Book Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

In this conclusion to Janie Johnson’s harrowing story about being kidnapped as a child and raised in another family, readers finally get answers to all the questions they have about Janie’s life, Janie’s families, and what happened to Hannah, the woman who kidnapped her.

Except this is a hot mess of a novel and pretty much undoes any of the good that the beginning of the series ever did.  Unless you’re a die-hard fan of Cooney’s early 90s series, there’s no reason to pick this one up.  Ever.  At all.  A confusing timeline, what can only be described as flat, lifeless writing, and virtually NO PLOT make this one a total miss.

Nothing about this ever gels.  Janie’s in college now, but she’s still as vapid and childish as she ever was.  The way she talks and thinks about the world is from another era, but somehow we’re in present-day, where everyone has Facebook and iPhones and is connected via social media.  If we’re only five years in the future from when the first book took place, how did we make such a jump in terms of technology?  Nothing about the previous story lines work within the context of present day, and because of this, nothing about this story feels at all plausible.

None of the other characters make up for Janie’s rampant obliviousness and selfish actions.  I read one review where the reviewer referred to Janie’s family as a bunch of “wackadoos,” and it really couldn’t be more apropos.  Everyone in the novel is straight up crazypants, and not in a fun way.  The only person with anything resembling an interesting voice is Hannah, and the novel’s rushed ending ruins even that.

Therein lies the real problem here: nothing happens.  For 300 pages, Cooney wastes everyone’s time by not doing anything to really further the plot.  It’s only in the novel’s rushed final pages that readers and characters alike get anything resembling a conflict, a climax, and a resolution.  It’s a bore and a chore to get through this one, and the pay off isn’t nearly worth the time invested.

If you’re a die-hard fan who must know if Janie and the totally cardboard Reeve get together, read the last couple of pages.  Other than that, this is a total miss.  Just go re-read the first novel in the series again and bask in the 90s glory.  A total disasterpiece.

Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review.

Book Review: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

Ana and Christian are married and trying to settle into married life.  Both of them are struggling with what this union means.  Ana is trying to adjust to Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own values (I didn’t realize she had them) and beliefs.  Christian is trying to overcome his overwhelming desire to control every aspect of Ana’s life, from what she puts in her mouth (food-wise and, um, otherwise) to what she puts on her body.  Both are having a hard time with coming to terms with the fact that marriage didn’t solve all their problems.  There’s also some sort of conflict involving Ana’s lecherous old boss having it out for her, but it’s sort of beside the point and only serves to justify Christian’s creepy obsession with keeping tabs on Ana. Oh, and Ana gets knocked up.  I don’t want to talk about.

As with my review of Fifty Shades Darker, I’m not sure what else there is to say about this third book.  Whereas the first book had some novelty simply because it was such a train wreck, this one continues to disappoint and bore.  There’s nothing new here, and I’m not sure what there is to say about that, either.

Christian continues to be an alarmingly abusive love interest.  Ana continues to be unbelievably stupid and naive, despite everything she’s experienced since meeting Christian.  Both characters continue to contradict themselves, telling one thing and demonstrating its complete opposite.  Christian is probably the greatest example of a raging sociopath masquerading as a hero.  I guess that’s noteworthy, but is that something to be proud of when it wasn’t intentional?

One can only assume that because James originally wrote this as one long fic, there wasn’t time to really become a better writer.  If anything, her writing tics and cliches get worse in this third installment, as Ana and Christian have an annoying tendency to refer to one another as Mrs. and Mr. Grey.  All of it is so nauseating and creepy and unappealing.  Ugh. This book.

The problem is, there’s no story here.  Like the other two books, James draws out a story that could have been told in 250 pages, tops.  For almost the entire book, Ana and Christian manipulate one another.  It gets to the point where the reader starts to wonder if either of these characters even knows how to speak to another human being.  Apart from that, nearly nothing happens.  They have an enormous amount of fairly boring sex.  Ana still refers to her inner goddess and her subconscious, which sets my teeth on edge.

What else is there to say?  There are the usual character inconsistencies, a couple of instances where James messes up and refers to a character by their original Twilight character’s name (those were the best moments, if we’re being honest), and more than one “down there” reference, which just makes me giggle.  Seriously, that’s the best you can do?

