Kinsella is all out of fresh ideas

What happened to Sophie Kinsella? My first Kinsella experience was reading Can You Keep a Secret? and absolutely loving it. Even now, it is one of my favorites and a book I generally re-read once a year. I’ve cast and re-cast the movie version of it in my head. It was just a funny and endearing story that I enjoyed. I tried Undomestic Goddess next and found that enjoyable as well even though Samantha wasn’t quite as much fun as Emma. Then I discovered the Shopaholic series. In books one and two, I thought Becky was entertaining if a bit financially irresponsible. I mean, who hasn’t done a little tight-budget splurging? Who hasn’t bought that fabulous pair of shoes that were just a teeny tiny bit expensive? Though far from a shopaholic myself, I could relate to her. Then the Manhattan book came along where Becky is engaged and ends up planning two weddings all because she can’t pluck up the nerve to tell her mother and mother-in-law that the other has each offered to host a wedding for her and Luke. What started off as humorous quickly deteriorated into a fiasco of Becky’s own making. It became irritating by the time the book finally wrapped up, and I had trouble believing that smart, successful Luke was too stupid to realize what was really happening. And this was the last time I would give a decent rating to a Shopaholic book.

Shopaholic and Sister completely derailed the series, which ran off the track to “Decent Read” and crashed into “Awful Mess.” First of all, the sister out of nowhere created a plot out of nowhere, and Jess was just as unlikable as Becky was becoming, albeit for entirely different reasons. By the end, with Becky becoming lost on a mountain and then rescued by a rich friend in a helicopter, it was all just too ridiculous to accept. But I am nothing if not stubborn so I somehow persevered through books five and six, and that was it for me. I couldn’t take another Shopaholic repeat.

So what I had learned or concluded by the end of book 6?

  1. Becky will always be a liar, but will no longer be endearing at the same time.
  2. Becky is a terrible mother incapable of disciplining a child and will probably raise a spoiled brat.
  3. There is no way Luke loves a person who is so self-absorbed and financially irresponsible.
  4. Kinsella should have quit while she was ahead; she has run out of ideas, and this series has become wash, rinse, repeat.
  5. This series will never improve, and Kinsella has ruined her own character.
  6. I am probably still willing to read non-Shopaholic Kinsella books.

And I was and I did. Remember Me was okay. It was no Secret or Goddess, but I didn’t want to throw it across the room mid-read. Twenties Girl was interesting and certainly a different plotline for a Kinsella read. I think I even gave it a 3-star review, then came I’ve Got Your Number, and I was done. What a half-assed attempt at churning out the same old shit. I predicted the ending just by reading the blurb on the back. The characters were dull and lacked any chemistry. The whole book felt like a cog in a money making machine, and I was just so done with Kinsella and her repetitive plots and ditzy characters. Get a fresh idea already!

That was four years ago, and a new Kinsella book hadn’t touched my hands since…until last Saturday when I went to a book sale at a local church. It was “Fill a Bag for $5 Day,” and my bag wasn’t full, and there was a hardback copy of Wedding Night just sitting there, and there was space in my bag. I mean, what kind of book lover could walk out of a book sale with a partially-empty bag??? Not this one. In the bag it went. I had just finished an intense biography and thought a fluff piece would be a quick, no-fuss read. And the eternally optimistic (read: stupid) part of my brain was all, Hey, maybe Kinsella has improved in the last four years.

Hahahahahahaha!

Nope. She may have actually gotten worse! Lottie is the stupidest character Kinsella has ever written. If you combined the airheadedness of every previous Kinsella character, they still wouldn’t be a match for the idiocy of Lottie. She makes Becky look like a Type A CEO or the Prime Minister or someone who actually uses her brain. And Fliss isn’t much better except instead of being stupid, she’s the queen of temporarily suppressed rage, and she flies off the handle so often, one wonders how she hasn’t had a stress-induced heart attack yet.  I am about a third of the way through the book, and I can’t decide whether to persevere or give up. No matter what I decide to do about this one, I think I have already decided that this will be my last Kinsella attempt. I think I’ll stick to re-reading Can You Keep a Secret every year and stop hoping for something fresh from a former favorite author of mine.

