Review: In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith

In the Path of Falling Objects Book Cover In the Path of Falling Objects
Andrew Smith

Jonah and his younger brother, Simon, are on their own. They set out to find what’s left of their family, carrying between them ten dollars, a backpack full of dirty clothes, a notebook, and a stack of letters from their brother, who is serving a tour in Vietnam. And soon into their journey, they have a ride. With a man and a beautiful girl who may be in love with Jonah. Or Simon. Or both of them.

The man is crazy. The girl is desperate. This violent ride is only just beginning. And it will leave the brothers taking cover from hard truths about loyalty, love, and survival that crash into their lives.

One more thing: The brothers have a gun. They’re going to need it.

Review:

I hate not finishing books, but I just couldn’t make it through In the Path of Falling Objects. This isn’t necessarily because it’s a bad book – I reserve judgment on that – but because I couldn’t handle the grit and ugliness of the stuff that happens in the novel.

I loved Andrew Smith’s book Winger, which is why I was so eager to read In the Path of Falling Objects. As it turns out, though, the two are nothing alike. Winger is hilarious, goofy, prep school fun (at least until the end – then watch out), all about friendship and crazy stunts and sports camaraderie and first love. In the Path of Falling Objects is more dirt and desperation and blood and terror and chaos.

The story is set in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Two brothers, Jonah and Simon, have left their home in New Mexico and are making their way on foot to Arizona, where they plan to greet their father when he’s released from a stint in jail. All the two boys have to their name are $10 dollars, a canteen of water, one or two changes of clothes, a gun, and a stack of letters that their oldest brother sent during his deployment.

Tensions are high between Jonah, 16, and Simon, 14. The two are starving, exhausted, and wearing hand-me-down shoes and clothes that are worn and ill-fitting. It doesn’t help that Simon, like many younger brothers, likes to push Jonah’s buttons and fight him on just about everything.

When a big, expensive-looking Lincoln rolls up next to the boys on the desert road they’re traveling, Simon flags it down and asks for a ride. The car’s inhabitants – a gorgeous young girl named Lilly and a scraggly-bearded guy named Mitch – acquiesce, and despite Jonah’s misgivings, the two boys take off with their new “friends.”

It becomes evident, almost immediately, that there’s something off about Mitch and Lilly. All sorts of nasty stuff commences once the brothers join up with them. Mitch and Simon (again, a 14-year-old boy) get high and strip naked together.Several people get shot in the head for no reason. Mitch purposely hits a coyote with the Lincoln and then uses Lilly’s metal nail file to saw off the coyote’s tail as a souvenir. And that’s just in the first quarter of the book.

I was really repelled by all of this, especially the coyote part and how blasé Lilly and Simon were about the fact that Mitch killed and mutilated a poor animal for absolutely no reason. Everything I read in In the Path of Falling Objects was so horrible and bleak and/or screwed up that it cast a pall over my evening and left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

This is going to sound stupid, but something else that turned me off was how dirty and gross the characters were. Apparently it’s not easy to practice good hygiene while trudging through the desert and traveling in a convertible where the top’s always down, even in the rain. The characters are constantly getting sweaty, sunburned, rained on, bled upon, etc. – and they only have a couple of changes of clothes to work with. They’ve got body odor, climb into bed in their soiled, wet clothes, go days without showering…it made me shudder. I’m so anal about cleanliness, and the boys’ lack of it skeeved me out. Especially disgusting? Mitch’s ratty beard and nasty yellow teeth. Ick.

Unlike Winger, where I enjoyed all of the characters in one way or another, I didn’t like any of the people in In the Path of Falling Objects. Simon is a little asshole who can do nothing but make an already challenging situation even tougher for his older brother, and his instant camaraderie with creepy, psychotic Mitch disgusted me. Jonah, though obviously smarter than his brother because he knows enough to fear Mitch, is still an idiot who’s easily taken in by a pretty face, even when he knows better. Mitch is just bat-shit crazy, and Lilly is a manipulative little minx who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do a damn thing to stop the madness and save the brothers or herself.

With all of these complaints in just the beginning of the book, I can’t imagine how turned off I’d be if I’d read the entirety of In the Path of Falling Objects. I can say one good thing about this story, though; it makes for a great public service announcement. Never get in a car with strangers, kids. I don’t care how thirsty or tired you are, or how hot the desert is – do not get in the damn car.

