John Dies at the End (John Dies at the End, #1) Book Review


This book is probably the most entertaining and FUN book I have read. . . in a decade. I genuinely had a really good time reading the majority of the book. So much so that the few scenes that weren’t riveting had that consequence — of being smushed in between some really interesting stuff and thus became way more boring then they would be if they were in another book.

Cover of "John Dies at the End"

Cover of John Dies at the End


Interpretations will vary, but for me, where this book thematically goes well is in the realm of Meta. What a book is and what a writer’s powers are becomes really clear when you read something so . . . absurd. This book heavily plays with the fact that whatever the author writes becomes very real to the reader. Even if it isn’t likely to happen. Plot holes, dialogues, and images that are extremely psychedelic just make sense in this Universe. Even it is as retarded as a half gorilla half crab. Retarded being a descriptor of the self-deprecating MC. . .

. . .Who’s voice I love. Yeah he has a curious plot twist but that’s not actually why he is interesting. He is interesting because he is very. . . real. This book really takes advantage of first pov when it has a MC with a really distinct 21st century young voice. Though I loved some of the puns (“Anybody else want to donate blood to chair-ity?”) this book was more. . . fun than funny. And a lot of the “fun” of it was the MC’s really casual voice. I would also argue that it is the casual voice that makes the horror so striking. Because you don’t expect this every-man to be as dark as he is.

So yeah, this is horror. I wouldn’t argue it isn’t. There are some images and ideas in here that reached to my fundamental fears and phobias — like Cockroach Man and people in your TV — but the real horror comes from the things that will last. The big ideas, y’know? Like, I’m always going to wonder about Todd now. It is deep in my subconscious.

Some other Theism/Free Will/Hell ideas were discussed. But Vonnegut and Anne Rice did it better. I guess that isn’t fair, but I read too many Vonnegut books that really spine-shaking deconstruct fee will (and same with Anne Rice and Heaven/Hell) for me to give this book its props. It was there but there were a lot of other things going on too in this book. For these themes and ideas to really take hold it needs more space. That’s my take.

Though I have some other critiques most of it I can really just push under the rug and still give this book five stars. I had a lot of fun reading it and I really appreciate all the risks Wong took in writing such a unique story. Yeah other books discuss similar big themes but whatever. That’s a vague similarity. I would be really surprised to read anything that is like this book unless this book IS the inspiration. Vonnegut is the closest thing but the Voices are way different. A key lesson to new writers to find and master your voice.

I’m ranting but I get like that when I get this excited.
This book in brief: Fun and casual but at the same time spilled-oil dark.

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This Book Is Full of Spiders (John Dies at the End, #2) Review


I have decided I will rate this book five stars because I don’t want to punish if for being the sequel to a favorite. That This Book is Full of Spiderssaid, if the only way to evaluate this book was comparing it to John Dies #1 it would have an entirely different rating.

The Good Stuff: 
This book continues to have a fun and engaging plot and voice. It is fully entertaining and. . . like I said, fun. It might sound shallow, but reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and this is a by-far enjoyable read. The writing is strong not because of flowery-prose but because the MC is pronounced. It is mostly written from David’s POV and that is not just indicated with pronouns but with the characterization of every description. I really respect that. When it shifts POV it isn’t so strong, which disappointed me, but I really did appreciate the character development of the other secondary characters. It was right on. I also thought a lot of the plot points in this story were very sharp. The author combines modern warfare tactics like drones with a supernatural apocalypse scenario which was very believable. He also combines modern technology and Internet hysteria in his discussion of the apocalypse. His contemporary discussions had to be a step ahead of the cliche because the cliche doesn’t live in the modern times. I appreciated this innovation.

The Bad Stuff:
It is mostly shallow, like an action movie. It is really entertaining and I love it for that but John Dies #1 had meat behind it and this book basically didn’t. There were some moments of this book where I stopped to think and philosophize but most of the time it was just meaningless action. It didn’t have the harsh bite that the first one had behind the plot. The nihilistic horror came up a couple of times and I loved those parts but they were segmented. It didn’t drive the story.

Also, besides being in the same universe and following the same absurd metaphysics, this book really isn’t a sequel. There were a lot of huge questions left unanswered in book one. On one hand, if all the questions were answered it would lose a lot of the horror. On the other, shouldn’t the confusions at least be addressed in the sequel? They didn’t even have to answer them. There was only one quick dialogue between [Carlos/Amy/Dave] that seemed to hint on the truth-about-Dave that was revealed in book one but it was really ambiguous and like three lines.