In the Company of Heroes by Michael Durant and Steven Hartov

Before I begin this review, I feel that I need to clarify something about the events in Somalia and the Battle of Mogadishu. Though the media and the Clinton administration portrayed the military action in Somalia as a loss, make no mistake, the U.S. forces who fought in that battle were successful. The mission objective was to capture high ranking members of Aidid’s militia, and they did. Yes, there were many casualties and Americans died, but do not dishonor the men who fought and especially those who died that day by suggesting that they failed. Despite being outnumbered by a heavily armed and hostile enemy, the U.S. military achieved their goal and completed their mission. To suggest otherwise is an insult to their actions and to the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As Michael Durant, the only American taken alive that day by the Somalians, states in his book, In the Company of Heroes:

It is difficult enough to bury a fallen comrade, but even harder to look into the eyes of his family, knowing that the objective for which he died has been deemed unobtainable by the very men who sent him to his death

Michael Durant teams with Steven Hartov to describe the events of October 2003 and the RPG shot which downed Durant’s Blackhawk and lead to him being captured and held prisoner by members of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s militia. With a broken back, femur, and cheekbone along with other injuries, Durant endured days of endless pain and uncertainty as he waited to see if he would be rescued by his brothers in the 160th or killed at the hands of angry Somalians. Durant and Hartov do an excellent job of switching between Somalia and Durant’s past and the story of how he became a helicopter pilot in one of the military’s most secret and elite airborne units. In the Company of Heroes is an excellent account of the selfless, heroic actions our servicemen display under extreme duress in combat and its aftermath.

Seal Team Six looks inside the Navy’s most elite fighting team

For this review (and for once in my life), I am going to set aside my soapbox about animal cruelty because, frankly, there is a lot of it in Howard Wasdin’s SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper, and I could rant endlessly about WTF our military are doing gunning down kangaroos for an Aussie farmer, but instead I am going to focus on the rest of this book…which is excellent. One of the best military biographies I’ve read.

Wasdin does an excellent job of describing BUDS training, and then he goes beyond that and describes all the other aspects of training a SEAL undergoes to become one of the military’s elite. He can switch from funny to dead serious in a few words. He conveys the camaraderie and brotherhood among those who serve while being engaging but leaving the reader with no doubt that he is a highly effective sniper who does not hesitate to get the job done.

When Wasdin describes the Battle of Mogadishu, it is gut wrenching and graphic. I kept thinking, “My God, he is not going to make it!” and then remembering that he lived to write the book! Despite having read Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down and having seen the movie, I still found Wasdin’s account gripping. He brings a completely different perspective and a lot more information about the battle itself. He does not hesitate to point out what went wrong and why, and he names those whose corruption and inaction worsened and prolonged the situation from the Italians to the UN to the Clinton administration.

Perhaps his finest point is this:

We shouldn’t have become involved in Somalia’s civil war – this was their problem, not ours – but once we committed, we should’ve finished what we started: a lesson we are required to keep relearning over and over again.

Wasdin’s struggle after the battle is very personal. He addresses his depression, his withdrawal, an inability to relate to civilians, and a sense of isolation brought on by being separated from his team. His recovery is introspective and inspiring.

The Raven King left me raving

*SPOILERS*

It can’t be over. It just can’t be, and not because I want a fifth book, not because I can’t let go of these beloved characters, but because this once engaging, enthralling unique series cannot end with this horrible tome! This awful, confounding, nonsensical mess.

“Depending on where you began the story” is my new, most-hated phrase. I began this story thinking book four was going to be awesome, thinking Stiefvater’s writing would continue to be amazing, thinking there will be a king found in this book. I ended this story realizing how very wrong I was. The writing was not amazing. It was disjointed and interrupted and all over the place. It felt like trying to read a journal written by someone on an acid trip. There were so many phrases and descriptions that did not make any sense or add anything to the story. Ditto for many of the characters too. Why bring Henry into it? What purpose does this late-coming fifth wheel serve? I guess to act as the fifth wheel once Noah is gone for good. And his mother? And Gwenllian. And Artemus. They all just felt like filler, bloated, unnecessary filler to prolong the story.