There is, of course, a certain poetry in the title.  With the completion of Fifty Shades Freed, I’m finally able to let go of this abominable series.  I’m embarrassed that I read all three of the books, but I’m glad that I get to forget about them now, just as the rest of the world will.  Eventually.

Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James. Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House: 2012. Borrowed copy.

Book Review: Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond

In Dustin Diamond’s memoir about his time as Screech on the much-mocked and much-beloved (ironically?) 80s sitcom Saved by the Bell (as well as its spin-offs), he takes a no-holds barred approach to spilling the dirt on his cast mates.  Diamond recounts his days on the set with his much-older peers, his brushes with other celebrities of the day (as much as Jaleel “Urkel” White can be counted as a celebrity), and his myriad sexual encounters with women.  Be prepared, readers, for you’re in for a bumpy ride.

There are so many problems with Diamond’s memoir that it’s hard to know where to start.  This might be the biggest disasterpiece I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of really, really crappy books).  Perhaps the biggest problem is that from the onset, Diamond presents himself of the voice of authority and experience.  This is even present in the book’s subtitle, which states that it goes “behind the scenes of Saved by the Bell with the guy who was there for everything.”  The problem is that not only was Diamond not there for most things, but he’s clearly also delusional, or a pathological liar.  That works for Diamond’s purposes, though, because the only way that readers are going to believe the contents of this book is if they are very stupid or total superfans who want to be scandalized.

The fact remains, though, that Diamond doesn’t present anything particularly scandalous or shocking, and the allegations he does make are not backed up by facts or anecdotes or even tidbits of stories.  All of the alleged bad behavior that went on onset is the stuff of normal teenagerdom, and it becomes clear, early on, that Diamond wasn’t actually present for any of it.  Once readers realize this, the book alternately bores and grosses out.

Diamond is incredibly bitter about his entire life, and much of his vitriol is aimed at his fellow cast members.  There doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason for Diamond’s hatred of his costars, but it’s present all the same.  He takes them all to task for various reasons: Mark-Paul Gosselaar was fawned over by the producers and was thus “the Golden Child;” Mario Lopez was a womanizer who started working out too early in life; Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was a whore; etc.  Particularly disturbing is Diamond’s weird obsession with Gosselaar’s heritage: more than once, he makes comments about Gosselaar’s Thai heritage that are blatantly racist.  There are moments where you realize that this can’t all be true: there’s several anecdotes about Diamond playing around with Lopez and Gosselaar on set, and when he had a stalker, he lived with Thiessen and her family until the situation was handled.  These things don’t add up.

If the book were being honest–if, indeed, Diamond could be honest with himself–this memoir would talk about the fact that Diamond was on a show where he was surrounded by people both older and cooler than him, and that despite his desperate desire to belong, he never did.  This would be an interesting memoir: one in which Diamond is capable of being both vulnerable and self-reflective.  Of course, none of that is present here, as Diamond puts on an air of smugness and weird superiority from the first line.

Instead of offering any sort of actual content, though, Diamond prefers to focus on sex.  He spends a great deal of time hinting at all the sex his cast members were having with one another, but there’s no evidence to support this.  There’s a fairly lengthy passage where Diamond makes the claim that he’s pretty sure both Gosselaar and Thiessen were having a threesome with producer Peter Engel in order to curry favor.  In these (frankly, imagined) scenes, Diamond sits outside the office and stares at a closed door.  Never is it more clear that most of–if not all–this is in his head.

This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about Diamond’s preoccupation with sex.  In the memoir, he claims to have slept with over 2,000 women, the majority of whom he picked up at Disneyworld.  Diamond also repeatedly refers to his penis as “the monster in [his] trousers.”  It’s not the claims that I take issue with–I don’t really care if he’s slept with that many people, and it’s certainly not my business–it’s the vulgar way he goes about describing these encounters.  He talks about women he’s slept with with the kind of callousness you expect from some drunk old douche in a bar, and his disregard for them as human beings is repulsive.  All of this frank discussion about sex hints at what is really going on, of course.  Saved by the Bell took away his sexuality (watch an episode–any episode–of SbtB and you’ll see it immediately), and Diamond is on a mission to reassert his masculinity and sexuality.  It’s gross and sad and more than a little pathetic.

