Saturday, November 14, 2009

Books that have Bummed Me Out

I don't do a lot that is terribly interesting, so it's not always easy to come up with something to write about. But one thing I do - I read...a lot. Interestingly enough, it is not because I am unemployed and have time on my hands - I have always been this way. Those of you that know me are nodding your heads - and you all know that for the most part, I turned off my TV in like, 1998. I am always the person who sees previews for movies and says, the book.

I am always looking for good fiction - anything imaginative, exciting - anything that moves me in any way. Which is pretty much what anybody is looking for I suppose. Funny thing about me is that I will keep reading a book until it's bitter end - even if I hate it. I can only think of a handful of books that I actually put down before they ended (one that comes to mind is "PS - I Love You" which was so predictable and sappy I couldn't take it anymore). Is muscling through books I am hating a huge waste of hours in my life? Yeah, probably - but I just always have to know what happens. Even if I groan and moan and carry on about how awful it was. Perhaps it's a sickness? an obsession? A form of OCD maybe? Not sure. It's simply part of what makes me tick.

I do have favorite authors, as any big reader does - my "go to" guys, books I will buy - in hard cover even - because I am sure that I will enjoy them. Or, there are books that I will buy because I have heard good things about them. And then there are books that I buy because they are part of a series, and I just have to know how it all ends.

But lately I have to say that much of the "tried and true" that I have been buying and reading has been disappointing to say the least. And I'm here to tell you about it so you don't waste your money and/or your time reading a bunch of crap, even if I did. And if these are books you read already - I am sorry. But maybe you can commiserate with me on their crappiness. Or yell at me because you thought they were awesome.

BUT just so you don't walk away from reading this thinking I am Johnny Raincloud, I will try to recommend similar "alternates" that I did actually enjoy a great deal.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

OK, seriously Dan...can I call you Dan?...The DaVinci Code came out in what, 2003? That's 6 years...and this is the crap you came up with during all that time? WTF? I feel very strongly about this because I really REALLY liked The DaVinci Code as well as Angels and Demons. What a great mind this author has! I kept at this book, pretty much non-stop for 2 days because I was so sure it would get good, some spark of greatness similar to his other novels would make its way to the surface. And it never did. In fact it just kept getting worse. I found it difficult to really care about the Freemasons and what they've been up to. The end was so anticlimactic and I honestly am not even sure what the whole Noetics thing is, or what real relevance it had to the storyline, other than filler copy. And really? A sensory deprivation tank with breathable liquid in someones secret basement? Come on. The piece of tarp slowing Langdon's free fall from a helicopter thousands of feet in the air (Angels and Demons) was more plausible - and that was completely over the top. What a letdown! THUMBS DOWN MR BROWN.

Read instead: His two "non-Robert Langdon" books, Deception Point and/or Digital Fortress. You could also try the author Steve Berry, a lot of his stuff is similar but not so hyped up that you expect the world from it. It's good - not great, but good and is definitely in the same genre.

The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb

This may top the list on complete total utter disappointments in all my days of reading books. I looked forward to this book for years and years, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True are two of my favorite books of all time. And then Wally comes up with this monstrosity. It started out very good, it seemed very promising - but then BANG - every socially sensitive topic got thrown in, and it became this disorganized, pieced-together Frankenstein plot - post traumatic stress, economic difficulties, drug addiction, adultery, dysfunctional family life, suicide resulting from military service in the Middle East, inter-racial marriage, same sex marriage - oh, you name it, it was in here. What a horror show. I was so seriously bummed out by this book - its badness affected me for days.

Read Instead: I am not even sure what to recommend in its place, Wally Lamb's stories are so uniquely moving and insightful - it's hard to come up with something even remotely comparable. The closest books I can think of would be Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (what a wonderful, amazing book!) or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (if you haven't read that gem already). And if you haven't read the first two Wally Lamb books I mentioned - I can't recommend them enough.