The main characters seemed like inadequate clones of themselves with neither the unity that made them a great team nor the wit and humor that had kept me turning pages in the first three books. The search for the Welsh King, which built and grew and expanded through The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which was the entire reason that Gansey and Ronan and Adam and Blue became friends, was such a colossal let down, a huge anti-climax that sucked all the adventure, mystery, and intrigue out of the series. Not even Ronan and Adam’s most-anticipated kiss (yes, even more so than Gansey and Blue’s lip lock) could not redeem The Raven King.

I don’t think I have ever struggled so much to finish a book, especially one in a series I adored. I feel as if I need to reread the first three just to justify ever having loved them in the first place. So disappointing.

Insufficiently Welsh makes my Welsh travels insufficient

Wales is my absolute favorite place on earth, and I thought I had seen quite a large amount of it, but Griff Rhys Jones has proven me wrong. Insufficiently Welsh, the book companion to his BBC television show, explores depths of Wales that even I missed in all my explorations. He has me so curious to see all the teeny, tiny hidden sites that I’ve missed in my travels to Cymru. An example? How did I go to Aberystwyth yet somehow miss a library that holds 6,000,000 books? Yes, you read that correctly. Six million books! I am salivating just thinking of the 118 miles of bookshelves that are needed to accommodate that many tomes. And I how did I, a foodie and lover of just about anything edible that comes out of the sea, miss out on fried cockles? Oh sure, I tried them cold and a wee bit slimy from the market in Swansea, but, as with any food, I am sure adding a crispy fry batter is a 100% improvement. (Dear readers, consider this a public service announcement: If you have not yet tried Welsh laverbread, just skip it. Trust me on this one).

Now since this book is a companion to a show, we readers get to see just how silly and false television is. Rhys Jones is tasked with some absurd challenges, such as finding the Holy Grail in Mid-Wales or having to rappel down a cliff and then do it again so that the camera crew can get shots from all angles. But in between these oddball television requirements, Rhys Jones visits some of Wales’s best gems: the fortified town walls of Conwy, the gorgeous coast and sea life of Angelsey, Hay-on-Wye also known as the town of books (and like Rhys Jones, I also didn’t buy a single book in the entire town, but not for lack of trying!), and many other uniquely Welsh places. Rhys Jones is funny and engaging, and his book is perfect for anyone who loves Wales or traveling or stories about finding one’s heritage.

J.R. Ward’s The Declawed Kitten, oops, I mean The Beast

Pardon the profanity….

I can’t even be arsed to write a review about Ward’s latest disappointment of a BDB novel, so I’ll just share some thoughts I had while reading The Beast:

If this is how Rhage feels about humans, why in the hell did he marry one of them?

Why does Ward use three phrases in one sentence to describe the same damn thing (hello, redundancy) yet won’t use three words to spell out FFS – which means For Fuck’s Sake for those who haven’t yet unraveled all of Ward’s stupid acronyms.

FFS, Ward, stop using acronyms.

One more idiotic and unnecessary pop culture reference and I am chucking this book at a wall.

THUNK!

Shit, I am going to have patch that wall.

Why am I still reading this series?

Who the fuck are these cellphone-recording humans and why should I care?

Okay, ten pages so far that don’t include the brothers, Rhage, or Mary i.e. ten pages that I don’t have to read.

FFS, die already Xcor. No one fucking cares about you. Except Layla, and she can die too.

OMG, Z has speaking lines in this book!!!

Qhuinn and Blay better have some lines too!

What the hell kind of name is Bitty?

“She’s a special little girl.” Is she? Because, frankly, I find Bitty to be creepy. I just keep envisioning a porcelain doll from a horror movie!

Who the fuck is Assail and why is he taking up so much ink this book? Oh wait, didn’t he try to assassinate Wrath? Or play some part in the assassination? Whatevs.

Well, at least Blay got a line of dialogue, lame as it was.

Woah, look at the lines Qhuinn got. Knock me over with a feather.

