Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Still looking for reasons why I finished ‘Looking for Alaska’

PicMonkey Collage
Oh wow…I don’t know where to even begin with this review. Okay, let’s start out by enumerating the most important elements of a good book. First and foremost a good read must have likeable, well-developed characters. Then, of course, there needs to be a plot. And let’s not forget that with every story, there needs to be believability. Even fantasy books have to be rooted in some semblance of reality, otherwise how are the readers ever going to relate to the story, the characters, the meaning of it all?!?

Now let’s dissect the many ways John Green ignored these key elements in this hot mess of YA fiction.

Likeable Characters

In this high school melodrama, I’m stuck with a whiny high school kid and his snarky clique of boarding school chums, all of whom are way too cool for school. Gee, does this sound vaguely familiar? Oh probably because the same annoying characters from Paper Towns were plopped into this book!

Remember that old MTV cartoon Darea? You know, the one about the emo monotone girl who mocked everything around her? Well if you enjoyed that, I suppose you might relate to these yahoos. I, on the other hand, got tired of the irony of it all. They were all so enveloped in their own little narcissistic worlds, save for the ringleader of the bunch, ironically named “The Colonel” who did have a few redeeming qualities. Come to think of it, this book might actually have been worthwhile if he was the lead character. But nope, we’re stuck in Pudge’s one-track mind throughout this sluggish journey of self-discovery. He’s that friend (we’ve all had one) who drones on and on about an unattainable crush, constantly ruminating about her mysterious ways. Who is the real Alaska? What’s driving her crazy mood swings? Why is she so self-destructive? WHO CARES?!? The girl in question—poetically named Alaska—is not in any way interesting, enigmatic or likeable. She knows poor Pudge has it bad, so she plays him like a fiddle, flirting, teasing and stringing him along just for fun. Playful and chummy one minute, downright evil the next (someone get this girl an exorcist!), Alaska is clearly surfing the extreme end of the bipolar spectrum. But, alas, this mysterious goddess rocks Pudge’s world, so he must make it his quest figure her out and ultimately get in her pants. And there, my dear readers, is your plot.

That's your cue to split, Pudge.

That’s your cue to split, Pudge.

The Plot

Halfway through the book I started to question when the plot would take shape. Come to think of it, that’s probably the point when you should call it a loss and toss it in the DNF pile. But like a good soldier, or idiot, I continued on. Like Alaska’s shameless teasing, the provocative chapter headings that counted down the “days before” kept me reading. What catastrophic even awaited this group of sardonic teenagers? Who’s gonna bite the big one? Please tell me it will be Alaska. Until we reach the aftermath chapters, the story slogs along at a snail’s pace. Here’s what we’ve got: Bored little rich boy demands to go to boarding school so he can find “the great perhaps.” He immediately joins the cool misfit clique (think Perks of Being a Wallflower). Then it’s nothing but chain-smoking, esoteric musings of “escaping the labyrinth” and pranks against the rich kids. When the catastrophic event finally hits, I’m already over it.

Believability

I’m sure Green has met a teenager at some point in his adult life, but it sure doesn’t show in this book. Though they were all absorbed in their narcissistic worlds (an intrinsic quality of this particular age demographic), these poetically minded kids were WAAAAY beyond their years. Apparently they are all child prodigies that can speak and think at a level that would put a 50-year-old philosophy professor to shame. That, my friends, is unfathomable. The sad reality is that kids express themselves in 60 characters or less, or whatever threshold it is that Twitter allows. I’m sorry, John Green, but the young Jack Kerouacs of the world are few and far between. I have no doubt that Mr. Green was one of those gifted kids who spent his Friday nights memorizing the famous last words of great American presidents (one of Pudge’s shticks). But the chances of finding a group of millennials who all have impressive academic hobbies such as this are slim to none. There’s this golden rule in writing called “write what you know.” Green clearly does not know teenagers. It would behoove him to spend a day studying them in their natural environment –a One Direction concert perhaps—and really listen to their dialect.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska's inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

Could that be the vast wasteland of Alaska’s inner arctic tundra? How very poetic.