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane

I really enjoy Dennis Lehane books, they are usually exciting, nail-biting crime/thrillers (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) and I make it a point to read all of his stuff. But this most recent book was just plain boring. It was about the formation of the union and subsequent strike of the Boston Police Department in the early 1900's. Zzzzzzzzz. I couldn't get into it, but my mother-in-law really liked it. Guess you just have to be into the subject matter?

Read Instead: There are any number of historical fiction books that are soooo much better. Just depends what "history" you prefer. I haven't come across anything good about America during this certain timeframe - has anybody else?

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

Oh my I'm going to upset a lot of people but I have to say these books are just the worst. I can understand the teen obsession with them, but all of us adults that have become infatuated by this story? Don't get it. I have finished the 3rd one and refuse to move forward until the next book comes out in paperback...or someone else buys it and I can borrow it. I honestly dislike almost every character including Bella's mother, who plays such a minor role, its shocking that Ms. Meyer manages to make her so easily unlikeable with so few "appearances." I have had it with Edward "chuckling" and being oh-so-amused with Bella and her teen angst antics and am so sick Bella moaning and groaning and rolling her eyes and otherwise being a total pill. These two haven't ever had one meaningful conversation and yet they have this supposed intense love that just came out of nowhere. They stare at each other a lot. That's about it. Why she doesn't go with the hot werewolf instead of the cold-as-marble vampire is beyond me. Do I hate these books? Sure do. Will I keep reading them? Of course. I have to know how it ends.

Read Instead: Want a comparable love story? Read any trashy Harlequin Romance. At least they might actually have some decent sex scenes in them.

Interested in Young Adult fiction? There are so many better options out there (and in my humble opinion this is where the truly imaginative fiction should check out this section in the bookstore.) It just goes without saying that Harry Potter kicks the Twilight series' ass. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Going Bovine by Libba Bray and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak are just a few in this genre that have the McVicar thumbs up.

Want a good vampire book? Salem's Lot by Stephen King is always a classic. Anne Rice who pretty much started this vampire love affair has a couple of good ones, Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat are awesome. And I think the best vampire book I've read is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist - really creepy and its originality manages to stand out in this overcrowded sea of vampire books.

And finally, interested in Stephenie Meyer? Read her book for grown ups, The Host. A very original and interesting story that proves that she can actually write.

Well that's about it I think. I could do more, but this was getting long! Perhaps I will have additional bok review installments. Please, comments! LOVING THEM!- even if you want to disagree! Would love some lively discussion! So glad I fixed that annoying little feature...

Friday, November 6, 2009

2009 Christmas Lists

So first things first, I must apologize for the whole "posting comments" thing. I honestly do not know what I am doing wrong, all of my settings seem to be what they should be in order for people to "write in" - which is, quite honestly, half the reason I started doing this in the first place. So if anybody cares to email me and let me know wtf I need to do in order to get the comments thing up and running I would be forever in your debt. Well, not really. But I would appreciate it.

Secondly, my kids had three half-days and two full days off from school this week, for parent/teacher conferences and the NJEA conference. Seriously? What is this conference and what teacher actually attends? Well, regardless of the reason for it, this extra added bonus time at home for the kids couldn't come at a worse time. We are in between fall and winter sports/activities and they have waaay too much free time on their hands. And they mostly while away the hours by watching YouTube, playing Call of Duty on the PS3 (man do I hate that machine) and/or fighting with each other.

And did I mention Tom was away most of this week? Yeah. It was a good time.

The point I am trying to make is that after a very full week of YouTube Watchdogging, playing referee to ridiculous verbal exchanges and physical entanglements, listening to the sounds of machine gun fire and dying men spewing from my television - combined with all the normal domestic disturbances - it wasn't quite the environment that fostered free-flowing prose. So, I haven't exactly been as prolific on this blog as I would like.

But before I get to the real reason I started writing today, let me give a big fat shout out to my friend Cindy - she helped me solve the b'day party dilemma by recommending a nearby indoor party venue that should be perfect! Of course, I haven't done anything about it yet (see previous blog that details my birthday party planning "ability") but I am positive it will be absolutely perfect! Thanks Cindy!

