The Darkest Part of the Forest

Awright, so I can’t remember where I saw this book and what compelled me to read it in the first place… I think I just liked the cover to be honest.  And I liked the blurb on the back talking about kids having an absolute sense of justice.  That blurb was intriguing and gave me… a completely different impression of what the book would be like.  Or about, really.

I went into this book expecting it to actually be about kids (the characters are more teens than kids), and thinking it was gonna be about kids’ cruel, absolute sense of justice.  IE, viewing the world in total black and white.  Here’s the blurb in full:

“Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.”

So I thought this was going to be a more morally ambiguous book where kids get violent thinking their doing the right thing but their black and white view of the world ultimately just turns them into monsters themselves (figuratively).  I mean, come on, “CRUEL, absolute justice.”  “kill a monster and feel proud of themselves.”  That’s some ominous shit right there.  There’s something nefarious, something not right about that.

Turns out the book isn’t quite about that at all.  Actually, if I remember right, turns out that blurb is really just an extract verbatim from the novel and is actually the main character’s musings on her younger years.

That the little blurb didn’t at all capture the tone or meaning of the book was a small disappointment but ultimately didn’t matter too much when I began reading the book, because the actual concept of the book is pretty damn cool.  There’s a small town near a forest, and strange things happen in said city; namely, because the forest it’s near is home to scores of Fae.  This takes place in the “real world”, so the concept is that only the residents of this town know about the Fae, and even then some don’t believe they actually exist.  The town survives off of tourism, the main sight being a glass, unbreakable coffin  not too far in the woods with a horned boy sleeping inside, dressed in regal prince clothes.  The highschool kids of that town often party in that clearing of the woods, and it’s not uncommon for people to dance on the coffin, or occasionally even try to break it open (though that usually leads to bad things happening).  The story goes that the boy in coffin has been sleeping there for over a hundred years or something, and nobody is quite sure who he is or how he got there.

The opening is really cool because it shows a lot of really well-thought out characters and social dynamics.  And it’s just a great concept that this human town is borderline enmeshed with the Fae world, yet the highschool kids still act so… highschoolish, having parties at the coffin and whatnot.  The beginning really showed a lot of potential for the rest of the book.  And honestly I thought the writing was pretty good.  It was enjoyable, it flowed, it felt natural.

As the story goes on though, 90% of the opening charm fades away.  The inciting incident of the story is when one morning news spreads that the glass coffin has been smashed open, the horned boy is missing.  Once he’s free from the coffin, shit starts getting weird.  The Alderking, the Fae who rules that part of the forest, wants to capture the horned boy for reasons unknown.  Things happen, the protag and her brother get entwined in the mystery.  Basically once the inciting incident hits, the book’s appeal starts to fade away, slowly at first, and then faster.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll let a few things loose.  after the horned boy breaks free, he finds the protag and threatens her to help him or else.  Then he kisses her because “that’s what she wants” (her and her brother have fantasized about boning the horned boy since the dawn of time)

oh yeah, the brother is 100% gay which I thought was an awesome part of this book because it doesn’t treat him as a weird character for being gay, it treats him as a totally normal human and there’s only one point in his past where his sexuality was a burden on him but it doesn’t become the main focus of the novel.  I’m a huge advocate for including queer people as normal, everyday human characters because that’s exactly what queer people are – normal, everyday people.  There is definitely a need for and room for literature which focuses on the struggles of having a gender and sexual identity different from cis and straight, but there is just as equally a need to include characters of gender and sexual identities different from cis and straight in mainstream fiction as regular characters.  Both are necessary.  When their struggle is the focus of the novel, that’s great for people who don’t suffer their problems understanding what they’re going through and empathizing.  When their struggle is not the main focus and they are shown as normal characters coexisting with cis straight people, that’s great for normalizing them as people, and putting them on equal footing as cis straight.

Anyways, I mention him kissing her because this book devolves into a really badly written, sappy romance.  And this is where the book starts to go bad.  As it continues on, that really cool opening of all the highschoolers partying on the casket?  Turns out all that info wasn’t actually important at all, it was just setting up the normal (okay, mildly important, but there are so many ways it could have set up the normal, so why through THAT specific scene?)  All the characters mentioned and described are practically dropped from the face of the earth.  A few of them return later on for a moment and then the book realizes it’s making too much use of the social dynamics it set up in the beginning and quickly swipes them all from existence again.  Instead, the book becomes about four characters – Protag (Hazel?), her brother (Ben or something?), Jack (a changeling), and the horned boy (some weird name), and about their super melodramatic romance that ends in a contrived, happy pairing off at the end.  The mystery of the novel is okay but the book forcefeeds you the details and finer points of the mystery to make sure you know everything that happened and realize how oh-so clever the author was with that one.

This book has a lot of jumping from present to past which, actually, I didn’t mind, because while it interrupted the plot of the present quite a bit, the past segments were interesting themselves and did tie into the present-day characters and who they are.

