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Conner's Books & Reviews

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Currently reading

The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks
Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs
Haruki Murakami
The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King
Stephen King, Richard Bachman
The Complete Stories
Franz Kafka
Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel, Haruki Murakami
The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso
Dante Alighieri, Robin Kirkpatrick, Eric Drooker
The Purgatorio (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Dante Alighieri, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Peter Bondanella, Julia Conaway Bondanella
The Interpretation of Dreams (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Sigmund Freud, A.A. Brill, Daniel T. O'Hara, Gina Masucci MacKenzie

The Lottery Winner: Alvirah And Willy Stories

The Lottery Winner: Alvirah And Willy Stories - Mary Higgins Clark A collection of short, generic whodunit stories, all involving the same main characters, an older couple who won a lottery. The writing isn't great, but it's a light and easy read to pass an afternoon if you enjoy these kinds of stories. It does get pretty redundant after about two stories, and some of them aren't really worth reading at all, but I'd say "A Clean Sweep" is the best in this collection by far.

Scorpia Rising

Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz 2.5 stars
Like nearly everyone else that reviewed this, I've been reading this series for a very long time, ever since the first book came out when I was in middle school. I was riveted right away by Alex and the smart spy plots he was a part of. We were similar in age and he was the kind of character that I wanted to be. As soon as a new book in the series came out I would rush to buy it and I was never disappointed with each new story. Yes, it's in the nature of a series like this to be the same basic story over and over, but it was done in a way that was not repetitive at all and deeply enjoyable. For a young adult series, Alex Rider has always been intelligent. It's educational about subjects dealing with the plot in a similar way that a Series of Unfortunate Events was to vocabulary. Fast-forward to Crocodile Tears, and I got the feeling Horowitz just wasn't trying as hard. A lot of the disposition of the main bulk of the novels just wasn't there for me, and I couldn't get into it as I used to. I'm not sure of this was because the quality of the writing or because I was simply older. So I didn't come to Scorpia Rising with as high expectations as I would have had I not read Crocodile Tears recently. But still, when reflecting on how I felt about this, #9 out of 9 in a beloved series, all I feel is disappointment. I'm not saying it's a bad book, it's not, and this still would beat out nearly any young adult action/spy novel that you could possibly find. But when looked at as a finale instead of as a standalone, it feels rushed and unexceptional. Maybe the series just ran over too long of a timespan to hold it's appeal, as I didn't really enjoy any of the books past Snakehead, although I will always look back on this series with a glow of nostalgia.


Smoke - Ellen Hopkins The more Ellen Hopkins novels I read, the less I find myself enjoying them. I think what keeps me coming back is the hope that the next thing she writes is going to have the same visceral rawness that I remember from when I first read Crank and Impulse. The more seasoned Hopkins gets as a writer, the further away she gets from that original style that initially drew me in. There's something almost juvenile about the writing, and that used to be ok because it worked with the subject she was writing about. Now that she's trying to take on more expansive plots, the free verse falls apart, even when it is otherwise well-constructed. I can't help but wonder what an Ellen Hopkins novel would look like written in prose. You can tell that her writing has technically improved, so maybe it's time for her to set the free verse aside for a while, because personally, I feel like that is what's holding her back.

This is a sequel to Hopkins' second novel, Burned, which really didn't need a sequel.
This is another case in which the author is going back to an original book that was successful to write an unnecessary sequel in hopes of regaining that momentum. (See: Perfect, the mediocre sequel to Impulse, and the decision to turn Crank into a full-blown trilogy where it was just the same book three times.)
I really did not like these characters. But unlike, for example, Gilian Flynn's characters, who are despicable in a way that forces you to keep reading, here it is in a non-developed and shallow way. There's an overwhelming "us vs them" mentality here, with "them" being everybody that isn't the current narrator. Pattyn's sister, Jackie, unfortunately gets a very large part in this novel, where all she does is whine. I found myself getting more and more annoyed every time I had to switch back over to her perspective. Yes, unpleasant things happened to her in the previous novel. But Jackie is completely resigned to play the victim here; she blows everything out of proportion and her school comes across as a hive of one-dimensional, brainwashed characters that all seem to dedicate a large part of their time to staring at Jackie and caring about her personal business. This is simply not realistic, and frankly, with no real relevance to moving any plot forward, it was really exasperating to have to read. I could not sympathize with her at all, and even worse, after endless pages of whining, she suddenly becomes perfectly fine when she ends up randomly falling in love with some guy (Surprise!). And this actually occurs with both narrators, which in my opinion really ends up canceling out what the author was trying to do here, which is to show the often irreversible effects of physical and sexual abuse, by making it suddenly inconsequential towards the end.

