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lilianxcheng has commented on (32) products.

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
Charlotte Street

lilianxcheng, November 22, 2012

Being swamped in a towering pile of projects and midterms, it took me over a week to finish Danny Wallace’s new novel, Charlotte Street. For a brief moment I considered the ramifications if I didn’t finish reading the book in time for the blog tour; I’d probably either have to make some lame excuse like me accidentally dropping the book over my balcony, or I would have to piece together a glowing review from other people’s thoughts and pretend I knew what I was talking about. How ironic it would be to write a “fake” review for a novel about a guy that writes reviews for a pizza he hasn’t eaten, and a film he didn’t watch. Fortunately, I was able to finish the novel with nineteen days to spare and you are reading a review from someone who actually finished all 400 pages.


Summary in a Nutshell:
Jason, is a middle-aged journalist who starts brooding when his ex-girlfriend is engaged. He finds himself with a girl’s disposable camera and decides to develop her pictures�"determined to find The Girl.

Plot:
The tagline claims that this book is a “heartwarming tale of boy stalks girl.” I was interested in the disposable camera storyline, but the story kept diverging until it was in a mix of sub-plots where I kept wondering if the author forgot about the who disposable camera thing.

Voice and Pace, Jason Sounds Like Danny Wallace:
One of the reasons I wanted to be on the Charlotte Street blog tour was because I read one of Danny Wallace’s nonfiction works, Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play, which was about Wallace adventures to find all of his childhood friends. I was curious to see what Wallace’s foray into fiction would be like. However, I found Charlotte Street to be a similar formula, instead of hunting down friends from a box of childhood memories, Jason is hunting down a girl from a disposable camera. And like Friends Like These, Charlotte Street’s pace was uncomfortably slow at times (and filled with unrelated stuff), with all these side revelations on the side. I also found Jason to be similar to Wallace with his dry humor.

But while I could connect to Wallace’s sentiments in Friends Like Us, I couldn’t connect to Jason. I was ambivalent towards him, and at times I thought he was just a generically hopeless loser�"he was one of those guys that tries too hard to get people to like him, the kind spends too much time comparing himself to others.

The Girl’s Blog:
At the end of a few chapters, there are blog posts from The Girl. I am still not so sure what the significance of those posts were; I didn’t feel they added anything to the girl’s character at all, besides her sharing Jason’s interests and letting the reader know she wasn’t in a relationship. I hoped that her blog posts would be like a novel with dual perspectives, and her life would coincide with Jason’s�"but they didn’t. How disappointing.

The Ending:
Before I got to the last chapter or two, I was set on giving this book a “meh, borrrinnng” rating, but I did find the ending sweet, albeit also predictably cheesy. But sweet nonetheless. I have to admit that the ending was super fast; all those loose ends that was plodding by in the last twenty chapters suddenly resolved magically in a page or two�"like the writer approaching a word count limit or something.

Overall, a sweet casual read that’s like a chick-flick in a guy’s perspective.
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Ten by Gretchen Mcneil
Ten

lilianxcheng, November 9, 2012

As a thriller lover, and with all the hype surrounding this book, I've been anticipating Gretchen McNeil's Ten since spring. Christopher Pike's blurb that claimed McNeil's setup to be flawless sold me. So I finally got my hands on it and finished it in about a day (it's 300 pages long, but with the generous line spacing, it felt more like 150.) And now I think Christopher Pike is a filthy liar.

Pacing Saved (and Killed) This Book:
The fast pacing made Ten readable. Dead people left and right. But the fast pace (and the piling dead people) desensitized me while also severely limiting character development. The characters all felt like paper dolls created to be killed off a few seconds later.

Spooning. Is it just me, or does that sound dirty?
What I thought when I first encountered "spooning": "Wait...they just witnessed a dead body five seconds ago, this isn't a good time for sexy times! What's wrong with these horny teens?"
I must've re-read both occurrences where "spooning" popped up, the image in my head wasn't pretty. But this might be just me with my dirty mind. *twiddles thumbs* Why must they spoon? Is cuddling too mainstream?

