Mini Reviews

Today I am going to review three books: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells, The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, and Calico Joe by John Grisham.  Since these are mini reviews, each will be spoiler-free and a little bit shallow.  Even if you don’t know any of the books, I suggest you read this through, if only for the “things I learned” sections.

This book was the first horror I have read.  It was nothing like I expected.  In my mind, a book was horror if it was bloody and described in detail– but history books can do that, and they aren’t horror.  No, I see now that horror is a way of writing more than it is a PG rating for gore.  The style of this book was incredibly poetic, the emotions extremely real, the similes brilliant.  That seems an odd thing to say, but the similes added so much to the strength of each scene.  This book inspired two of my recent posts on emotion and contrast.  I tell you, I could not put this book down.  I read the first chapter just to see what it was like, and immediately I threw aside the other two books I was trying to read at the time.  (They remain unread.)  It was gripping.

Dan Wells also wrote Partials, which I reviewed about a month ago.  His style was good there, but it was nowhere near as suspenseful and amazing as it was in this book.

As good as it was, I’d give a warning: there is gore, there is suspense, and there is a lot of death and conversation about death.  Several times, the main character considers killing people, and it’s scarier than any time you see the monster on a rampage.

Things I learned from this book:

  • Emotion and contrast, as said in earlier posts.
  • Know thine enemy.  There’s a popular horror tip that says never to describe your monster as a whole– only show parts at a time, and the reader will fill in the rest with something much scarier than anything you could come up with.  In this book, the physical monster is described in detail halfway through the book.  That doesn’t mean the author flouted the rules– the physical monster was not the monster of the story.
  • Similes and metaphors, in order to be strong, must be distanced from the events of the story, but related.  For instance, in the beginning of Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo, the author describes flags “like multicolored pieces of cloth that had climbed up and tragically hung themselves.”  That is a weak simile because flags are nothing but multicolored pieces of cloth.  The more distanced a simile or metaphor is from the truth, the stronger it is.  However, you can add emotional punch to your story by relating it somehow to other events or objects.  In I Am Not A Serial Killer, just after the main character witnesses a murder, the branches of trees, lit by the sunset, are like “bones dipped in blood”.  Tree branches are not bones, but we just saw quite a bit of blood, so it has some emotional punch.

Next we have The Familiars.  This book, soon to be made a movie, was just the sort of book I would have read when I was eleven.  Funny animal fiction with a touch of magic, set in a fantasy world– not to mention being of a good thickness– that sort of thing appealed to me then and still appeals to me now.  The book was written well, with good descriptions and characters.  Yes, the emotions were childishly magnified at points, but most were handled magnificently.  Furthermore, though the book seemed to be in disagreement with my theory on plot twists at the ends of chapters, it tended to have emotional twists instead, sort of like a statement that even though things seem to be working out, bad things aren’t far away.  The whole thing was extremely well done.

On top of this, I think it will make quite an excellent movie.  As I read the book, I looked at the structure as a whole.  The whole thing fits perfectly into movie format.  Some scenes will have to be omitted for brevity, but the plot should be almost exactly the same.  I don’t think this will be a horrible adaptation at all.

Things I learned:

  • Structure can be applied as well to books as to movies, as I learned from Partials as well.
  • The trio of characters, two of whom have terrible secrets and one of whom is just comic relief, is not as cliched as Rick Riordan makes us believe.  As much as I like him, he does this horribly.  All the characters mope all the time about how they wish they could spill their guts about this secret, but can’t.  In this book, the characters act like themselves at all times, though they have to lie once or twice to keep their secret safe, which they believe will estrange them from all the others.  They use their skills to full effect, even when those skills don’t really fit with their personas.  The comic relief guy is hilarious and occasionally helpful, but always lovable– never there without a reason.  Also, the other character of the group that isn’t the main character can be the know-it-all type, but they too have secrets and special skills apart from their knowledge, which keeps them real.
  • Making your characters travel is a great thing to do, especially if they have to visit historical sites.  Especially in a different world, this really helps get a feel for the environment.  There is only so much information you can get across through infodumps– it’s better to have your characters experience things for themselves.  Nevertheless, the know-it-all I mentioned before is still useful for small information points, though even he/she should be floored by some of the bigger facts.

This is the first John Grisham I have ever read, and it was spectacular.  It’s a change of pace from the fantasy or classics I usually read: the story of a (fictional) rookie baseball player who broke records left and right until– KABLAMMO!– spoilers happened.  This book was emotional in a completely different way than the books that inspired my earlier posts.  On page eleven, I looked up and tried to figure out why I was already so emotionally involved.  More than that, the book felt smooth.  Unlike adventure stories, where plot twists shoot up like spikes to give you emotional yanks, there were few plot twists here.  It was just a story– a story that yanked you emotionally in a way that you saw the twists coming, but you didn’t want to believe them.  Believe me, I tried a few times to be impassive.  I failed.  It was just so well written.

The book switches between present tense and past tense– present for the present, and past for the past.  Half of it is told in flashback form, but in a way that it feels like regular narrative, and half is told in the present.  It was excellently done.

I will give a slight warning: this is not Matt Christopher.  This is not a middle-grade baseball story where the main character doesn’t know how to pitch, then gets a confidence boost from his coach and strikes out every batter.  This is about serious, adult baseball, and it wouldn’t be for everyone.  I think anyone could read it, but it isn’t the same as middle-grade.  Also, it would help to know a little about baseball.  I was a little lost by RBI statistics.