I wouldn't recommend this book over Hopkins' earlier material unless you REALLY want to know what happens after Burned, and if you don't mind sitting through 500+ pages of ruminating free verse that contains almost no plot. Personally, I preferred the ending that was already resolved in my head when I first read Burned.

Ouran High School Host Club, Vol. 18 (Ouran High School Host Club, #18)

Ouran High School Host Club, Vol. 18 (Ouran High School Host Club, #18) - Bisco Hatori This series has a lot of sentimental value to me. I read the majority of it in a fragile period of my adolescence, mostly in a graveyard across from my high school while skipping class after checking out each new volume from the library. It has such a strong place in this formative phase of my life; picking up any of the volumes brings me right back to that graveyard (which, contrary to common expectation, is a very nice place to read), and I can remember how I felt when I read them there. I really felt like these characters were my friends.

Though it is ultimately a romantic comedy series, I always detected something distinctly melancholy underneath the lighthearted proceedings. Let me be clear, I am a very characteristically sad person. I've never been good at making friends and I've never been happy with my circumstances, always feeling that I will never measure up to anything; that life is happening elsewhere. So really I found a home and friendship with these characters that felt very special, but I also knew that it couldn't last. The latter volumes of the series left me with the sinking feeling that this was all falling apart, like I knew that it would from the beginning. "This isn't how it's supposed to happen" I would find myself saying into the pages. I felt frustrated that these characters weren't feeling the way they were supposed to, deviating from their original relationships and, maturing in that irreversible way that I saw my own friends maturing before me.

Ultimately, this series started out being about these deeply aloof and socially inept characters finding a home in their friends. It became a story about being forced to grow up in an adult world that has no place for sentimentality and such deep connections through friendship. I found it getting more painful to read as it began reflecting things happening in my own life that I didn't want to happen.
Increasingly, during the final years of my education, I was finding out how flimsy these friendships I had formed with people really were. Friendship has always been the most important thing to me, and it hurt finding out that most people simply do not value other people in the same way. Humans are constantly changing, and they will never be exactly who you want, or have come to expect them to be.
That's why was frustrated when the characters started focusing on romantic relationships and neglecting the friends that depended on them to be there. I was angry when Haruhi made the decision to leave her friends and study abroad, because all this is what I saw my friends doing in real life, and I was angry at them for leaving me behind. But, this is the way our world works. The characters of Ouran have to make the same decisions that everyone their age has to make, at an age when they aren't ready to make them. Regardless of nationality or country of origin, ours is a society of increasing superficial connectivity, and one of deepening isolation on an individual level. We all feel really alone, and we all really want somewhere to belong and someone to belong to. This is what Ouran ultimately explores. It's hidden behind a shoujo label, but it's there, because I felt it.

So now, two years later, here's the final volume of Ouran High School Host Club.

There is little story to be found here. Instead, it is an open-ended volume returning to the lighter roots of the earlier Ouran volumes. This is pure closure, for those of us who went through high school and grew up with these characters, in contrast to the serious family and corporate drama that made up the last few volumes. Sure, I didn't find it immensely satisfying, (note that the 3 star rating is for this volume, not the entire series) but it's the best Hatori could have done to wrap up her series. There are so many differing opinions on what she should have done, but the sheer number of these opinions really show the strength and depth of these characters she has created. Her readers have all fallen in love with each one of them, and the way she ended her series has them living on in our minds exactly the way we want them to be. It was clear from the beginning that Tamaki x Haruhi would be a thing, and while the relationships are of course different than they were in the first volume, the most gratifying thing is seeing them all together in the final pages.

Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere - Alive

Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere - Alive - Les Stroud, Beverley Hawksley, Laura Bombier Surprisingly devoid of usable information for a book of its size. Nearly 400 pages of pop survival, in which the "author", creator of the television show "Survivorman", briefly lists a bunch of bullet points outlining things that are mostly common sense. He leaps around between subjects, takes a jab at his competitor "Man vs Wild", and constantly contradicts himself, often saying you should do something and in the next sentence saying you shouldn't. He does this several times when it comes to water, he keeps recommending that you drink untreated water at regular intervals if you don't have anything else to drink, then briefly touches on the fact you could ingest untreatable stomach parasites, without naming any, then says it's possible that won't notice them for a few weeks anyway. He keeps recommending you eat charcoal if your stomach is bothering you, but never from poisonous wood sources, though he doesn't say anything about how to identify the poisonous sources.
I was looking forward to the chapter on dangers and hazards, but there was really nothing of value to read there. Again he lists a few creatures you should watch out for but doesn't detail anything, also saying that if you run into a large predator you should make as much noise as possible, but also move stealthily, look at them in the face but they could take eye contact as a challenge, etc. He lists a few more dangerous animals and then notes in parenthesis that he doesn't have to elaborate as if the fact that the animal is big should be explanation enough on how to deal with an encounter with it.
Similarly, in a section on food in the wilderness, the author says that you probably shouldn't eat any plants because they could be poisonous, but if you are going to, outlines a step by step guide on eating, which includes rubbing the plant on your skin and leaving it in your mouth for a few hours, while not even beginning to say anything about which kinds of plants you should be eating or not eating in the first place. To me, this felt like he just didn't feel like getting into all that, a sign that you should be looking for a more substantive text if you're actually looking for something that will help you survive.
Throughout the book, Stroud delights in throwing in quick recollections of his personal exploits, but none of these seem to have any lessons and they rarely go with whatever he was just talking about. Several of these he presents with the conviction that it was his "most dangerous survival moment" as if he forgot he's said this about two different moments already.
The few useful lessons in this book, such as a section on first aid, probably aren't enough that I would recommend it to anyone that genuinely wants to learn about survival. The author (or more accurately, ghostwriter) never goes into detail and the length of the text is mostly just rambling, endless bullet points, and repeating things he's already said. I would suggest something more academic, or better yet, an actual survival course.

Tale of Two Summers

Tale of Two Summers - Brian Sloan This is the second book I've read by Brain Sloan and right off the bat there are tons of similarities to the first one. The stories aren't supposed to be related to each other, but they both take place in the metropolitan DC area and feature nearly identical protagonists. It took me a long time to warm up to the story, partly because it took so long for anything to happen, but mostly because of the tiresomely overused writing style he decides to employ, which is basically an internet correspondence between the two main characters. But there is no subtle relationship building going on here, there are no barriers to the conversation, these characters have nothing they modestly emit from each other as TMI (to cite the internet speak that pervades some of the entries). The entries that these characters write seem like they would be more at home in their personal diaries, especially considering one of the character's disturbing fixation with reporting all of his hard-on's accumulated throughout the day, which is just a little weird to the point of not being a believable dialogue.
It would be easy to get the characters confused, as you are supposed to remember which character uses which font, but the author chooses to distinguish them by their sexuality. This is where most of my nitpicking's occur. There are lots of stereotypes and genre tropes to be found here. I found the main protagonist highly annoying because his entries were more or less a constant barrage of proclaiming how gay he was, the problem here being that he didn't have much of a personality outside of that, so he ended up being somewhat of an archetype. As in Sloan's previous book, the real stars here are the secondary characters. I just wish he would give as much attention to the characters that we are spending the most time with. Additionally, the whole book is one long dialogue, so there are lots of irritating phrasing and terminology used by the author to really drive the point into your brain that yes, these teenagers are very clever and witty, for example dropping constant uses of the short-form of "regarding" instead of a simple "about" or something that a teenager would actually say.
With that out of the way, there were moments in the middle when I found myself enjoying the book and actually grinning as I was reading, because while much of it is forced there is some humor and there is a cute romance that made me want to know what was going to happen next for the first time.
I think that Mr. Sloan has the potential to put out quality young adult LGBT fiction comparable to David Levithan, he just needs to pace his books better, as the pacing was really very plodding in both books I read by him. I would also like to see better developed characters with less reliance on tropes. I'd be willing to give his next effort a try if the premise looked interesting enough.