On a happier note, I must admit that Green is a highly talented wordsmith. It’s easy to get lost in his lyrical prose and esoteric musings. But just like a movie can’t solely rely on all A-list actors, he can’t get by just on pretty writing. I know that YA is clearly a marketable genre for him, especially after his smashing success with The Fault in the Stars. But if he insists on creating these mythical teenage geniuses—who all seems to be cut from the same mold—these books are always going to miss the mark.

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Fifty Shades of Lame

541919_3911362915034_469792480_n121Let me start this off by confessing that I never read any of E.L. James’ books. After watching the movie, I can promise you that I never will. It’s totally unfair to judge a book by the movie, but this is a rare exception.

On a whim, I went to see this thing with a friend who actually read the book. When the credits started rolling, I sat in stunned disbelief and asked if the plot and the characters were fleshed out more in the book. She shook her said and told me, “nope that movie pretty much captured it all.” The next day I asked my massage therapist, who also read the book, if I’m missing out on anything.  She likened the writing quality to the prose in Green Eggs and Ham. So yeah, I will not be revisiting Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s s torrid love affair ever again—in books or subsequent movies. The embarrassment of sitting through this raunchfest in a packed theater was torture enough.

It’s not that I’m a total square with old fashioned values about sex. Hey, if you like booty clamps and whips go knock yourself out.  One of my biggest gripes is the violence. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, it’s part of the BSD&M game, but I couldn’t help screaming in my head, “boys don’t hit girls!” I just wanted to smack that creepy bastard when he kept walloping a semi-compliant woman with a belt. That’s right, a belt. In a perfect world, there would be no belt spanking. But sadly this is a favorite pastime for parents, animal abusers, and apparently horny bastards with mommy issues.

If I took a shot every time this girl bit her lip, I'd have one mean hangover the next day.

If I took a shot every time this girl bit her lip, I’d have one mean hangover the next day.

Another major problem is the lack of character development. They made Anastasia out to be this bookish English lit major with brains and class, but that all spiraled down the drain the moment she became entranced by the venerable Christian Grey. Other than the fact that he’s a rich, powerful playboy with a killer six-pack, what’s the appeal? Love, security, long walks on the beach? Nope. He doesn’t do any of that, which he repeats over and over again to this poor, daft girl who’s so hung up on taming the dragon.  There were so many points when she should’ve been running for the hills, but yet she kept bending over and taking it—literally.

This image sums up everything that's wrong with this story.

Here’s a lovely screen capture of the powerful Christian Grey carrying his weakened sex slave back to her bedroom where she gets to sleep alone every night.

And then there’s the “contract.” Per Christian’s many ridiculous demands, she must relinquish her freedom and become his “submissive.” If she signs on the dotted line, he’ll continue to shower her with laptops, flashy cars, and jet-setting trips around the world.  He even sweetens the deal by relieving her of a huge burden: her brain. You see, with a master and commander you don’t need to think for yourself anymore.  He gets to call all the shots and even control her drinking and eating habits. Boy what a relief it would be to chuck your brain in the dumpster and let some rich bastard be in the driver’s seat. Gee, where do I sign?

Needless to say, I lost all respect for Anastasia and even started to resent her for allowing this creep to take over her life. If she got tipsy at a party, he’d be there in a heartbeat ready to whisk her away from “danger” in his flashy car. He also rescued her from drinking one too many cosmos at brunch with her mom (a minor infraction that warranted a swift flogging). When she should’ve been filing a restraining order, she let him take her away on another whirly plane ride. Such fun!

They tried to make Christian a sympathetic character by showing him stooped over a piano playing a melancholy love song. At this point, I could care less about all the many layers to this onion.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m even more ambivalent about Anastasia’s decision to sign his ridiculous contract. From where I’m standing, she’s just another brainless piece of arm candy that can be easily bought with money and power.

