as you read it you find yourself falling in love with the author all over again. It’s just not. It is, I believe, meaningful. It’s a story about injustice, resilience, surviving against the odds, about revolutions and knowing who you’re friends are, who the enemy is and how to keep true to yourself, no matter what. But it bears saying that by the end, I kind of felt like I was getting PTSD. It’s one of those books where like 90% of the cast is dead by the end. This is including Prim, Katniss’ little sister, the one she gave everything to protect to begin with. And poor Peeta and Katniss are left with flashbacks and daily nightmares for the rest of their lives.

They were used by the government of Disctrict 13 just like they were used by the government of the Capitol, in the end. The ones who were supposed to be the good guys, the rebel alliance against the evil empire, turned out to be just as bad, just a manipulative and calculating, as the enemy. That itself was terrible. It left the book with few safe places to rest, few places where it felt like everything was okay or was going to be okay. It didn’t even end with the feeling like it was going to be okay. It ended with the desperate hope that it would be, that this time the peace would hold. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m a person who likes a good happy ending and I’m not sure if this counts as one. Yes, Katniss and Peeta get married and have kids and presumably spend their lives together happily, but they live on top of a graveyard and they were essentially abandoned by the new government as soon as they no longer had a need for them. The minute they no longer had a use for them, they were dropped like a bad cell plan. Where’s the gratitude? Where’s the loyalty? It’s left on a rather disquieting, vaguely hopeful, haunted note and I wish it were more concrete.

And for those who got all wound up about the love triangle, which I honestly never gave too much of a crap about, I’ve kind of already covered how it turned out, and I don’t blame her for one second. I liked Gale better at first, but it wasn’t too far into the second book that I decided I loved Peeta. I liked Gale, but I loved Peeta, so I wasn’t upset at all when she picked him. Honestly, she picked him in the second book when they went back into the arena and she let Gale go to focus on saving Peeta. She took awhile to realize it, as one of the least emotionally aware people ever, but she loved him and needed him. She fell apart when he was in the hands of the Capitol, and it shattered her when they got him back and he was so damaged and tried to kill her. Gale was awesome but I just wasn’t as impressed by him. Also, he helped develop the plan that killed Prim, might even have built that bomb. There’s no getting past that. Yes, he never intended that, never would have intended that, it doesn’t change the fact that his actions led to her death. As a sister, I don’t blame Katniss at all for letting him walk away. And, like she said, she needed hope, the promise of a better day, not more fire, more anger. She needed Peeta, not Gale.

So, I like these books but they are not ones I’ll read all the time or even very often. They’re good and huge, epic things happen, but they’re not books you read often. Too many bad things happen to too many characters you love. I’m still sad about Finnick.

“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins

Okay, so this book was good. Maybe even better than the first, although it’s a little hard to tell since it was darker than the first one. Not in a small way, darker. There is a large revolution brewing, obviously, and bad things are happening. Lots of them.

I felt bad for Peeta in this book. The girl he’s in love with clearly cares for him and needs him, as evidenced by him holding her through her daily nightmares, but she also cares for, and possibly needs, someone else. That’s rough. She even sort of picked that guy at one point. Which is not to say it was easy on Katniss, cuz it wasn’t, but I really think Peeta got the fuzzy end of the lollipop in this book.

I have to say, it was kind of brilliant how Suzanne Collins handled the deal with Katniss and the Capitol. I was kind of afraid it would degenerate into political manuevering and boring crap. That would have ruined the book, and I didn’t see how she would get them back into the arena. I mean, the deal with being a victor was you never went back in. But she managed to both have the Capitol make a bold move to deal with her while making big, interesting things happen that are what made the first book so exciting. And honestly, those Games? Horrible, like way, way worse than the first time around. I can’t wait to see the movie version of it, cuz that is gonna be epic on the big screen. Expensive as hell to make, I’d imagine, but epic.

I’m not sure how I feel about District 13 still existing and just letting the other districts be ground under the Capitol’s heel for all those years. On the one hand, they weren’t really in a position to help anyone since they were just trying to survive. On the other, dick move. I don’t care your justifications, letting all those people be basically slaves and years and years worth of children be slaughtered for the entertainment of the Capitol while you sit aside and do nothing is a serious dick move. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, personally.

