Mini Review: Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

Sweet
Emmy Laybourne

Feiwel & Friends
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Releases June 2, 2015
288 pages
YA / Horror-ish / Weird

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*People would kill to be thin.*

Solu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Forelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

*But will they die for it, too?*

Tom Forelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

Last week Emmy stopped by Working for the Mandroid to discuss how Sweet had a horror bent to it along with dabbling in several other subgenres, like comedy, romance and commentary on the weirdness of society’s obsession with thinness. While the variety in genre ideas makes Sweet a unique book, it also prevented me from diving into the weirdness. By not deciding what direction to take the narrative and instead trying to smash together several different types of genre tropes, Sweet ended up being a little half-baked to me.

It never goes full horror even when things start getting gory. It’s more goofy horror that’s heavy on the blood, but really light on chills or fear. It never caused me to laugh out loud, but rather the humor occasionally got a half-cocked eyebrow out of me. The social commentary never came close to hitting the heights of Beauty Queens, instead leaving me kind of sad and maybe even mildly offended at times. Only Laurel ever becomes much more than a flat character, though looking back all I can really tell you about her is that she plays classical guitar, comes from a loving, body accepting family, and really likes boots.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR THINGS THAT DON’T HAPPEN

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Mini Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation
Jeff VanderMeer

FSG Originals
Released February 4, 2014
195 pages
Science Fiction / Weirdness

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Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

This is a weird little book. It’s a Twilight Zone sort of homage with this constant sense of terror around the corner. Once you finally find the terrible thing though, it’s nothing like what you expect and things just keep getting weirder and weirder. As the beginning of a trilogy, Annihilation sets the stage for some bizarre adventures in a strange world, but instead comes away as an emotional character arc with plenty of emotional tension, but perhaps lacking a bit in plot or action.

I’ve tried writing this review several times since I read the book some time ago. It’s a weird book and it left me with weird feelings about it. At times I felt dumb for being bored by its lingering analysis of character emotions and back story. Other times I was genuinely creeped out by the mysterious Area X and all the bizarre things that seemed to be happening right outside the corner of the narrator’s vision.

There is a lot in Annihilation and I feel it would take another read through or two for me to fully grasp what it is VanderMeer has created. With an unreliable narrator telling a story from the first person, it’s a challenge to tell what is real and what is just some twisted version of reality. It’s a strange book from beginning to end and, while it’s a quick read, it has meat on its bones that deserve some time to be picked at and consumed. I don’t know if I’m going to move forward with the rest of the series, but I’m intrigued to do a bit of digging to see what other people have thought of the series.

Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong

John Dies at the End
David Wong

Thomas Dunne Books (2010)
469 pages
Adult / Fantasy / Supernatural

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STOP. You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands. NO, don't put it down. It's too late. They're watching you. My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this: The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension. John and I never had the chance to say no. You still do. I'm sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind: None of this was my fault. 

Saying this is the strangest book I have ever read would probably be an understatement. John Dies at the End is a bizarre amalgamation of frat boy humor, lost Ghostfacers episodes and the occasional dash of creative ingenuity. But mostly it's a giant bizarre mess of epic proportions written by a man who has some sort of penile obsession.

The first third of the book is a pretty awesome thrill ride (minus the many, many penis jokes crammed into every crevice possible - double entrendre only partly intended) about a bizarre adventure a group of young twenty-somethings have after meeting a fake Jamaican Rastafarian and being exposed to a drug simply called Soy Sauce. When the fake Jamaican explodes and people who took the Soy Sauce start dying in really freaky ways, David finds he's in a time-twisty adventure of insanity that leads him, his best friend John, Jennifer Lopez (not the celebrity, just a girl David has the hots for) and a couple of other guys to Las Vegas. There's a lot of blood shed involved, demon and monster attacks, and general nonsense that occurs during this adventure and it was generally entertaining.

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