Moral of the story: Just because something is widely popular with the masses that doesn’t mean it’s worth your time. Listen to the crap on the radio and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Beauty Pageants, the Media and Corporate Greed

541919_3911362915034_469792480_n121This post started off as a book review for Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens…but then I ended up going into a tirade about our society’s disturbing obsession with beauty and weight loss.  Read on if you’d like to join me as I shake my crusty old lady cane at the downward spiral of pop culture in our country!

First off, I must tip my hat to Libba Bray for taking a satirical jab at the media—and how our society is still so accepting of archaic, patriarchal customs like beauty pageants. How these things are still accepted in modern times is beyond me. Now dog shows, I totally support. There’s nothing wrong with judging dogs based on good looks and obedience. But women? Call me crazy, but does it seem fundamentally wrong to anoint an “All-American” woman based almost entirely on how well she can sashay down a runway in sequined evening gown and skimpy swimwear?

In Beauty Queens, the author does a bang-up job showing how the teen castaways 9464733were programed by the media (and their equally brainless stage moms) to strive for nothing more than to become the next “Teen Dream.” They were taught to only worry their pretty little heads about being the most beautiful, thinnest shining star at the pageant. I loved watching them evolve from starry-eyed “Teen Dreamers” to survivalist renegades. The longer they were removed from their self-obsessed worlds, the more they were able to see themselves for who they truly were.

Even though this book is about as deep as Wiley Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon, it will get you thinking about everything that’s wrong with the media and corporate greed. I hope it will help teens realize that there’s more to life than what they see on in the mirror.

Admittedly, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life nitpicking my appearance, but now I’m starting to let all that crap go. My first step is to put up my blinders in the checkout aisle. Those magazines that promise us women folk that we can lose 20 pounds in one month can be oh so very tantalizing. Especially when your eyes flit to another magazine cover shaming a slew of celebrities in unflattering bikinis with cellulite dimples on their legs. And right next to that tabloid is a cover of US Weekly depicting “scary skinny” celebs. Too fat! Too skinny! Lose Half Your Body Weight in One Month! Good God, there’s no escaping these anxiety-provoking messages!

Funny how magazines like The Atlantic or The Economist aren’t ripe for the picking at the checkout stands. It’s sad to think that people are more prone to impulse buying a magazine about weight loss and burned-out celebs instead of something more substantial that will challenge their views about the world outside an ULTA store.  

And how come we don’t see these weight-obsessed magazines marketed toward men? It’s 2014, people! Women have come a long way, but the media still wants to keep us trapped in the 1950s mindset. Statistics show that more women are getting college degrees than men. They’re running board rooms, bringing home the bacon and frying it in the pan! They’re running for governor and filibustering for women’s rights (thank you, Wendy Davis!), so should we still be worrying about being pretty to find and keep a man? I think not.  

So kudos to you, Libba Bray, for giving this issue some much-needed attention—and in a very entertaining way no less! Ya Ya Sistas!

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Black Thursday and Corporate Greed

I saw something absolutely horrifying this morning. Keep in mind, I’m an avid fan of zombie apocalypse movies, so it takes a lot to rattle my cage.  No, it wasn’t a snake coiled under my bed or a rabid Rottweiler crouched next to my car. It was something far more disturbing. When I flipped on the news, images of ravenous bargain-hunting fiends crawling over each other at Wal-Mart checkout stands flashed upon my TV screen like a bad omen of humanity’s impending doom.

You’re probably thinking, “So what? It’s Black Friday – a fucked up holiday tradition that corporate America has taught us to embrace.” But that’s where you’re wrong. You see, Black Friday is now one and the same with Thanksgiving. Rushing the holidays before Halloween just isn’t enough anymore. Now the big box stores are eclipsing Thanksgiving by launching their big sales on Thursday evening.

Oh sure, we’re still given a small window for turkey eating, but you can forget about wasting time on all of those little things like catching up with family, beating your big sister at Monopoly or watching a post-feast movie. As a matter of fact, all of that banter around the dinner table is just a distraction from your bargain hunting emails and apps. And geez – why did Grandpa Joe have to waste a whole five minutes on the blessing? All of that talk about being thankful for family, food and American freedom almost made you forget to text your BFF about the newly marked down iPhone.