Fault in Our Stars: Review/Discussion


The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (Photo credit: TheNerdDilettante)

Let’s get the crying discussion out-of-the-way.
A book isn’t good because it made you cry. I understand that the significance of that is really ambiguous. But yes, I have been crying for the past few days, while reading this book, and I fully expect to cry for a few more days. And then, if the books does fall out of my consciousness I still will be crying because I’m stumbling over some personal battles. The crying is more about me then someone else’s story. But expressing this really human/mortal experience that triggers this emotional prolonged emotional response is why ‘crying’ is used as a way to say this book is really good. Because it is inflicting a pain that’s so human.

‘Cancer Book’ Discussion 
That pain isn’t cancer. I wouldn’t say that writing a sad cancer story is hard. Most creative content about cancer is sad but not all of it is as dynamic as Fault in Our Stars. The depth of this pain that the reader goes through is what makes this book intelligent. This depth exists for two reasons.
One: The writing of this book is phenomenal, on a contemporary masterpiece level. Yes, I know “Young Adult” and all but listen to me, long confusing prose isn’t what defines a literary masterpiece. A literary masterpiece is a book with a strong point of view, the MC Hazel Grace was engrained in every plot point, every description, every thought plop, and the plot itself was engrossing, and the relationships grew and shrunk and were divulged and shown in full complexity, and even the secondary characters were expressed with full dimensionality and growth and blabla, I could rant on and on from a writing POV on why this is a good book —
— but who gives a fuck about that.

Two: This book is a new favorite because of something way more emotional and potent then anything you can learn in a creative writing class.
I said that the pain isn’t cancer but that doesn’t mean I fully believe this isn’t a cancer book. I understand the metaphorical significance of cancer but disregarding the non-metaphorical, non-romantic, non-emotionally painful, actual concrete plot-driven experiences that Hazel Grace and her lover Augustus Water experiences is the kind of thing that would cause Hazel Grace to roll her eyes at you. Yeah, there is metaphorical weight to cancer but her pain came from a very real and physical place, as was many components of the plot, so I disagree with saying this book isn’t a cancer book. It is a cancer book. It also has headfuckery that goes beyond the physical consequences of a tumor.
The Personal Stuff
I think by now you understand my 5-star review thing. Cool. If you haven’t read it and just wanted a review then please leave now and go grab it from your library and commence on your own literary self-destruction and revel in it. If you have read it and feel like I do, vacant and alone in a world of vacant and alone bodies, and want to attempt to connect with someone then I’m about to divulge some parts that connected with me….
I know I love. I know I love my boyfriend, and parents, and friends, and art, and all the life in the future, even if it is going to hurt, and all the other lives around me, even if I’m shy, and even myself, even when I’m dark, and this book is the reminder that it is all going to pass. It isn’t the only reminder but I almost shut some of those morbid thoughts out of my head. And reading this book was like my first loved one’s funeral, that first realization, that everyone that I love will die. That I have three choices in the world: mourn a loved one, be mourned for, or die with that loved one. That’s the situation that scalps me.
But this book is far from nihilistic. We might all die and end up in a ditch and end up forgotten in the long-term but who cares about the long term. The mortal points of our life are filled with so much significance that it might as well be infinite because it would take an infinite quantity of time to recognize what all these emotions and experiences really are, really mean.
That’s what makes it worth it. We aren’t grenades ready to blow each other up. Pain is worth the moments alive with each other, the love that we share with each other, that pain is a byproduct of living, we can’t avoid it, so we might as well feel pain for those that are worth it, and that’s why we need to love. That’s why the romance in this book, from lover to love, to parent to lover, to friend to friend, is all so fucking real.
It is like this:
Dear my lovers:

I love you so much that I will mourn for you. I could mourn for someone else but you are worth it. You are worth the pain of mourning because living with you is a universe: subliminal, infinite, and filled with love.