And poor Katniss, finding out that Haymitch has been lying to her all along, that he used them, just like they’ve been used before. That he used them as a piece in his personal games… I don’t think I would forgive him. That kind of crap would be a serious trigger for me. And poor Peeta was left behind… That will lead to nothing but badness.

I’ve said this before, but I will say it again: these are not kids books. I don’t care that they’re labeled “Young Adult”, I don’t care they’re in that section in the bookstore. There’s no way they’re kids books. I heard a rumor a while back that the Harry Potter books were classified as kid’s books only because the characters are kids. Anyone who has read those books will agree with me, I’m sure, that they aren’t really meant for kids either, not with the surplus of murder, not to mention other unsavory things, in those books. The same has to be true of these books. There’s no way this kind of thing was meant for teenagers. Not when main characters are whipped into unconsciousness, twelve year olds are murdered, young women go crazy in the arena and old men are executed in front of crowds that include their families. There’s just no way.

“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Okay, let me start off by saying I love this book.( And the movie. But I’m going to focus on the book for now.) And honestly I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. I mean, it’s a young adult book and I haven’t gotten that excited about them since I was a young adult. Maybe a bit before, I’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve with reading. But this is honestly a really good book; the writing is good, the characters are well realized and realistic, their reactions are honest and not overly-perfect or overly-emotional, the world they’re in is very, very interesting and I totally buy it. The Capitol reminds me a bit of ancient Rome, an impression reinforced in the second book but I’m not talking about that now.

Honestly, this book doesn’t seem like it’s a young adult book, not really. It’s talking about very serious political and social problems, it discusses young men and women being forced to fight to the death year after year and in no way candy coats it. I mean this is kinda heavy duty stuff, not generally the kind of thing you get in the same section as “The Baby- Sitter’s Club.” And the writing is way better than I remember from books back in the day. I would totally buy this as an adult novel with just younger characters.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to tell you that the book is clearly setting up a love triangle, which is usually really, really high on my list of Things That Annoy the Crap Out of Me but I find myself so far tolerant of it. Possibly because most of the book takes place in the arena so we don’t get to see that much of it, outside of Katniss wondering how Gale will feel when he sees her pretending to be madly in love with Peeta. This may change later in the trilogy, I will let you know.

I do feel for Katniss though, and I have placed her on my list of Heroines I Love, which is not an actual list so much as a mental post- it but still. She is awesome. She single-handedly saved her family from starvation at age eleven, a time when I assure you I would not have been capable of such a thing, and then she saved her sister from certain death by volunteering in her place. When she did this, she truly didn’t think she would make it, she just wanted to save her sister which makes it all the nobler. Then, she manages to save not just herself but Peeta in the arena, carrying off remarkable feats of badassness in the meantime. She is a true badass, not something you often see in a novel. I am incredibly fond of her. I especially love how Suzanne Collins gave her that emotional honesty when it came to her love interests. With Gale, this is her best friend, one of the people she’s closest to in all the world. And it’s obvious that they were heading to it being more eventually. They’ve been there for each other, day in, day out, for years. They’ve been able to rely on each other when they couldn’t rely on anyone else.  With Peeta, she has had a connection with him for a long, long time, I mean he saved her and her family’s lives all those years ago, and I think she really would have liked him all by herself in any other circumstance but with the situation they were in, having to act it up for the cameras, being in the emotionally charged place they were in, made it very confusing. Of course she was confused, of course she had no idea what was real and what wasn’t. And I love that she let Katniss have that confusion, that she didn’t force her one way or the other. That she just presented it and Katniss’ emotional turmoil on the way home and just let it be. I greatly admire that in an author. So many feel the need to bind it, push it one way or the other or explain it over and over, eventually turning it into something other than what it so clearly was, that when an author is honest enough with themselves and their audience and enough in tune with their character to just let it be, it’s nothing short of amazing.

I am a little confused by the way the Capitol’s culture seems to revolve around the games though. Because once a year they have this big, overblown event of teenagers killing each other for days or weeks, and then apparently there’s a Victory Tour, and tours of old arenas with stops at each of the deaths and all that that citizens can take. I mean, I get it, it’s supposed to be both like the old gladiator arenas and reality tv, mixed in with a little old fashioned cultural revenge on the districts. But seriously, nothing else happens in their culture? No football games? No other holidays? Nothing? This is the main form of entertainment for how many people? Did the dramatic arts die out when whatever happened that led to Panem being created, happened?