Good thing you were able to catch up on the latest bargains by watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, the world’s longest commercial. You know, I used to enjoy that parade, but this year did it seem like the producers said, “Let’s throw a little parade into our commercial”? Eventually I had to turn it off before Santa’s appearance because my hand was getting tired from all the fast-forwarding.  

Maybe it’s the same old parade. And maybe this Black Thursday business is just a new way for retailers to get back on their feet. Perhaps I’ll learn to let our society’s infatuation wtih consumerism roll off my back. But right now, I’m pretty irate about greedy corporate giants and the millions of dedicated shoppers who allow them to exploit their workers. Next time you’re shopping at Wal-Mart, be sure to be a little nicer to that disgruntled cashier. Don’t take it personally when they ignore you or respond to your questions with a dismissive grunt. They’re probably just a little bitter because while you’re asking about what kind of apps you can download on the new Google tablet, they’re probably thinking about all the fun their family is having without them at Thanksgiving dinner. Or heck – they could be dying a slow painful death because they’re unable to afford their health insurance premiums.

So on this retrospective day when we should all be breaking bread with our loved ones, storming the “door-busters” should be the last thing on our minds. Techy gadgets, designer jeans and 50-inch flat-screens will not hold your hand at your grandmother’s funeral. They will not drive out of their way to help you fix a flat tire. They will not hold you close on a cold winter’s night.  I love a good sale as much as the next girl, but I think it’s worth it to pay a little extra at the mall than to ditch my friends and family – and the meaning of Thanksgiving – for a bargain basement deal.

Jessica’s Cranky Corner (No. 2) Don’t Call Me Ma’am!

Is this the face of a “ma’am”? I think not.

It happened again today. I was tremendously insulted by a perky little Starbucks barista. No, she didn’t roll her eyes in impatience, make a rude comment behind my back, or poke fun at my obnoxiously pink outfit. She did something far worse. She called me “ma’am.”  

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a very tolerant person. When they screw up my drink order or take a long time ringing up the high-maintenance customer ahead of me, I just roll with it. Heck – sometimes I even give them a sympathetic smile. Working in retail sucks, and I know from experience that these people – no matter how robotic or surly they may seem – need a big hug at the end of the day. But one thing they should never EVER do is call someone without a full head of gray hair “ma’am.”

Why do they do it? Out of respect for their elders? Well guess what people, I’m not a granny! A lady never reveals her true age, so let’s just say that I’m squeezed between the Kate Hudson-Reese Witherspoon age brackets. Do they look like ma’ams to you? I don’t think so.

I’m still a youngin’ dammit!  I can still squeeze my tush into a pair of jeans from the juniors section! I boogie to Lady Gaga! I say things like “LOL,” “TTYL,” and “ROTFL!” Wait…those techy acronyms are still hip, right? Do young people still even say “hip” anymore? Great – now I’m starting to doubt my cool factor!

But I digress…my point is that the word “ma’am” should be boycotted from the robotic customer service scripts that retail grunts must adhere to. This is an important rule that should be enforced in new employee handbooks. I tried to educate a checkout boy at my local grocery store, but to no avail. After he asked, “Did you find everything OK today ma’am?” I told him very politely that he shouldn’t ever call a woman under the age of 60 “ma’am.” I thought I got through to him until he muttered, “Do you need any help carrying these bags out to your car ma’am? UGH! That’s when I realized there’s no hope. Clearly, the word is so deeply embedded in their brains, so I might as well get used to it.

We’re about the same age. Does she look like a “ma’am”? No!

So as I’m sinking into the “acceptance stage” of my grief, I take pleasure in knowing that what goes around comes around. One day, they too will be called “ma’am.” I hope they walk away with their heads down low. I hope the dreaded word causes them to wince in agony. I hope they spend gobs of money on “age-defying” makeup at the MAC counter (cue evil laughter).