Anyways, when I read this book, I really enjoyed it, started to lose interest about halfway through, and at the 3/4 mark I was ready to call it quits but, out of respect to the beginning of the novel (plus it’s not super long), I decided to stick it out to the end to see if it redeemed itself.

It didn’t.  At least, not for me.  For other people it might, it wasn’t a terrible ending, but I don’t think it was all too satisfying either.  The main mystery started to feel forced and there was an awkward imbalance between the mystery and the author trying to force feelings down our throats.  The dialogue just went out the window in quality and got overdramatic.  The plot was…. okay.  The execution of said plot was a little less okay but was ultimately drowned out by the terrible dialogue and characterizations that took over in the latter half of the novel.  The very very very very ending scene, actually, in theory, should have been satisfying, because it came full circle to the beginning, but the emotional arc of the novel was just garbled so much in that last half that that theoretical satisfaction was lost on me.

The social dynamic between the town and the Fae is really imaginative and well-thought out, but maybe a little underutilized because the characters in the town turned into flat, unimportant people who got blown out of the plot and existence at the slightest draft.

Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend this as a great book.  I think this is more YA and if you enjoy modern twists on fairytales and YA, I’d say it’s definitely a book worth looking into.  Reading the beginning quarter and dropping it is a little worth it, actually, just because that whole beginning premise is so cool.  Other than that, if I were to rate it, I’d probably give it 2.5/5 stars.

As always, Thanks for reading 🙂

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Bojack Horseman

I have a confession: the past 6 hours were spent in bed, crushing the entire second season of the netflix original Bojack Horseman.

I’m not much of a TV junkie, but I do have a handful of shows which manage to coax a “season-crushing marathon” out of me.  Actually, there are only a handful of shows that catch my attention long enough to get me to keep watching these days.

I used to watch TV all the time.  I devoured episode after episode, found new shows, watched everything it had to offer, then moved onto the next.  And this was only a couple years ago; I watched Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory, Merlin, Doctor Who, Sherlock… all shows I got into late and had multiple seasons to watch to catch up.

Hell, Breaking Bad I never watched until the entire show had wrapped up, and I marathonned the entire thing from beginning to end in a single week, skipping school in the process.  That week was simultaneously one of my proudest achievements and biggest regrets.  I love that I did that, that I can say that, but I felt like utter shit by the end of the week.

Then I started to get disillusioned from TV shows.  I finished Breaking Bad.  I stopped watching Bob’s Burgers and Doctor Who, I hate the Big Bang Theory now, Archer got boring, and Merlin had too many filler episodes but I managed to finish it.  It’s not that I hate TV shows, but my patience and taste for them has become more refined.  As in only a current handful can hold my attention these days.

Orange is the New Black, Twin Peaks (I’m late to that party, but I love Lynch and am currently watching those at a rate of about two episodes per week), and Bojack Horseman.  I haven’t really gotten invested in anything else for the last year and a bit more.

Anyways, enough of that unnecessarily protracted backstory Brief Aside, onto the meat of this post.

Bojack Horseman debuted last summer and quickly took the mantle of My Favourite TV Show (Netflix Original, but it’s episodic so it’s a TV Show to me), and there is an abundance of reasons for that.

If I were to give one of those one-line reviews you see flashing on trailers for new movies and shows, it would read “Gut-wrenching hilarity with startling moments of depth and sophisticated dark humour.” or something along those lines.

Bojack Horseman (Hereon referred to as BJ for BoJack and for fun) is a very well-written, solid show which does a lot of things right.  For one, it has no “filler episodes.”  If a show has “filler episodes” it probably means that show has terrible writing and the plot isn’t as concise as it should be.  Every scene shown fulfills a purpose of advancing the plot, or else being entertaining, and those that have no relation to the plot are generally 2-3 second clips of the show playing with it’s world.  Otherwise the entire thing is very driven, the characters rich and real, emotionally charged, and perfectly balances the adult themes of depression and commitment and whatnot with silly jokes.

The world it takes place in is a parody of our own where animals are anthropomorphic and live right alongside humans as, well, basically humans with fur and animal heads.  People acknowledge each other for what they are – BJ is a horse, and people call him a horse – and the animals adopt a lot of characteristics of the animals they’re based off of, but they live as people with people and even date/breed with humans.  The fact that animals are people is just an accepted fact in the show, and allows for a lot of small jokes.  There will be a short clip of a bird woman leaning over her stroller, puking into the mouth of her bird baby here, or a short clip of pidgeon people flapping their arms and flying there.  But the animal-people jokes aren’t just contained in short 3 second clips.  Characteristics of the animal side permeate into the character.  For example, BJ, at one point in season 1, explains that because he is a horse, he has to drink way more than any human male could drink just to get tipsy.  And consistently throughout the show you see him drinking far more than a human could handle.

As the show goes on they play with that world they’ve built more and more, and in the second season an entire episode deals with the difference between “people animals” and “food animals,” but I won’t go into that.