Although, speaking of which, kudos for that behemoth of a dystopic, totalitarian society. Seriously, it’s like a combination of Big Brother and “Brave New World”, which I haven’t read but I understand is about a government that controls it’s people by constantly supplying them with meaningless, trivial distractions while they get on with ruling with an iron fist. So good job, properly chilling.

As for the movie, I saw it twice in two days, if that tells you anything. Really, really good. Although that shouldn’t be surprising since the screenplay was cowritten (or helped with or whatever) by Suzanne Colins and the guy who directed cowrote the script. So there were no problems with the movie seriously diverging from the book. It was awesome how they did.. well, pretty much all of it, but especially the killings. It would be so easy to just show it, and by this point in movies, it would just be white noise. We’re so used to people killing and being killed on screen that I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be presented with enough horror. I mean, these are children killing children for the entertainment of others. But the way they did it, with all other noise blocked out except for something that sounds like a ringing in the ears, made it seem very stark and I could hear everyone around me reacting very strongly. A couple things are fudged or cut altogether but I don’t feel like it was a loss.

Also, my favorite part in the book is still kind of my favorite part of the movie: the part where she blows up the food? Awesome. That, almost singlehandedly, won the Games for her and Peeta, even before she saw him again. Although the part with the tracker jackers is also completely badass, and they totally carried that across.

“Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larsson

Okay, to start, I didn’t really care for this book. It wandered a good bit, the first hundred or so pages had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book and every time I turned around something horrible was happening to women and it was treated as normal. Also, I was lied to about this book. I was told it was great and that there was a great “girl power” moment. This was a total lie. I feel betrayed to this day that I was told that whopper. I mean, I get it, Elspeth got her revenge for terrible things happening to her but honestly, was it necessary for it to happen to her to begin with? Or for it to be described in excruciating detail? For God’s sake, really, in full, complete detail? Couldn’t we have just skipped over it, like a tactful fade-to-black? Honestly, after all that I didn’t care that she got her revenge, I just felt sickened and a little dirty, and not in a good way. Admittedly, I have a history of taking books too personally but I don’t feel like I stepped too far over that line.

And, on a not- unrelated topic, what the hell is up with her having a supposedly healthy relationship with the hero after being brutally raped like a week before? That does not happen in real life. I don’t care what’s wrong with that chick, she is not gonna just let that go like nothing happened.

The mystery was also kind of sickening, after everything else. I mean, this is a book where a chick is described in detail as being brutally raped, there’s a serial killer running around who rapes and kills women, and then it turns out that the girl who went missing ran away after years of being raped by her father and then her brother, who was also being raped by their father. This leads to a very serious question on my part: What the hell is wrong with Steig Larsson? This is an honest question on my part, one that I would really like an answer to. If anyone knows, please tell me in the comment section.

Also, and this is just a small thing but I feel it needs to be mentioned, he is way too specific about room dimensions. It’s weird, like every every room or cabin or whatever that is mentioned, Steig Larsson makes sure to mention how big it is. Now, this might be some weird Swedish thing (or Norway or wherever this is based) but I found it unnecessary and innaccurate. I seem to recall the book saying, proudly, that a cabin was 500 square feet. I don’t know if this was a mistranslation or what, but that’s really small. All of the rooms described are really small. I don’t get the point of mentioning it and I don’t see why they would be that small. I don’t remember any of the Northern European nations being overcrowded so why would they be that small? If it was Japan, maybe, but Sweden?

I don’t know, some people like this book, some people get all excited about it and love it and the movie, but I don’t get it. The subject was fairly horrifying and it wasn’t well written enough to carry that off. And when I say it was horrifying, I don’t mean in the spine- tingling, awesome, horrified fascination way of a Simon Green, Stephen King or Robert Harris. This was in a bad, I-feel-dirty,-why-am-I-still-reading-this kind of way.

Oh, and Steig, btw, having six tattoos is not a weird number of tattoos. Maybe things are different over there, but unless you have full neck to toe coverage, you don’t have a weird number of tattoos. Six is a little more than average but not a big deal. This girl is not a freak for that, or for having piercings. Grow up.