Meta Analysis on Self-Destruction 

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars (Photo credit: rachelkramerbussel.com)

Yes, this book can be optimistic, I sorta just said it was, right? But I still think this book was more a self-destructive choice for me than an enlightened rainbow-and-unicorn choice. This book is very. . real. It very much discusses the agonies of dying, death, and mourning. It also discusses the extreme power of love, that overpowers, even these extricating experiences. So, the optimism is: everything really really hurts but there are forces on this planet (i.e.:love) that’s worth all the pain. (That’s the kind of pessimism/optimism that I live for.)
Since I started this book I have had an extreme anxiety that someone I love will die. I have had particular people and ‘fantasies’ about those people in mind — I do have some emotional health disorders, so maybe this did trigger an attack, but I am experiencing something dark. This book did spark this inside of me. In a sense, this book is the grenade– this dark short piece that has engrossed me with pain — but I love it so deeply that it is worth it. So, it is accidentally? meta* in this fashion. This book gave me a pleasant and enjoyable relationship with a cast of characters that really feel ‘alive’ to me, plus, a concrete reminder of yes, mortality, but also that other people think like I do — that I’m not alone, that we are all on this planet dealing with this same subliminal experience.
*again the major plot point in this book in a fictional-book about cancer, so there is some intentional meta as well

Book Review: The Witch of Portobello


portobello

I picked up this book because I like portobello mushrooms and witches. Turns out this book isn’t about either one of these things. Despite this, I really enjoyed this book!

First thing is first, this isn’t a fiction or fantasy book. It isn’t trying to be a fiction or fantasy book. So, insulting it for not being these things isn’t fair. There are a lot of bad reviews for this book on this website and I think that’s why. This book isn’t really a novel. It also isn’t a Biology textbook or a historical account of the Civil War. It is pointless to be angry at it for not being these other things. I suggest entering this book with an open mind.

This book IS a discourse about returning to pagan roots.

This might be confusing because there are characters and there is a plot, however, these aspects are just aesthetics so the reader can be engaged in the discourse. Also, this book is “preachy” because elaborating on paganism is the entire point of the book. Religion and spirituality are mentioned in every scene not because the author is uncreative but because that’s what this book is about! It is best to understand this book as an emotional and exciting essay instead of a fantasy book about witches.

I could easily rate this book three stars, but I’m ignoring the Epilogue and giving it a four. The story was building up the idea that human’s spiritual intellect isn’t sharp enough to really know what is going on out there. And that awful things happen even if you have a feeling everything will turn out alright. AND I love that dark cynical point of view that is sprinkled throughout this book. But when you get to the Epilogue and it turns that on its face, well, I think that as intentional, but for me it was extremely agitating. Look, from chapter one, you know something really awful is going to happen to the MC. You don’t forget because it is repeated throughout the narrative. It is only a couple of sentences but it is the only clue to negativity in this entire book, the rest is VERY optimistic and positive.

When reading this book I thought, ‘If there really is a Blessed Mother then why do such horrific things happen to her children?’ But this question isn’t even touched upon! If the author has a different philosophical perspective, then ok, but make your argument. Totally ignoring legitimate concerns really weakens the thesis.

Paganism is a big deep world but this elementary introduction was perfect for me because I’m really elementary with this kind of stuff. Paganism wasn’t sold to me, but in a lot of ways that was just the vessel. The MC rejected Christianity and went to back to her roots and found Paganism. This reject and replace — this independence — that she has is powerful and resonated with me.

Book Review of Celia Rees’ Pirates!


Though I’m about to be very critical about this novel I do want to preface by saying that Pirates! is not trash. Celia Rees is very talented in the realms of poetic word choice and world building and this is what makes this novel engaging, adventurous, and entertaining. Pirates! contains all the typical pirate-tropes like marooning, sea storms, sword fighting, and mutiny. The clichés may seem like the book would be boring but Rees writes them in a way that makes the novel feel like an old classic.

Where Rees falls-short is through her exploration of themes. She makes some choices in her plot and character-building that contradicts some of the themes that are in this story. The main theme in this book is about the perils of racism and sexism but that would be a lot more effective if this book wasn’t in fact racist.

The main character of this book is a white upper-class English women named Nancy. Through her own trials and tribulations she ends up in Jamaica where she owns and then frees a slave named Phillis. Phillis grew up in Dahomey and is a black shaman. The first critique I have over her shamanism is that there was really no effort in exploring Dahomey-culture. Phillis would have been a much more mature character if her actual culture was explained in this novel instead of her just being a platform for racial tropes. I learned a lot about 17th century upper class life, pirate life, slave life, and merchant life in this novel. If Africans are mentioned as well then their culture should be explored to the same degree. Instead Rees lazily relied on tropes to build Phillis.

This racism gets only more offensive as the story goes on. After Phillis introduces to Nancy to “African-magic” Nancy herself develops prophetic dreams. This makes no sense at all. Nancy is white and she is English and does not understand how shamanism works at all. How did she get second-hand supernatural powers from Phillis. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Phillis’ blood-daughter to receive these abilities?