The main theme of BJ is, in my opinion, happiness, and how to attain it.  BJ struggles to be happy.  Other characters – Diane, Princess Karoline – have similar struggles.  Other people who have their dream job are happy.  At th end of the first season, BJ just landed a movie role to play his role model growing up, Secretariat, a race horse, and yet he’s still not happy.  But why not?

The show touches on many reasons, from his upbringing to choices he made in the past, but probably more importantly choices he still makes in the present that just exacerbate his situation and drive him deeper into his hole of wallowing in self-loathing.

The first episode of season 2 is particularly troubling.  BJs mother tells him near the end, “You were born broken; it is your birthright,” and being broken becomes a theme that resurfaces throughout.  He was born broken, so how can he become whole?  And that’s the important struggle in the season, to become whole, to find that happiness despite what’s already in his past, despite what’s still in his present.  It’s a very relatable struggle, I think, and if not than written well enough that the average watcher can pity BJ and root for him.  And even if the more serious under-and-overtones of the show don’t attract certain watchers, the comedy of BJ still could.  There’s a wide breadth of characters, all very defined in their personalities and actions, all fleshed out with their own struggles and they all bring a topic, be it serious or silly, something to talk about, to bring to the table.

I’m going to stop now because after six hours of watching a TV and another hour of staring at my laptop screen my eyes are getting pretty strained.  It’s a great day to flee from my shackles of technology to the outdoors, maybe read a little, maybe ruminate further on BJ.  Who knows, but I gotta get out of here.

Thanks again for reading, expect a book review from me in about two weeks tops 🙂

Born from Cynicism and Criticism

When I was younger, I used to read.  A lot.  Every day at school we had a “reading break” where for 30-45 minutes the teacher expected absolute silence except the crunch of turning pages as 30-odd students read their current book.

I was the one who always had the big-kid books that you could use to knock someone out with just the first quarter of pages.  Or if I read a smaller book, I’d have a different one by the next day because I just blasted through them.

Once the reading break was over, the teacher would call the students’ attentions and ask the books be put away, pay attention to me and the board now, we’re gonna talk about multiplication tables now.

As all the students shut their books, slipped them into the little cubbies hanging beneath the desks, and pulled out a piece of paper and pencil to copy down what the teacher was writing up on the board, I would just turn to the next page.

The teacher would be ten minutes into her lesson when finally she would sweep her gaze across the class and spot me, the only one with a book open, the only one not looking up at her.  Then I’d hear it.

“Blerrn”.

I was so consumed by the book that when she called my name it was just a distant, muffled noise.  It wasn’t until the teacher walked down the aisle of desks, stood beside me and said my name again right in my ear that I’d look up from those pages and into her somewhat amused, mostly exasperated face.

“Reading ended ten minutes ago,” she told me.

“Oops,” I said.

And then I’d pull out a piece of paper, a pencil, quickly copy down what was on the board and, as soon as her back was turned, look back at the pages of the book.

Only this time I’d read a couple sentences, look back up, keep it discreet.  Y’know?

Anyways, I was that kid.  Doctors called it being a fucking basket case being a healthy child with a functional level of ADHD.

Really I just didn’t care about school and what we were learning.  It’s not that I had troubles focusing.  My trouble was that I focused on the wrong things.

Like books.  And reading.

Anyways, my point is, I really loved stories as a young ‘un, from observing them through books and shows to creating my own through lego pieces and imagination.  And then eventually through writing.

As I grew up I started to become more and more interested in the actual craft behind telling stories through different mediums.  I started learning what makes for good writing and what doesn’t, and started noticing inexcusable writing crimes in books I read.  I became cynical and critical.

This blog is all about that.  That cynicism and criticism, in my journey to continue learning good craft from bad craft through close analyses, to pinpoint exact wrongdoings and articulate my feelings about them.

It is that and it is also an exercise in reviewing story items I have completed.  It is a way for me to organize my own thoughts about what I have just experienced and to go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of it in the hope that it improves my own writing.

And finally, it is an excuse to keep my fingers active on the keyboard.

My goal is to write a review for as many things I can, as often as possible.  Every book I read, every movie I watch, and so on.

Of course, goals are meant to be pursued, but not exactly obtained.  I’ll try my darnedest, but sometimes my darnedest ain’t darned enough, and sometimes there’s just too much going on to review everything.

But I just won’t talk about what I don’t review.  Nobody needs to know I’m slacking off.  A fundamental skill in life is to seem like you’re on top of your game.  Not actually be on it, but appear so.  What do you think facebook is for?  It’s to filter the bad from your life and make a comprehensive catalogue of the good in your life, and make it seem like that is your whole life.

Everything everyone ever does is a facade.  Remember that.

And on that note, let’s start looking on top of our game.  Let’s get to some darned reviews.

Next week.

When I’ve consumed something that I can regurgitate in your faces.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy what is to come.

🙂