Isthmus must be Gretchen McNeil's favorite word.

Meh, It's Not Even Scary:
There's MILD gore. And MAYBE the girl with bad hair is scary. But this is all child's play (pun intended.) And this is from a girl who thought Suzanne Collin's Mockingjay was scary.

McNeil is Testing My Memory! And I Failed.:
With ten teens, all the names became a confusing jumble. Aside from the three main characters, I didn't know who was who throughout the novel. The one exception was the Asian chick, whose name was conveniently named Kumiko. If only the black guy was named Jerome and if there was a Mexican named Jose...(I know I am being stereotypical, but at least I won't forget the characters by the next page.) I don't know why the two main girls (Meg and Minnie) had to have names that started with the same letter, I was probably a third through before I got the hang of their names. And at that point, I gave up even trying with the others (why should I? I know most of them will end up dead anyway.)

Never Mind Apathy, I Dislike These People:
When you think about it, all these teenagers lied to their parents thinking they are badass to drink never and party for three days straight. I really don't think their idea of a party is playing Monopoly. Every time someone dies, a girl shrieks, they get scared for five seconds...and then they make out with each other. The worst offender is Meg who thinks she witty and smarter than everyone else (because apparently, she's a writer), but she's just mean (she also has the tendency to recklessly charge into suspicious rooms and reads people's secret diaries.) Worse yet, she "forgets" to grab the gun because she rather fiddle with the boat ignition when a murderer IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER. WHUT? This chick has some serious amnesia. Even the people around her aren't much better: her crush roots for her to voice her mean opinions and her best friend also treats her like trash and secretly hates her for taking away her popularity.

Romance, They are too horny for their own good:
These people have the worst timing ever. But the worst is the main couple: Meg and TJ. Meg swoons about TJ 24/7. Never mind people dying, never mind there's a murderer in the house, I WANT TO MAKE OUT! TJ on the other hand seems to take it for granted that everyone loves him: he kisses Meg out of nowhere then starts referring to her as "baby," like a douchebag trying to get some action. Then before you know it, the dreaded "love" card is drawn.

They Must've Never Watched a Horror Flick, Nor Do They Have Common Sense
Any reasonable person in their shows would either make sure nobody leaves each other's line of sight and wait for sunlight. But for some reason that's too mainstream for these teens and they prefer wandering off alone. If you are going to stay in your room, make sure you don't leave and guard your door like you're in a zombie apocalypse!

Foreshadowing Is Like Being Hit With Bricks
Too obvious much? The opening chapters are filled with OBVIOUS hints that the party isn't really a party. STOP IT ALREADY, I GET IT. They're going to some island in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal--in the middle of a horrible storm. It's clearly not going to be a fun party...I GET IT, NOW LET'S MOVE ON.

DON'T QUESTION ANYTHING. FREE PLOT HOLES FOR EVERYONE!
There are so many plot holes I don't even...ugh. Although if it WAS a "realistic" story, everyone would turn back after finding out they had no 4G coverage. NO PHONE? NO TEXTING? NO FACEBOOK? NO TWITTER? OMG, NOOOOOOOOOO, I CAN'T SURVIVE. We'd only have Verizon users showing up. And the Asian girl who aced science probably wouldn't show up either. NO TIME FOR PARTY, MUST STUDY.

I was going to read McNeil's debut novel, Possess, right after finishing Ten, but after this mess, I need a break from her work. I know Ten is a re-telling of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which I haven't read; I wonder how closely Ten sticks to the original. I found Ten a big disappointment that I would only recommend to people looking for a quick, brainless, horror thriller with mild gore.
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Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy #2) by Veronica Roth
Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy #2)

lilianxcheng, September 18, 2012

Since I don't have time to read anything but college textbooks lately, I decided to listen to the audiobook of Insurgent during my three hour commute. I wasn't a big fan of Divergent, but with all the gushing reviews for it, I wanted to join the party. I'm convinced everyone who gave Insurgent a glowing, perfect review is either bribed with brownies or under simulation.