Review: Tris and Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison

Tris and Izzie Book Cover Tris and Izzie
Mette Ivie Harrison

Izzie loves Mark. He’s the perfect boyfriend: kind and loving and handsome, and he’s captain of the basketball team. Meanwhile, Izzie’s friend Branna loves somebody, but she won’t say who. So when a hot new guy, Tristan, shows up at school, who better for Izzie to fix up her friend with? And what better way to do it than with a love philtre?

But love philtres are tricky, and Izzie finds she’s accidentally fallen in love with Tristan herself. And that’s a problem. First of all, there’s Mark, and second, there are the supernatural creatures that keep attacking whenever Tristan is around. It’s bad enough she has two guys and Branna has none, now Izzie has to fight for her life?

Review:

My husband is probably getting ready to banish me from our living room. The poor guy is trying to kick back and watch TV after a long day at work, but I’m not making it easy for him. Every time he starts to relax, I unintentionally disturb the peace by grumbling to myself and exclaiming, “Are you kidding me?” and “Wow, I can’t believe she’s such an idiot!” while shaking Tris and Izzie in disgust.

I’d say Tris and Izzie exasperated me from beginning to end, but I didn’t actually make it to the end. The sheer absurdity of this book led me to call it quits around the midway mark.

The problems with this novel begin early on. One of the things that turned me off is how Harrison casually tosses outrageous revelations and occurrences into the story, with no apparent attempt at making the transitions seem natural. For example, in the very beginning Izzie and her best friend Branna are walking through the halls of their high school, chatting about GPAs, dating, and other run-of-the-mill topics. Then, in the midst of this oh-so-average high school scene, Harrison casually drops the line, “Branna knew my mom was a witch,” completely throwing me off. It was so abrupt and nonchalant, and it didn’t really fit.

This just kept happening. Two-headed dogs, giants, bizarre relationship twists, and unnecessary truth serums pop up at random, resulting in a story that feels goofy and disjointed.

Another reason I couldn’t bring myself to finish Tris and Izzie is that the titular characters annoyed the heck out of me. Izzie is a nincompoop with a habit of slapping people across the face (again, so random), and Tristan is nothing but a pretty boy with a woefully stilted manner of speaking. His most amusing line, (“Mark, could I offer to fetch some refreshments for the group?”), delivered during a homecoming football game, had me rolling my eyes and grumbling loudly enough to cause my husband to give me the hairy eyeball.

The whole thing is so annoying and overdone that I had no choice but to set it aside. I love the legend of Tristan and Isolde, but not enough to keep reading this version of the story.

Review: The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller

The Eternal Ones Book Cover The Eternal Ones
Kirsten Miller

Haven Moore has always lived in the tiny town of Snope City, Tennessee. But for as long as she can remember, Haven has experienced visions of a past life as a girl named Constance, whose love for a boy called Ethan ended in a fiery tragedy. 

One day, the sight of notorious playboy Iain Morrow on television brings Haven to her knees. Haven flees to New York City to find Iain and there, she is swept up in an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Is Iain her beloved Ethan? Or is he her murderer in a past life? Haven asks the members of the powerful and mysterious Ouroboros Society to help her unlock the mysteries of reincarnation and discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves, before all is lost and the cycle begins again. But what is the Ouroboros Society? And how can Haven know who to trust?

Review: 

Three quarters of the way into The Eternal Ones, I decided I needed a break. My plan was to read a different (a.k.a. better) book for a while then return to Miller’s novel at a later point in time.  After finishing the “break” book, however, I found myself starting another new book rather than going back to The Eternal Ones. When that second book was over, I started yet another.

A couple of weeks went by. One evening I happened to glance at my nightstand and was surprised to see The Eternal Ones – I’d forgotten all about it. I picked it up, figuring I should probably finish it at last, but then realized I had absolutely no desire to read any more of it. In fact, I had to make an effort to remember what it was even about.

In fairness to the author, part of my dislike for this book could be attributed to general lack of interest in novels about reincarnation. I don’t really buy into the idea of soul mates, either, which didn’t help matters. Other reasons for my unenthusiastic response include annoying characters and an overly sensational plot.

I don’t have much more to say about this book, other than: Skip it.

Review: Legacy by Cayla Kluver

Legacy Book Cover Legacy
Cayla Kluver

In her seventeenth year, Princess Alera of Hytanica faces one duty: to marry the man who will be king. But her father’s choice of suitor fills her with despair.