Wow – I’m really getting heated about this. Maybe I’m just feeling ultra-sensitive because I turned another year older today. I’m not totally freaking out about my declining youth. Old people have fun too. I have lots to look forward to – like Bingo nights, RV adventures and senior specials! I’m not in denial…really. Since today’s my b-day, I’m going to treat myself to this fun little book by Linda Franklin, “Don’t Ever Call Me Ma’am.” Misery loves company, right?

What do y’all think? Is “ma’am” an inexcusable insult? Post a comment and partake in my cranky rant!

Introducing Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Dirty Bloggers

I’m a naturally perky, bubbly, fun-loving girl. I love sunshine, furry woodland creatures and lollipops. But sometimes (typically on a full moon) I get royally PISSED! There are things in this world that really get my goat, and sometimes I just want share my angry rants with the world atop a mountain with a giant megaphone.  But alas, we only have scrubby hills in Austin and only the squirrels and grackles would be subjected to my soapbox tirades.

While enduring a painfully obnoxious scene at a free concert (picture gaggles of high school kids with iPhones), I got to thinking…the pen is more powerful than the almighty sword. So why not share my cantankerous ramblings with my lovely readers? When the mood strikes me, I’m going to vent about an everyday situation that probably pisses you off as well!

For my inaugural Jessica’s Cranky Corner post, I would like to vent about the seedy underbelly of book blogging.

When I created Chick Lit Café just a mere two years ago, I had no idea there were so many unwritten rules of decorum among my fellow bloggers.  Don’t emulate another blogger’s meme without permission. Don’t claim an alias without doing a thorough Google search first. The list goes on and on. For more about this, check out the sassy and unabashedly candid Bookish Brunette. This girl is always on the up and up about hot-button issues in the blogosphere.

As you can see, there’s a lot of room for error in the book blogging community. After the Story Siren plagiarism debacle, we all need to keep in mind that our actions will have consequences. So when I discovered a group of chick lit bloggers are actually charging authors $95 for “favorable” reviews, I was completely flabbergasted! Call me crazy, but book blogging should not be a moneymaker!

Not only did these yahoos try to scam the author into paying for a dishonest review, they also threatened to take legal action after she blew the whistle about their shady dealings on Twitter. Wait, what? They’re going to sue her for telling the truth? That makes a heck of a lot of sense – NOT!

The author, Michele Gorman posted a detailed a report of her correspondence with the bloggers on her site. Get a load of their “advice.”

“You are young and need to learn a lot about life still, especially when it comes to business practices. What you are doing is causing others (especially the people that matter) to see you as a trouble maker, and then they won’t want to work with you.”

Wow! Oh and it gets worse. Check this out:

Have you ever heard of kirkus, they charge $425.00 -$575.00 per review. There are a lot of companies that charge for reviews. Educate yourself before harrassing us next time. We have the ability to track IP addresses, so I would think twice before you begin to defame our name…That is illegal, and we will take action. Our attorney has been notified! And before you go accusing us of anything, open your eyes, our disclosure link is right there on our home page.

Here’s a fun fact: Kirkus reviews, distributed to bookstores and libraries, are unpaid. Kirkus Indie reviews are paid, and only go to a segregated, less visible part of their website.

In my humble opinion, the book blogosphere should be a greed-free zone. We should be so lucky to win the attention of authors like Michele Gorman and get free books in the mail! My “payment” is the community that I’ve built with authors and fellow bloggers. When authors offer to send me a book or post a comment under a review, I feel like a rock star! These people work hard and produce some quality books that sometimes, in this sad state of publishing, slip into obscurity. But sadly, I have no doubt some indie authors – desperate to get their name out there – are paying these losers for “favorable” reviews.

Hopefully after this sad news trickles through the online literary community, more authors will be savvy enough to take a pass on these money-grubbing turkeys.  The author was gracious enough to not disclose the name of the shady blog, which is a lot more than what I would have done! I do give her mad props for raising awareness about these sleazeballs.

What do you think? Is it cool for bloggers to charge for reviews? Feel free to post a cranky comment!