Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Book Review: Swish by Joel Derfner

So this isn’t going to be one of my standard book reviews where I simply provide my praise-of-approval, quote the back cover to prevent myself from ruining the entire plotline (including climax) and wrap it up with the book’s website. The reason; my latest read, Swish by Joel Derfner truly challenged me as a gay man and left me bewildered on my personal beliefs and my despising the stereotypes around gay culture and those ideas around homosexuality that we simply accept due to being gay.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely found myself enjoying parts of the book like the constant reference to The Golden Girls (oh you know I have a think for those stunning four dolls) and his intense reference to the final performance of the first act of the musical Wicked, and the heart-wrenching Defying Gravity performed by original cast members Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. But those were only two small parts of what felt like an excruciating long and awkwardly uncomfortable read exploring the deep realms (and really surface concepts) around those ‘cultural concepts’ that all light-in-the-loafers men encounter in their journey through life.

Being compared to the writing style of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs on the back cover forced me to purchase the book without hesitation. Furthermore, the impressive forward written by none other than Sir Elton John definitely had me thinking I was about to embark on a boisterous adventure through gayness filled with giggles and couple ‘oh no you DIDENT!’ I definitely wished I had jumped to the contents section outlining the different chapters as I would have been better prepared for what awaited ahead.

The chapters, in order, are as follows; 1. On Knitting; 2. On Casual Sex; 3. On Cheerleading; 4. On Camp Camp; 5. On Dating; 6. On Teaching Aerobics; 7. On Musical Theatre; 8. On Go-Go Dancing; 9. On Exodus.

While the latter chapter definitely left me a little intrigued as I have always wanted to learn about unique Exodus experiences, good and bad, I was thrown off my guard with each chapter leading up to that point. I found myself relating to a lot of the stories, but also thinking to myself, these were the parts of homosexuality I respected the least. They all were largely formed on the stereotypes that any heterosexual on the outside looking in would suspect a gay man to experience, enjoy and literally end his life if he were deprived of any one piece if the big ol’ gay puzzle. These chapters also dredged up a large portion of my past that I went through while I was trying to ‘define’ myself as a gay man and felt I needed to WANT these things so bad just to desperately fit in. Funny enough, that is exactly the voice that Derfner takes throughout the novel, endlessly voicing his reasons for each action crediting a need for acceptance. Damn it, why do we do it?

The casual sex chapter hit me hardest of all as it literally lays out all the gay bullshit of acceptance that we have as a culture deemed appropriate. Meeting four or five complete strangers at a random location at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon to do absolutely everything sexual under the sun. Open relationships that come crashing down in utter failure due to jealous and self-depreciation. Literally losing track of your sexual conquests, but making that irrelevant as you used protection 100% of the time.

I don’t want to seem like I am preaching like I think I’m Mother Theresa on a pedestal who has lived a life of a simple past; however, the reminder of the road that took me to get to where I am today definitely left me feeling less than giddy.

There were also several portions of the book that include self-mockery that caught me off guard and instead of laughing along (as I believe Derfner intended me to as a reader) I found myself questioning why he would include a slander directed inwards. It would be hurtful if someone else sad the words he wrote about himself, yet they seemed to just blend into the story effortlessly that it was simply bypassed as a shot at humour. This is the one portion that I truly feel is the differentiator between the writing talent of Sedaris and Burroughs, as a direct comparison.

Now should Derfner himself ever come across this article, I want to apologize at this time as I’m sure my grammar in this article is terrible. For those of you who have read the book, you will know perfect grammar is one of many mandatory requirements for Derfner to love you. I definitely have too many flaws for his taste.

With that said, I definitely encourage people to pick up this book and form your own opinion. As I mentioned above, its title Swish by Joel Derfner and you can find out more about the book at the author’s website; www.joelderfner.com

Book Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children
Publishing Date: October 13 (US) / October 29 (UK)
Hardcover: 400 pages

Stand Alone or series: first in a planned duology

Why did I read the book: I love the cover and the premise. Plus the hype surrounding the book.

