Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review: Before I Fall

Book 19/25 in the 2011 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: August 26, 2011.

Before I Fall is the story of the last day of Samantha Kingston's life.  I have been trying to stay away from young adult titles (aside from my Hunger Games obsession) but I spotted this book cover on Pinterest and was intrigued.  I know, I just can't help myself though - I judge books' readworthiness by their covers.

Samantha Kingston is a popular high school senior with a trio of best friends and a dreamy (although kind of a meat-head) boyfriend.  Before I Fall starts out on the first of a "Groundhog Day"-style repetition of Friday, February 12.  Samantha relives Cupid Day seven times before she finally "figures things out" and ends the cycle.

I'm not going to lie.  I didn't like this book in the beginning.  First of all, she starts out as a snooty brat teenager - the type of girl I spent my high school years avoiding.  At one point she refers to the special needs students in the cafeteria as something along the lines of "the short bus parade dribbling their applesauce."  That pissed me off, if I'm being quite honest.  I spent a lot of time in high school as a T.A. with the disabled students, so I'm a touch over-sensitive, but come on.  Seriously!

Even as I tried not to get into the book, with it's long chapters (277 pages are split into only seven chapters - each of which is a new play-out of February 12) and it's teen-speak and all of the high school drama and ridiculous-ness...  Plus, I felt like it was a blatant, modern-day rip off of Groundhog Day, and I actually quite enjoyed that movie through my youth and even still today.  I found, though, that as each chapter went by, Samantha Kingston became more and more bearable, so that by the end I was really rooting for her and appreciating her ordeal.  By the end I didn't want to set the book down any more, the anticipation to see how things would turn out for Sam was just killing me!

I can remember thinking I'd give this book no better than a three star rating, but in the end I gave it four stars.  It was really quite good, Lauren Oliver definitely accomplished what I think she set out to.  My advice with this one would definitely be to keep pressing forward (which makes me wonder if I was wrong to abandon A Million Little Pieces...?  Nah.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: A Million Little Pieces

Would be book 19/25 in the 2011 Reading Challenge...  Had I finished it.

Really disappointed.  I'm not ordinarily a quitter.  Ok, ok, scratch that.  I do tend to quit a lot of projects half-completed.  But usually I'll finish a book once I start it.  Something about tying up loose ends, even if I hate the story.  (Case-in-point: Safe Haven, Something Borrowed, etc.)  I HATE not finishing a book.  Really.  It bothers me.  But I just couldn't get through James Frey's A Million Little Pieces.

I knew going into this book about the controversy surrounding it.  I knew that it had been sold as a Memoir and then later determined to have been largely fabricated, which apparently pissed off one Oprah Winfrey who had given tons of praise to the book and it's author.  I was cool with all that, honestly.  I'm completely ok with a book being fiction.  I don't even care if somebody wants to call a book a memoir and have me believe it's true because generally that doesn't affect me in the slightest.  True or not, I read books for entertainment value.  So if the book's good, chances are that I'm going to enjoy it regardless of it's genre.

My problem with A Million Little Pieces is that I really don't care for James Frey's writing.  It's repetitive, it's overly look-at-me-I'm-such-a-bad-ass, and it's tiresome.  I would read and re-read the same paragraph over and over and scold myself for getting distracted, but then I'd realize that I hadn't been re-reading the same paragraphs.  In fact, he just repeats himself THAT often.  I can't handle that.  I'm ok with a little bit of repetition for emphasis but I am NOT ok with repeating the same sentence three times in each of four consecutive paragraphs.  That's just obnoxious.

Additionally, James Frey's writing irritated me in that he capitalized the first letter in almost every noun in the book.  And it's full of run-on sentences.  It's kind of a mess.  I mean, I understand that the subject matter is also a mess so maybe it fits, but I'm kind of anal and I can't handle this style of writing.

For reference, no copyright infringement intended, but here is a passage from A Million Little Pieces where you can see what I'm talking about:
I stand and I stare at her, just stare stare stare. Men walk past me and other women look at me and Lilly doesn't understand what I'm doing or why I'm doing it and she's blushing and it's beautiful. I stand there and I stare. I stare because I know where I am going I'm not going to see any beauty. They don't sell crack in Mansions or fancy Department Stores and you don't go to luxury Hotels or Country Clubs to smoke it. Strong, cheap liquor isn't served in five-star Restaurants or Champagne Bars and it isn't sold in gourmet Groceries or boutique Liquor Stores. I'm going to a horrible place in a horrible neighborhood run by horrible people providing product for the worst Society has to offer. There will be no beauty there, nothing even resembling beauty. There will be Dealers and Addicts and Criminals and Whores and Pimps and Killers and Slaves. There will be drugs and liquor and pipes and bottles and smoke and vomit and blood and human rot and human decay and human disintegration. I have spent much of my life in these places. When I leave here I will find one of them and I will stay there until I die. Before I do, however, I want one last look at something beautiful. I want one last look so that I have something to hold in my mind while I'm dying, so that when I take my last breath I will be able to think of something that will make me smile, so that in the midst of the horror I can hold on to some shred of humanity.
This book was just not my thing.  I really wanted it to be my thing - I wanted to love it - but it just wasn't.  I'm disappointed in myself for setting it down but I think that if I do force myself through the remaining two-hundred pages, I will probably become an alcoholic and a crack addict myself.  (Ok, that was poorly placed and distasteful humor.  Sorry!  But seriously.)

While I cannot commend James Frey enough for overcoming his addictions and changing his life, I'd give his book one star.  Am I allowed to count this towards the Reading Challenge?  I'm betting no.  Ok, fine.  Moving on.
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