Tris, The Girl Who Got Possessed by Bella:
I was ambivalent towards her in Divergent, but I loathed her in Insurgent. For a chick that has aptitude for Erudite, she seems to be missing a few brain cells. The most frustrating thing is everyone around her fuels her superiority delusion by saying things like "Oh, you are part Erudite! You must be smarter than all of us! I would've never thought of that! We are all such dum-dums!" I'm going to shoot myself if my fate rested upon a mean, suicidal, and emotionally unstable sixteen year old, even if her IQ happens to be higher than mine. Girl doesn't even have common sense, no wonder the simulation tests don't work on her.

After witnessing her parents' and best friend's death, she goes into emo, suicidal mode. Bella style. But maybe slightly better than Bella because Tris is also obsessed with being a hero, which means plunging herself into dangerous situations as a sacrifice without thinking. And it always backfires. Which leads me to this:

A Brief Summary of Tris from The First Two Thirds of the Book:
Four: I LOVE YOU. Please don't throw away your life and do stupid things, Tris!
Everyone Else: Please don't do stupid things, Tris!
Tris: What stupid thing?
*rinse and repeat*

A little later,
Tris: OH NO! I feel so much guilt over my parents and Will! I must join them! I will throw myself out for sacrifice to join them! THAT'S SO BRAVE OF ME!
*ten seconds before dying*
Tris: Hold up! This dying stuff is serious business! I don't want to die anymore! I have come to the insightful conclusion that the best way to honor my parents is to live my life out to the fullest!

I wish I was exaggerating, but that's exactly how it went down.

Throughout the book, Tris felt like a whiny kid who gets all huffy when the adults won't tell let make big decisions. I wince when I hear Tris trying to insult someone, it inevitably sounds like she is trying too hard and failing miserably. And when she is called out on being stupid...she blames it on her age. Way to shrink from responsibility, Tris. I know she is trying to come to terms with her family, but stop ruining everyone else's life! Just hide in a corner and grieve like normal people.

If Four was Asian, All Hell Would Break Loose:
I thought he was a cool bad boy in Divergent, but he just upgraded himself from bad boy to lame, arrogant guy. The source of my anger: he beats up his father--which is not cool, even if your father locked you in a closet and even if he has semi-shady intentions. You just don't punch your own defenseless, dad in the face because you felt like it. At the end of the day, guess who brought you into this world? You ungrateful jerk. (Yes, I am aware I'm speaking like an Asian, it's in my blood)

And he also gets his friends caught when he REFUSES to blend in to a group. And to make matters worse, he talks back in an arrogance to a guard--which basically screams "I AM DAUNTLESS, COME AND GET ME! LALALALA."

Romance, Where Tris Keeps Lying and Making False Promises to Four:
Two arrogant, stupid teenagers, who also happen not to be very nice--a match made in heaven. I think this drugged outburst by Tris sums it all up nicely herself: I pout my lower lip for a second, but then I grin as the pieces come together.
"That's why you like me!" I exclaim. "Because you're not very nice either! It makes so much more sense now."

Tris' false promises annoyed me, not only was she suicidal, she was suicidal AND a promise breaker. And right after Four declared his love too. This is not how you sustain a relationship, Tris.

Everything Else:
A lot of action, secret plots, and deaths bundled up in a gigantic mess that I didn't give a damn for. How ironic that the chick throwing herself out to be killed is never successful. As for the society--I give up trying to make logical sense out of it. I was completely lost with what Faction is on what side and the Dauntless Traitors and Loyal Dauntless...blah blah blah. And that ending...Maze Runner or Variant, anyone?

I fail to find any redeeming factors, unless you count having no grammar errors and coherent sentences. At least I was able to get throughout it without flinging my IPod out the window.
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Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy #2) by Veronica Roth
Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy #2)

lilianxcheng, September 18, 2012

Since I don't have time to read anything but college textbooks lately, I decided to listen to the audiobook of Insurgent during my three hour commute. I wasn't a big fan of Divergent, but with all the gushing reviews for it, I wanted to join the party. I'm convinced everyone who gave Insurgent a glowing, perfect review is either bribed with brownies or under simulation.