How did I get the book: I received an ARC from the publishers in the UK.

Summary

A sacred oath, a fallen angel, a forbidden love…This darkly romantic story features our heroine, Nora Grey, a seemingly normal teenage girl with her own shadowy connection to the Nephilim, and super-alluring bad boy, Patch, now her deskmate in biology class. Together they find themselves at the centre of a centuries-old feud between a fallen angel and a Nephilim…Forced to sit next to Patch in science class, Nora attempts to resist his flirting, though gradually falls for him against her better judgment. Meanwhile creepy things are going on with a mysterious stalker following her car, breaking into her house and attacking her best friend, Vi. Nora suspects Patch, but there are other suspects too – not least a new boy who has transferred from a different college after being wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend. And he seems to have taken a shine to Nora…Love certainly is dangerous…and someone is going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice for it

Review:

A warning: this review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

There has been great hype and positive reviews over Hush, Hush until last week when a couple of negative reviews started to surface. After reading the latter, which had some well-thought out criticisms, I braced myself not to like the book as much as I hoped but I was not prepared for what I eventually got. Suffice to say that: the cover of the book is awesome. And that is just about as positive as this review is going to get.

The plot is simple: Nora Grey is the uncoordinated, plain girl who walks into Biology class one day to find out that the teacher wants to shake things up by moving the kids around. Instead of sitting with her best friend Vee as per usual, Nora ends up sitting next to the new kid, Patch. The dark, hot, mysterious Patch whom as soon as Nora sits next to him, starts to tease, argue, behaving like a jerk to Nora. Then, weird things start to happen, Nora believes she is being watched; someone jumps in front of her car when she is driving home one day and almost rips the door out. She immediately thinks that Patch is behind those incidents. She notices that everywhere she goes, he is there. More weird things happen, Patch can put thoughts inside her mind, he has a scar in his back. An internet search is in order: “angel wing scar” she types and is frightened that OMG Patch may not be human. She fears him, he is certainly dangerous, can she trust him? But yes. But no. But he is hot. But he is dangerous. He loves her! She loves him! He saves her from himself (he wants to kills her!) and from the dangerous lunatic who wants revenge. The end.

The first question I have for you dear reader, is this: How is this book NOT Twilight by Stephenie Meyer but with Angels? It is uncannily similar. But unfortunately, it is also worse than Twilight. (Take that as you will.)

Starting with the characters. Patch has been hailed as the Ultimate Bad Boy by some or as a Stupid Jerk by others. In all honestly, I could not care one iota for Patch: I have seen better Bad Boys and worse Jerks. He falls right bang in that middle ground of mediocrity. One thing is certain, I don’t see the attraction and I didn’t see any chemistry between the characters.

Now, Nora. Nora, Nora, Nora. I have yet to see a worst TSTL (Too Stupid to Live ) heroine. Let me count the ways: Nora is attacked or followed or stalked. Over and over again. Yet it never occurs to her to call the police, talk to the school principal, talk to her mother until it is too late. She talks with suspect number one instead. She is afraid of Patch for most of the book and keeps changing her mind about him every two seconds. It gets tiresome pretty soon:

He is hot. But he is dangerous. Can I trust him? But his dark smile and dark eyes! OMG he wants to kill me! But he smells good!

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then her best friend is attacked by someone who mistakes her for Nora. Vee ends up in hospital, having surgery. They think it might have been Patch attacking her. One DAY later she is out of the hospital (without the police ever questioning them about the attack. No sign of the parents in the hospital either) so that they can go to the bar where he works to do some sleuthing (their words). This pinnacle of stupidity that is Nora, goes into the bathroom to put on a wig, a hot dress and gets a LIST of questions out of the pocket to ask the bartender. Her questions:

No, seriously. I ask myself if this is supposed to be cute or quirky. I ask myself if I shouldn’t just walk away from the book before my brain explodes or my eyes get stuck in the back of my head after that much rolling! I carry on though because I want to know how this is going to end and I am mildly curious about the Fallen Angels Mythology. I guess that counts as a positive too? That I want to know more? But I wish I hadn’t because once all is explained, it lacks inherent logic.