When the palace guard captures an intruder – a boy her age with steel-blue eyes, hailing from her kingdom’s greatest enemy – Alera is alarmed…and intrigued. But she could not have guessed that their clandestine meetings would unveil the dark legacy shadowing both their lands.

In this mystical world of court conspiracies and blood magic, loyalties will be tested. Courage won’t be enough. And as the battle begins for everything Alera holds dear, love may be the downfall of a kingdom.

Review:

My white flag is out, and it’s waving in surrender. I’ve made multiple attempts to plow forward through this book, but I’m at the point where I can’t take even one more chapter. I’m giving up and admitting defeat.

Legacy reminds me of a woman who’s drenched herself in perfume in an attempt to make herself alluring, only to end up overwhelming everyone around her. Kluver has filled her novel with so many elaborate descriptions and flowery turns of phrase that it’s unbearable. Rather than coming across as regal and sophisticated, as I believe Kluver intended, her efforts just seem pompous and silly. Sentences such as, “I will not have my daughter exposed to the vile creature about to be brought before us,” and “Fear swelled within me…for on this night, my home was not safe,” feel overdramatic and cheesy.

Another big problem I have with this book is that there are seemingly pointless scenes that do nothing to advance the plot. One example is a royal tea party, which apparently has no purpose other than giving Kluver an opportunity to write yet more cloying exposition. Take a look at the excerpt below:

“The tea service itself was very formal and somewhat orchestrated. Biscuits and sweet cakes were served along with the hot drink. We were expected to sit up straight, arms in at our sides, no leaning over the dishes or elbows on the table. Gentlewomen took small bites and ate slowly, and did not talk or drink with food in their mouths. In addition, only particular subjects were appropriate for a lady’s delicate sensibilities, but given the level of scrutiny we were under, we did not speak unless it was necessary.”

See what I mean? Why on earth did I need to read that? This book would be much shorter, and much more tolerable, if meaningless scenes and descriptions such as the one above were omitted.

The rules of propriety mentioned in the tea party scene lead me to the next issue I have with Legacy: the utter lack of originality.  Kluver’s novel, with its rigid patriarchal society and view of women as nothing more than dutiful and ornamental wives, feels very stale. An arranged marriage, a clueless and blustering father, swaggering suitors, and an outspoken princess are all elements that I’ve seen a million times before and don’t necessarily need to see again.

All of these problems, plus a dolt of a heroine and a plot that drags on and on, add up to a book that just isn’t worth reading.

Review: Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Nobody Book Cover Nobody
Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Some people are Nobodies: ignored, unloved, practically invisible in every way. No one notices them. No one cares about them. They exist under the radar, forgotten as soon as you turn away. No one sees them coming. No one sees them leave.

That’s why Nobodies make the perfect assassins.

Seventeen-year-old Nix is very good at his job. So when the organization he works for sends him after a teenage girl named Claire, he doesn’t ask questions. He’s a killer. She needs to die.

For sixteen years, Claire has led a normal life being overlooked. Her parents are absent. She doesn’t have any friends. She has no idea what she is, or why anyone would want her dead. But she’s about to find out, because from the moment Nix attempts to carry out his mission, the two are caught up in a conspiracy of murder, cover-ups, and betrayal.

Nix is a killer. Claire is his target. But when he sets eyes on her, everything changes, because only the two of them can truly see each other – and two Nobodies are twice as dangerous as one.

Review:

I respect what Barnes is trying to do here, but Nobody just didn’t work for me. I like that the premise is unique, but its intrinsic limitations made it impossible for me to finish the book.

The problem with two protagonists who are “practically invisible in every way” is that no one notices or cares about them. Claire’s own parents forget she exists, and other people fail to register her presence even when she bumps into them hard enough to knock what they’re carrying out of their hands. The lack of meaningful interactions results in a boring plot.

The rare cases when Claire and Nix do manage to get someone to acknowledge their presence are unsatisfying. At one point, Nix confronts his boss and demands to know why he has been ordered to kill a seemingly innocent girl. Nix is angry, threatening, and obviously dangerous – he’s an assassin, after all – but his boss is completely unfazed. She’s not afraid of him, or angry, and even when Nix wraps his hands around his boss’ neck and tries to choke the answer out of her, she barely fights back.

A book like this just isn’t sustainable. The romance between Nix and Claire can’t compensate for the anticlimactic nature of the rest of the relationships in the book. It’s possible that the novel picks up pace as it goes on, but I didn’t stick around to find out.