A Really Nice Prom Mess

A Really Nice Prom Mess - Brian Sloan 2.5 stars.
This book suffered from the same pitfalls that are found pretty much across the board in young adult books, namely pretentious writing and cliched characterization. It was occasionally funny but not enough to make up for all the jokes that didn't work, and its attempts to make any emotional impact fell decidedly flat. The only two interesting characters (Jane & Virginia) were just support characters so they didn't get much screen time, just popped in and out whenever it was their turn to move the plot forward. I use the term "screen time" because this author is actually a screenwriter rather than a novelist, and you can definitely tell. This is his first novel, and it's not 'bad', but it is markedly amateurish and runs about 100 pages too long for this kind of story. But considering its sparsely populated genre, which is young adult LGBT fiction, you could definitely do worse.

Aftershock: The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon

Aftershock: The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon - T. Christian Miller, Daniel Zwerdling A journalistic piece provided for free on the Kindle store. This is case study on a platoon suffering from the after-effects of an explosion while in the line of duty, such as concussion and post-traumatic stress. This piece explores what should and can be done to care for the alarming number of soldiers that develop long-lasting psychological and other complications because of head trauma.

Write Good or Die

Write Good or Die - Scott Nicholson Good advice, but there was an awful lot of blatant self-promotion from the contributors writing these essays.

Dark Places

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn I picked up this book because of all the recent hype about Gillian Flynn, and this was simply the first one I could get my hands on. People seem to have strong opinions on this author where they either love or hate her, so I was surprised to find that my opinion on her was exorbitantly neutral. I think she is a skillful writer that knows how to use words to get you into the mindset she wants you in. For this book, that feeling is murky, dirty, sordid. This book is supposed to make you feel that way and therein lies the problem with certain people disliking the book; this book isn't supposed to make you feel happy and wasn't written for people who enjoy a light reading experience. I hesitated to believe that an author that has met this much popular success could actually be as dark as people say, but I am here to tell you that my doubts were dispelled. This book is pitch black. The characters are purposefully utterly unlikable, you will not find a single character in this story that you like or have sympathy for, but from what I have seen from reviews, this is somewhat of a trademark for the author.

At its heart though, this is crime fiction. I think that if the book didn't have its outer layer of repulsion, it would be a rather weak story. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a gimmick, but it covers up the fact that this just isn't that great of a story. The reader is clearly kept in the dark about certain things, which sometimes is an unfortunate side effect of books that switch back and forth between time periods and perspectives, but here it is just a way for the author to try and create some suspense. It didn't work though because while there was already very little suspense (contrary to expectations because of how big the "suspense" shelfari tag is) I got so frustrated with this little issue that I altogether stopped caring about what happened 'that night' and just wanted to get on with it. Which is probably a good thing because the ending was completely unsatisfying.

Gillian Flynn is a promising author and I think she will start writing great things if she switches up her formula and does a little more work on her stories. Though I didn't get much enjoyment from this one I'll still be checking out her other books.

ESSENTIALS OF PHILOSOPHY: The Basic Concepts of the World's Greatest Thinkers

ESSENTIALS OF PHILOSOPHY: The Basic Concepts of the World's Greatest Thinkers - James Mannion Concise and informative for the most part. It introduces and briefly explains a bunch of different philosophies, including other departments such as religion, new-age spirituality, psychology and anthropology. Where the book gets rather baffling is in the final chapter, in which the heretofore faceless author suddenly decides to show off his vast knowledge of the Star Trek universe & goes off into a lengthy digression about his favorite TV shows that he feels have philosophical relevance. The problem being that he gives this interpolation more page space than any of the philosophical explanations given in the book. Regardless, this is a very easy read and worthwhile to someone looking for a brief overview of philosophy.

Lord Loss

Lord Loss - Darren Shan Juvenile and very poorly written with a minimal plot that might as well have been plagiarized from a 7th grade creative writing class. It tries very hard to be edgy and markets itself as a gore-fest but the execution is just hopelessly sloppy. Frankly this is one of the worst books I've ever read and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks

Don't Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks - R. Reid Wilson Let me start by saying that I have had some extremely nightmarish mind-states in my life that I would never wish upon anyone. I have been diagnosed with multiple anxiety disorders and have experienced many abnormal symptoms as a result; depersonalization, disassociation & derealization being the most unendurable & uncomfortable. Not much ever seemed to help. Therapy just kept me at a standstill and drugs & medication only exacerbated the problem, sometimes to extreme limits. One thing that I have learned is that there are no quick fixes and the mind is an incredibly powerful thing. Something that is very hard to accept is that YOU are your problem, and the enemy is your mind. The only way you can fix it is through manipulation of your own brain. When you have panic the thought of letting your guard down against it is terrifying, but that is exactly what you have to do. There are few aids to help with this; to fight panic it's really all on your own shoulders.
So leave your preconceptions at the door; this is no miracle book. However it is the most helpful book I have found when it comes to panic and other all-encompassing forms of anxiety. It recommends a paradoxical mindset to approach your life with. I feel that the author did a good job explaining his idea but went about it in a very long-winded way. The good part about this is he covers many aspects and the book is not lacking in information, however much of it is repeated over and over which was annoying to read.
I'd recommend it to anyone struggling with anxiety disorders, but remember that recovery is a very long road and you can't expect instant results.

Fodor's Ireland 2013

Fodor's Ireland 2013 - Fodor's Travel Publications Inc. Pretty decent travel book with lots of pictures. It helped plan a great trip to Ireland but some parts are somewhat misleading. I would recommend it to anyone thinking about taking a trip there, just don't use it as your only resource.

Hijacked by Your Brain: How to Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over

Hijacked by Your Brain: How to Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over - Julian Ford, Jon Wortmann As a sufferer from multiple anxiety disorders myself, when I first came across this book, I thought it was exactly what I needed. Of course I would quickly find myself to be wrong. This book presents some decent ideas, certainly at the beginning, but it reads like an oversize pamphlet you would pick up at a therapist's office. The whole book seems to be almost an advertisement for a new way of thinking that ends up translating to a drawn-out explanation for asinine acronyms with names such as "FREEDOM" and "SOS." What could have easily been accomplished in the space of a self-help pamphlet is here dragged out to over 200 pages. I do think this book was written with a pure goal in mind to help people who suffer from paralyzing & debilitating anxiety. However the advice given herein isn't even very helpful; certainly not worth the time it takes to slog through this very condescending & boring text.

Lights Out in Wonderland: A Novel

Lights Out in Wonderland: A Novel - D.B.C. Pierre This book was recommended to me in the highest terms by a friend as she was reading it. "Sex and drugs in Tokyo, London, and Berlin" she said. Shortly afterwards I stumbled over it in the library and picked it up immediately. I will admit that based on the title and my friend's description I expected a different experience; one more in touch with the Wonderland reference made on the cover. What I found was something altogether different, but not in a disappointing way.
The protagonist of this book will either suck you in or put you off right off the bat. The protagonist is very conflicted and hypocritical, with a downright mesmerizing voice. While cynical, his capacity for insight is staggering and each chapter contains very striking observations that will really make you think. I was able to connect with him very easily, and I think that whether or not you can connect with him will be the deciding factor in whether or not you will enjoy this book.
The writing style of this book is impeccable. The author experiments with all kinds of ambrosial words and the book is full of beautiful descriptive sentences and excellently quotable dialogue. I really can't stress enough how much I enjoyed the way the author wrote, and I will definitely seek out his other works for this purpose.
One of the selling points of this book is in the fact that it takes place in 3 major cities, London, Tokyo, and Berlin, though the vast majority of the book takes place in Berlin. While Berlin is an excellent location for this story and the author does a great job in making you feel like you are there, I would have liked to see more of the other cities; the time spent in London is minuscule and all of the action in Tokyo takes place in a single locale.
As for the plot, while it drags a little in the 3rd quarter, the overall structure of the book is different and outstanding. This is a book more about concept than about plot. It explores the consumer culture, the nature of excess, and has a strong anti-capitalist air. There is a profound layer of debauchery used in equal parts to seduce and repulse the reader. It makes no effort to be politically correct and has no qualms with removing you from your comfort zone in order to get across its message, and doesn't always explain its reasons to you for doing so.
While the book has a dismal tone most of the way through (after all the book begins with the assertion that the protagonist is planning to kill himself), it ends with a bright note of optimism that shines through the grit of the rest of the narrative; I thought it was an excellent ending to an imperfect but great book.
I am very excited to see what this author does next and would definitely recommend him to other readers, though his style is not for everyone, particularly the faint of heart.