Tris, The Girl Who Got Possessed by Bella:
I was ambivalent towards her in Divergent, but I loathed her in Insurgent. For a chick that has aptitude for Erudite, she seems to be missing a few brain cells. The most frustrating thing is everyone around her fuels her superiority delusion by saying things like "Oh, you are part Erudite! You must be smarter than all of us! I would've never thought of that! We are all such dum-dums!" I'm going to shoot myself if my fate rested upon a mean, suicidal, and emotionally unstable sixteen year old, even if her IQ happens to be higher than mine. Girl doesn't even have common sense, no wonder the simulation tests don't work on her.

After witnessing her parents' and best friend's death, she goes into emo, suicidal mode. Bella style. But maybe slightly better than Bella because Tris is also obsessed with being a hero, which means plunging herself into dangerous situations as a sacrifice without thinking. And it always backfires. Which leads me to this:

A Brief Summary of Tris from The First Two Thirds of the Book:
Four: I LOVE YOU. Please don't throw away your life and do stupid things, Tris!
Everyone Else: Please don't do stupid things, Tris!
Tris: What stupid thing?
*rinse and repeat*

A little later,
Tris: OH NO! I feel so much guilt over my parents and Will! I must join them! I will throw myself out for sacrifice to join them! THAT'S SO BRAVE OF ME!
*ten seconds before dying*
Tris: Hold up! This dying stuff is serious business! I don't want to die anymore! I have come to the insightful conclusion that the best way to honor my parents is to live my life out to the fullest!

I wish I was exaggerating, but that's exactly how it went down.

Throughout the book, Tris felt like a whiny kid who gets all huffy when the adults won't tell let make big decisions. I wince when I hear Tris trying to insult someone, it inevitably sounds like she is trying too hard and failing miserably. And when she is called out on being stupid...she blames it on her age. Way to shrink from responsibility, Tris. I know she is trying to come to terms with her family, but stop ruining everyone else's life! Just hide in a corner and grieve like normal people.

If Four was Asian, All Hell Would Break Loose:
I thought he was a cool bad boy in Divergent, but he just upgraded himself from bad boy to lame, arrogant guy. The source of my anger: he beats up his father--which is not cool, even if your father locked you in a closet and even if he has semi-shady intentions. You just don't punch your own defenseless, dad in the face because you felt like it. At the end of the day, guess who brought you into this world? You ungrateful jerk. (Yes, I am aware I'm speaking like an Asian, it's in my blood)

And he also gets his friends caught when he REFUSES to blend in to a group. And to make matters worse, he talks back in an arrogance to a guard--which basically screams "I AM DAUNTLESS, COME AND GET ME! LALALALA."

Romance, Where Tris Keeps Lying and Making False Promises to Four:
Two arrogant, stupid teenagers, who also happen not to be very nice--a match made in heaven. I think this drugged outburst by Tris sums it all up nicely herself: I pout my lower lip for a second, but then I grin as the pieces come together.
"That's why you like me!" I exclaim. "Because you're not very nice either! It makes so much more sense now."

Tris' false promises annoyed me, not only was she suicidal, she was suicidal AND a promise breaker. And right after Four declared his love too. This is not how you sustain a relationship, Tris.

Everything Else:
A lot of action, secret plots, and deaths bundled up in a gigantic mess that I didn't give a damn for. How ironic that the chick throwing herself out to be killed is never successful. As for the society--I give up trying to make logical sense out of it. I was completely lost with what Faction is on what side and the Dauntless Traitors and Loyal Dauntless...blah blah blah. And that ending...Maze Runner or Variant, anyone?

I fail to find any redeeming factors, unless you count having no grammar errors and coherent sentences. At least I was able to get throughout it without flinging my IPod out the window.
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow of the Wind

lilianxcheng, August 19, 2012

The best summary of my reactions I can come up with: if a Korean suspense drama was sprinkled with Gothic elements and turned into a Spanish novel, The Shadow of the Wind would be it. There's a scandalously complex plot with characters that intersect with one another and a few plot twists thrown in for good measure. I went into this novel with high expectations, everyone seemed to proclaim it's greatness. I wanted to start the series so that I could read its lauded third installment that just released without being lost: The Prisoner of Heaven. However, despite being entranced in the delightfully complex mystery and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, I can't bring myself to wholeheartedly recommend it. Partly because its pacing is too slow for my liking in the first third, some characters falling flat, and the denouement disappointing.