OK - so...the kids have been putting together their Christmas lists, mostly at the requests of their grandparents so they can start the annual "Christmas Present Competition." But really, this year I'm glad for it, too. It is getting more and more difficult to navigate what is appropriate and affordable - and have it be something kids actually want.

So in an effort to make this easier on us all, Charlie went through the Target Holiday Toy catalog and circled all of the items he wanted. And as I look through these items I realize that we are really no better off than we were before he did this. Most of what he circled he would never ever play with. And I have vowed - for the hundredth time but hopefully this time it will stick - to NOT spend a fortune on Christmas toys for the sake of spending a fortune on Christmas toys. Especially those toys that spark a Merry Christmas "G--Damn It" Festival when I have to assemble them.

Charlie has items like the "Star Wars Deluxe Vehicle" circled. OK, not so bad - if it weren't for the fact that I just threw away about 3 of these deluxe vehicles because he hadn't touched them in 3 years - and the fact that this new one he wants is $64.99! What??!! And that's on sale! Then there is the G.I. Joe Accelerator Duke Figure that is eerily reminiscent of a gigantic Batman action figure I just put in the donation pile. And it wasn't even a question of him not touching it for a few years, I really don't think he EVER played with it. Then there is the $99.99 G.I. Joe Pit Mobile Headquarters, guaranteed to fall apart as soon as Charlie and his friend Sean launch their first "air strike" against it. There is the ever-present Nerf gun circled, but man do I hate those things, those damn darts get lost within the first 10 minutes of opening the packaging. Then they turn up in the weirdest places - darts in the pantry mixed in with the soup, darts in my underwear drawer, darts in the dogs' poop...I can explain the dogs' poop, but my underwear drawer? Before you ask...I have no idea.

But honestly the very best one is the Mindflex - which touts it will "move objects with brainwave activity!" and shows a very intense 8 year old with some bizarre looking headgear on, concentrating with every ounce of his being on floating a foam ball through a plastic hoop. First of all...yeah, that toy'll work. Second of all - even assuming it did work - this just doesn't seem like Charlie's kind of toy. Mostly because it involves intense thought. Now I love Charlie and I'm not saying he is not bright, he absolutely IS! but...well...he's Charlie. His idea of literary genius is the "Ricky Ricotta and his Giant Robot" series. And he wants a toy that's all about brainwave activity? Hmmm.

But Tom thinks we should get the Mindflex anyway - he thinks it would be really cool to hook it up to Junior.

Now Max is getting to a really difficult age for Christmas gifts. He's out of toys. He's not into clothes yet. He's still a little too young for a bunch of electronics. That pretty much leaves one games. And boy does his Christmas list show it. The problem is these PS3 games are bazillions of dollars, and the net $$ total of the games he listed is equal to about 1 year's tuition at Princeton. Well, maybe not Princeton...but definitely Rutgers.

He also wants Rosetta Stone for the German language. Oh, Max. So very you.

But one of the items on Max's list that made me stop and give pause was the request for a "PWND" t-shirt. I asked him what on earth this was and he said "it's 'poned,' Mom" in an exasperated tone - as if that explained everything and by God what is wrong with you Mom that you don't know that?? Well I asked could he please give me a definition of "poned" and his answer (verbatim) was "complete domination or shutdown of a person, place or thing." Huh? I mean, I just recently figured out what "LMAO" means. Now what is this "PWND" all about? It seems a little...overwhelming...for a t-shirt. Oh, Max.

Appropriate or no - his grandmother got it for him already (of course). I'm really just hoping he doesn't end up wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the rally cry for the Skinheads or something. Because he would have no idea and I would be the one trying to explain it to the Principal.

So goes our Holiday Joy. But I think the real joy will be seeing the wonders of Junior's brainwaves set the Mindflex ablaze with activity.