This is where things get really spoilery so avert your eyes now if you don’t want to know.

Firstly, Nora does her internet search and THE FIRST PAGE SHE OPENS after typing “Angel Scar Wings” is the correct page which relates this specific obscure mythology, because that is exactly how it happens when you Google something. Patch is supposed to be a Fallen Angel who wants to become human. He says he “found” the Book of Enoch that says there is a way of doing this if he sacrifices a descendent (that would be Nora, by the way) of the guy who swore fealty to him because that would kill the GUY and that would make him human. How exactly did Patch find the elusive Book of Enoch, if he was out of Heaven? How exactly does killing Nora kill her ancestor?

In addition: Patch is a BAD person because he Fell. And he fell because of lust for a woman he loved. At the end of the novel, he becomes an angel again and yet he proceeds with a relationship with Nora which is of course, based on lust as well. Isn’t that the same situation as before? Shouldn’t he fall again? This is completely illogical!

And then there is the fact that both as an angel AND as a fallen angel, Patch can not feel anything physical. So, let me make this clear: Patch can not feel Nora’s touch, he can not feel anything only what is inside his heart (yeah, seriously). Only what is emotional – except that he feels desire and lust for her. But surely that means that they can never have sex – if he can’t feel anything corporeal he surely can not get it up (and if he can, well then. Yet another nonsensical detail). How exactly does that work?

In the end I am supposed to believe these two loved each other so much they would sacrifice for one another. And yet. how can I possibly believe that, if every single interaction they had in this book is Patch being a jerk, and Nora reacting to his jerkiness? They hardly ever had an entire conversation that did not go around one of them doing or saying something nasty. I absolutely abhorred the fact that Nora was prepared to give up her life so easily so that Patch could become human. It’s not even about saving his life, only granting his wish.

So, yeah, Hush, Hush did not work for me in any level and I am most aggravated about it.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: …….

Verdict: This book did not work for me at all. And it is time that the Twilight train left the station.

Rating: 2 – A complete waste of my time.

Reading Next: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Book reviews: Someone Like You, by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You, by author Sarah Dessen, is a wonderful story about a long lasting friendship between two young women. This touching book is a wonderful study on the strength and importance of the friends we find ourselves blessed with.

"Scarlett Thomas has been my best friend for as long as I can remember..." (from Someone Like You)

Scarlett and Halley have been best friends as long as they can remember. Told from Halley's point of view, the reader is treated to all of the drama high school life is famous for. Boys, teachers, and friends seem to be the most important thing in Halley and Scarlet's lives until the death of Scarlet's boyfriend in an auto accident and Scarlet's pregnancy.

This book is beautifully written in first person; the characters are richly developed and are a brilliant blend of fun and seriousness that makes them seem real. I love the touching scenes between the two girls and how they deal with their real world teenage problems. The girls and their mothers bond is a true testament to real friendships that endure through all trials.

Some of Sarah Dessen's other novels are The Truth About Forever, This Lullaby and That Summer. All of her novels revolve around the friendships and loves of young women.

"In high school, I was lucky enough to have a big group of girlfriends that have really inspired a lot of the stories in my books." (A Sarah Dessen quote from the official website)

This book is wonderfully enjoyable and enchanting, and I'd suggest it to any lover of young adult literature, girls who might be dealing with death or teen pregnancy, or anyone who loves to read stories about the strength and endurance one can get from true friendship.

Someone Like You; Sarah Dessen.
Puffin Publishers; June 2000.
ISBN: 0142401773