There seems to be a desperation to make Nancy part of African-culture. Or that ‘hey the only way to make everyone equal is to make our cultural artifacts interchangeable’. But hey, who is more likely to be whipped for practicing Dahomey customs? Nancy or Phillis?

The book cover that came with my version.

The other oppression that Pirates! explores is 17th century sexism. The examples Rees explores are still relevant and oppressive so I would go even further and say that this book is about how racism and sexism are still prevalent in 21st century society. One example of an ongoing gender issue that is present in this novel is how women are given less opportunities and lifestyle choices then men. And one example of an ongoing racial issue that is present in this novel is how black people are still tied to the lower-class and are stigmatized despite the amount of wealth that individual actually has.

Even though I can get behind these ideas in Pirates! there is still the problem in the way Rees presents them. Her choice to make Nancy and Minerva have a sister-like bond, to have Nancy and Minerva both refer to society as a prison, and to have Nancy have no internalized racism makes it seem like the two are dealing with the same issues when they are not.

Black women and white women do not undergo the same kinds of suffering or levels of suffering. Minerva and Nancy both have their own hardships but Minerva has to deal with a lot of the sexism that Nancy deals with as well as slavery and racism. Nancy had a lot of trouble in her life and though being a women/wife at the time isn’t exactly freedom this kind of servitude does not equalize the actual slaves at the time. Social oppression is a real thing but what is even more controlling then that is actually raping, whipping, and murdering your own slaves.

Also, re: sisters. We are misled in believing that Nancy and Minerva have a very strong healthy friendship but they are not fully honest with each other. If they were then they would of discussed at least once how at one point Minerva was Nancy’s SLAVE! Also, though I understand the foreshadowing, my eyes were literally rolling out of my head the first time I read that Nancy and Minerva were ‘like sisters’ because Minerva taught Nancy how to swim / they had a laugh together / they had a moment. Melodramatic much? This story basically is about a rich white person who believes slavery is cruel and runs away with some of her former slaves to live a free life at sea. There is no racism on a pirate ship. Nancy is the only one that is openly disturbed by the way white slave owners treat their slaves on land. The character Nancy is the epitome the myth that ‘some people are just born not-racist’ which is a really problematic perspective but the one that is in popular culture.

I suggest that a better and more realistic perspective would be a story about Nancy fighting her own internalized racism. The story would go like this: A young and rich English women, Nancy, was forced to move to Jamaica where she looked over her Father’s plantation. There she witnesses slavery and realizes that while her plantations gave her a cushioned life they were torture and hell for the slaves that worked them. Nancy feels awful for contributing to such a horrible world and then tries to assure that she is no longer apart of it. She goes throughout the rest of the story of dismantling her privilege, fighting her internalized racism, and developing into a strong ally as a way to ensure that she no longer makes choices that leads to the oppression of black people.

Anyway, that would be the case if the author wanted to keep Nancy as her main character. But honestly a black person should of starred in a story about dismantling racism.Also, Nancy is a horrible character. Nancy’s climax happens on pg. 146 out of 380 where she makes her first kill. Up to that point there was a lot of build up, Nancy’s character was heavily explored, her anger and disgust was realistically increasing, and she killing that guy was believable and evidence that Nancy is a strong character that will really fight for her beliefs. I know that the

A different book cover then the one that came with my book that shows Minerva. She is a more interesting character and she should of been the protagonist.

vagueness makes me sound homicidal but that’s because I’m not trying to give away spoilers. Just trust me when I say that Nancy starts this off as a strong female character and that made me really proud. But shortly after her life-changing action, Nancy became passive, bland, and indecisive. The good parts of the rest of the story is Nancy following the advice and orders of people around her. The bad parts are when she just stands around and looks at stuff—most evident in the sea storm. The rest of the crew, including Minerva who is also a women, can actually handle the ship. But all Nancy does is stand in the way and look at how fast the wind is moving. DO SOMETHING, Nancy. Make up your own mind! Be a real character! But no, Nancy doesn’t do anything at all for the next 230 pages.

Minerva on the other hand continues to be a realistic character, continues to make decisive choices, and evolves from a cold person who keeps strangers at bay to a warm person in a healthy relationship. Minerva is a strong character that can actually handle a ship and pirate life, and man I wish this book was from her perspective. Though I think it is pretty clear that Celia Rees, who is white and English, is not be skilled enough to tell a story from a black woman’s perspective w/o making racist blunders.