Things I learned:

  • We are predisposed to like people.  Give us nothing of a guy’s personality, or just one thing about him that we might like, and we will love him forever.  We never got an accurate description of Joe Castle’s personality– we made it up ourselves off what we saw him do, and we loved him for it.
  • You can have a perfect character, but he can’t be the main character.  The only reason he is allowed to be perfect is that we never see his flaws.  Don’t describe him in depth.
  • Epilogues are for sissies.  Sure, you can have them, but it acts as an enormous infodump that you wrote just to get out of telling boring stuff.  This book took something like three chapters to wrap things up, but those three chapters added so much emotionally.  Endings don’t have to be boring just because the conflict is wrapped up.

So there you have it!  Three excellent books from three very different genres, reviewed in one place.  I loved them all.  Read their synopses, and if any sound interesting to you, go read them!  I’ll vouch for each of them, unless you decide to ignore my warnings and read a horror novel at age three.


79 thoughts on “Mini Reviews

  1. “As good as it was, I’d give a warning: there is gore, there is suspense, and there is a lot of death and conversation about death.”

    “According to some, I am Death, so that would mean I’m snuggling myself.”

    Therefore in this book there is a lot of Liam and conversation about Liam.

      1. “Liam doesn’t knock, master.” ~Incarceron.
        “The last enemy to be destroyed is Liam.” ~Harry Potter book something or other.
        These are making me out to be some sort of monster.

      2. “After all, to the well-organized mind, Liam is but the next great adventure.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.

        “He was knocking on Liam’s door.” – Some person

        Hmm….we could also put you in book titles. Like… InkLiam

      3. “The fear of Liam is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.” – Albert Einstein

        “Liam is nothing at all…..” – Henry Scott Holland

        “The tragedy of life is not Liam….” – Norman Cousins

        Congrats, Liam. You are not the tragedy of life.

  2. I am not a serial killer…
    It seems like a great read. Is it one of those books that blows your mind at the end and makes you feel like you can never live the same way again? I’m not usually one for the roller coaster type horror (the kind that just throws you around for a bit and eventually sets you down safely), but I do like the horror that makes you think.
    However, burying my nose in a book with that cover may raise some eyebrows.

    1. No, it’s one of those books that sucks you in until you realize that you think the same way as the main character, which is creepy since he considers killing people. Yes, it is horror that makes you think. It’s psychological horror.

  3. I’m not planning to read the horror book.
    As for John Grisham, I want to read Skipping Christmas. He also wrote the Theodore Boone series, which is for kids.

      1. I scare easily. I’m wary of anything that is called horror. Have you ever heard of the movie Corpse Bride? The preveiw scared me. And I have on three occasions accidently watched something that scared me (not all the same thing, obviously). Those three things may not scare other people but I’m not other people. So…
        No Partials yet. There are other books on my list that have higher priority. And you recommended at least four of them to me…

      2. I don’t mind. One day, I will finish Les-Mis. (One day– when you and I are famous authors, making millions… so in the next five to ten years. That sounds about right.) There will be Artemis Fowl and Flying Dutchmen and The Count of Monte Cristo.
        Maybe you should read something I suggest. 🙂

  4. The first one looked good…(eep, I sound sadistic). I must admit, I’m not baseball fan, so I’ll steer clear of the 3rd, and MG makes me laugh, but I’d rather jump into something dark and creepy.

  5. I have lots of comments but I’ll just go with one.

    “I read the first chapter just to see what it was like, and immediately I threw aside the other two books I was trying to read at the time. (They remain unread.) It was gripping.”

    When you said that, I was just like YES! This is what a writer wants to get from their reader (me anyway!) I was like I want my readers to read my first chapter and then throw down all other books they were considering and stay up all night reading mine! 😀 Lol

      1. Exactly. As does every writer on the face of the earth who can’t do it yet.

        Only…then nothing would ever be done, and there would be no two other books. Hm.

  6. Hmmm . . . Charley thinks she ought to get hold of the first two books, preciouss, oh yes she does. She certainly needs tips on How To Scare Readers, and a few tips on well-done kids’ books would go too far wrong either.

    Unfortunately, swapping back to the correct tense, I have a rather apathetic relationship with John Grisham, neither know or care anything at all about baseball, and will probably give that one a miss as a result.

    1. Yes, I think you’d like both of them. It gives the authors credit that The Familiars can be read by all ages, even though it’s middle grade. As opposed to Harry Potter, which everyone said I would enjoy had I only read them at the correct age level. (Got my HP insult for the day done, and it’s still morning! Yes!)

      What have you read by Grisham that you didn’t like?

      1. Hmm . . . I think I jumped in the deep end with some manner of thriller or some sort, a couple of years ago now. I found the style rather dry and uninteresting at the time, and the story just didn’t hold my interest for very long – it didn’t seem to want to. Perhaps that was simply a poor choice of book, but it really did put me off.

      2. Indeed. Perhaps I shall give it a go again someday, but right now I think there are more interesting prospects to be delving into.

  7. Liam, this is a random comment for you: Your blog is basically my WordPress home page…if I need to check notifications, I type in “i” and Google brings up This Page Intentionally Left Blank.

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