I'd Never Guess it was a Translation:
I am usually hesitant to read translations, fearing that a beautiful literary masterpiece will be skinned bare of its artistic elements into a stoic, mundane read. I'm glad The Shadow of the Wind didn't join that party. I'm not sure how much was lost in translation--unfortunately, my Spanish comprehension ends at ¿Cómo estás? and I still haven't figured out how to roll my r's--but I could've been easily fooled that this was the original. Props to Lucia Graves!

Story, Bring Me Back To The Cemetery Already!:
From the start of the novel, we are introduced to the mysterious Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It's any book lovers paradise, a maze comprised of old books, giving us hope that unknown masterpieces can transcend the test of time and culture. The Cemetery and the mysterious Carax novel were the most beautiful, enchanting elements of the novel, yet almost as soon as it was introduced, I had to leave it to deal with 13-year old Daniel and his infatuation with a blind girl a decade older than he. I found myself wishing Julian Carax's books really existed so I could read his masterpieces for myself. I suppose even if his novels did exist, they wouldn't be found on Amazon.

Characters:
I loved each character, even the minor characters aided the story in unexpected ways. I found each character special and I proudly say that there were no instances of me struggling to remember who was who.

Daniel, The Protagonist:
I really wanted to like Daniel, but it just didn't happen. He is good-hearted, but I found him too impulsive. I winced when I read through his first love with a blind girl ten years his senior. I knew it was a nightmare waiting to happen. For a protagonist, Daniel faded in the background. I found everyone else much more compelling than Daniel. Even if the novel was in his perspective, I still don't know anything about him other than he makes horrible romantic choices.

Fermin:
The idea of being best friends with someone decades older strikes me as odd, but whatever, Fermin is just that perfect friend. My favorite character.

Fulmero, The Villain:
I expected more back story from him. It seems like he was just evil because he had severe mental problems or something. Oh yes, and his unrequited love problem which made him bitter at everyone else. A guy that killed his own mother (even if she was a selfish, shallow woman)? Now that's spine-chillingly scary.

Romance:
"That was random." pretty much sums up my reaction towards Daniel's romance. I still don't know what Daniel sees in girls beyond a pretty face. Everyone else had a better love story than the protagonist.

Gothic Elements:
The haunted house gave me the chills. I wanted to yank Daniel out of that house. Pretty horrible place for a date if you ask me. There were also these eerie, divine dreams that some of the characters had. Oh yes, and of course, the Devil also plays a role.

Denouement, Is This Lady a Stalker?:
I am disappointed that the mystery boiled down to a hundred page info-dump letter to wrap up all the loose ends instead of having Daniel solve something. I don't know how this lady knew all this stuff in such great detail to recall all the dialogue with such precision despite not even being present in most of the events. I wonder if her version of the events are trustworthy for much of was secondhand information (or should be, maybe she is a skilled stalker.) I thought she wrote the letter in a hurry in anticipation of her impending death, but if she could write a letter that spanned a third of the novel I doubt she was in a big hurry. If she had such amazing foresight, I hope she kept cyanide by her side to make her death as painless as possible.
I enjoyed the complex plot and finding out how all the loose ends joined together, it's the delivery that disappointed. We ran around for two thirds of the novel gathering clues only to find out we could have just lounged on a sofa and waited for this letter to solve everything.

Plot Twists:
I wasn't surprised (I probably typed this review just so I can boast my psychic abilities.) Maybe I watch too many Korean dramas to prepare me for these "scandalous" plot twists.

I wonder what the next installment will be about. I am hesitant to read it since I thought the ending tied up the story so well that I wouldn't want a lackluster sequel to ruin it. It's one of those books that I liked, but still feel the story would suffice as a standalone.
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