So over this ridiculous overprotective male bullshit. Every one of these “warriors” needs to grow a pair.

Huh, I guess Assail’s GF died in a past book? Must have skimmed over that.

Lassiter has become an even more pointless character. I didn’t think that was possible.

I am humming that Mary Poppin’s tune in my head except instead of Chim chiminey, chim chiminey Chim chim cheree, I am singing Skim Skiminey skim skiminey, skim skim skim-meeeeee…

And Ward still hasn’t learned how to use a question mark. Isn’t that first-grade level grammar? See what I did there, Ward? I asked a question and followed it with the correct punctuation. Give it a try sometime.

Some of this dialogue is so unbelievably stupid.

Why does she refuse to acknowledge who is speaking whenever the Brothers are in a group? Dialogue tags that don’t identify the speaker are just author laziness.

Oh, what’s this? Possibly setting up another book about Z? Finally a bit of intrigue….

Assail just became interesting.

All of these stupid flooded bathtub scenes read like author self-indulgence. Ward needs a cutthroat editor. And by that, I mean me!

New York has Zaxby’s??? We don’t even have those here. I bet they don’t have fried pickles at a NY Zaxby’s.

Funny how Rhage’s list of must eat places are all chain restaurants. Does Caldwell not have independently-owned restaurants?

I don’t care how big Rhage is. He would totally be morbidly obese if he actually ate all that.

Vampires will never see a rainbow. (Okay, this life-changing epiphany actually occurred when I saw a rainbow while I was driving around after a rainstorm with The Beast on the front seat of my car)

I would be so on board with that, V, because you and Butch need some bromance scenes.

I was probably wrong about that Z book.

And wrong about Assail’s GF.

Xcor equals snore. Don’t care that he’s the bro of Tohr. Oh look who’s a poet and don’t know it. (Wow, some of my thoughts are as lame as this book’s dialogue!)

This scene would have had more impact from Qhuinn’s POV.

Or Blay’s.

WOAH! That is a hardcore way to attempt suicide.

Z to the rescue!

I’m kind of getting tired of Rhage and Mary.

I feel like this book will never end.

It finally ended.

Managed to be better than The King. That was not much of a compliment!

The third visit to Clare’s Shadowhunter world is just as intriguing as the first

*Mild spoilers*

One of Cassandra Clare’s greatest strengths is that she built a fictional world that never gets old. The Dark Artifices is her third series set in the world of Shadowhunters, but it’s every bit as fresh and intriguing as the original Mortal Instruments series.

Set entirely across the country from the New York Institute where we first met Shadowhunters, Lady Midnight takes place in California where the Institute is backed by the desert and fronted by the ocean and that body of water is just about the only thing that scares main character and heroine Emma Carstairs. I liked Emma from the start. She’s a fearsome fighter, a dedicated friend, and hellbent on discovering who murdered her parents. I liked the diversity of the Blackthorn children as well and how they were such a devoted family despite the loss of their parents and the struggles they faced. I must admit, though, that Julian didn’t really do much for me. He was a little too perfect, a little too intense. When he confessed his big secret to Emma and Mark, I didn’t really think it was much of a secret. Wasn’t it rather obvious to anyone reading the book that Arthur wasn’t the Blackthorn who was running the Institute? And I didn’t buy for one minute that Julian actually believed the others would hate him for lying to them. His lies kept the family together. No way anyone could hate him for that. I also thought it was hard to believe that Emma didn’t realize what had been going on for so long. For me, that plotline was a bit weak.

Speaking of Blackthorns, the one I was intrigued by and wanted more of was Mark. Half-fae, half Shadowhunter and forced to ride with The Hunt for incalculable years in Faerie, his reintroduction to his family and life in the mortal world was interesting. I wanted to see more of his thoughts and reactions. I hope there is a lot more of Mark in future Artifice books.

And what Clare fan didn’t love revisiting our favorite characters from The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices? Jem and Tessa, Jace and Clary, and the fabulous Magnus Bane. I hope they reappear in future books. Lady Midnight left a lot of unanswered questions and many, many paths for the characters to follow. I can’t wait to see where those paths lead.