This revisionist history of the cult-classic 80′s sitcom is worth skipping, even for the die-hard fan.  Diamond’s recounting of his time on the show and his life afterwards is almost impossible to slog through.  It’s not just his insufferable tone or the fact that he’s clearly lying: the book is not well-written and doesn’t appear to have been edited at all.  Mistakes and typos abound.  With nothing new to offer readers, nothing about this memoir is worth reading.  Pass on it, and watch the series again instead.

Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond. Transit Publishing: 2009.  Borrowed copy.

Book Review: Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

Turns out Ana couldn’t handle Christian’s “singular sexual tastes” and has broken off their relationship.  That lasts all of three days, and then the two are back together, with Christian promising to try a “vanilla” lifestyle.  As Ana helps Christian deal with the inner-demons that have made him into such a screwed up human being (allegedly), she must also deal with the fact that she’s irrationally angry over his past sexcapades.

Readers, I don’t know what’s left to say.  All of the problems of the first book are out in full force in this follow-up.  The problematic writing, flat characters, horrifically stilted (British) dialogue, and lack of an actual plot are all present and accounted for.  This novel tries to incite some more action by creating conflicts in the form of Ana’s lecherous boss Jack and Christian’s former dominatrix Elena, but both characters are so cartoonish that it hardly matters.  Besides which, their stories are so buried under the sex and angst that is the Christian and Ana Show that one can almost forget there’s supposed to be a conflict.

There’s no improvement in the writing, probably because James wrote all three novels as one long (seriously, SUPER LONG) fic.  She makes ample use of Ana’s inner goddess and subconscious (which is still not the right word for what she’s attempting) to the point where it set my teeth on edge.  Ana is still completely clueless, incapable of remembering things that happened a mere page before, and totally spineless when it comes to Christian.  Christian is still a controlling asshat, despite his promises to be a real boyfriend.

The book continues to reinforce the idea that damaged people incapable of real relationships are the only ones who engage in BDSM.  Christian maintains that the only reason he likes the sorts of sexplay that he does is because of his damaged childhood.  Ana continues to wonder about the darkness inside Christian  while alternately sniping at anyone else who has the audacity to question whether or not Christian is a good guy.  The characters continue to contradict themselves.  It’s still a huge mess of a book, and it’s way, way, way, too long.

The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ll have the stomach to finish the series.  Part of me is screaming that life is too short–and another part of me wants to see it through to its logical end.  We’ll see.

Fifty Shades Darker by E L James. The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House: 2011. Borrowed copy.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

College senior Anastasia Steele is simply doing her sick roommate a favor by going to interview successful entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine. She doesn’t expect to be drawn to him, and he to her.  When Ana realizes that she wants the mysterious Christian, she’s at a loss, especially when he reveals that he has special tastes when it comes to women.  Can she navigate Christian’s dark world?  Does she even want to?

The fact is, this novel is incredibly problematic.  Everything about this is a mess.  The prose is painfully amateurish and clunky.  The book’s characters are so unbelievably flat and lifeless that it’s difficult to imagine them as anything but little paper dolls.  The lack of an actual plot means there’s no real conflict or tension.  Of course, perhaps the most problematic element of the novel is James’s depiction of BDSM relationships, and the scary, damaging message she sends (unintentional though it might be) as a result.

Let us start with the novel’s prose.  At best, James’s prose is competent, and at worse it’s completely distracting.  For two characters who are supposed to be solidly American, they have an unfortunate tendency to speak with a plethora of British slang terms.  It’s clear that no editing was done to alter this at all.  It’s clear that James doesn’t believe her readers are capable of any sort of intelligent thought.  There’s no nuance here, and there’s certainly no subtlety–details are repeated over and over, as if the reader forgets what they have read immediately after digesting it (one should be so lucky).  The overuse of ellipses and italics also distract from the story and often cause confusion.

There’s also the problem of James’s tendency to use weird verbal tics that distract the reader.  It gets to the point where Ana is saying “Oh my!” on nearly every page.  She also has two inner voices (apparently the fact that the novel is written in first person from Ana’s point of view wasn’t enough): her inner goddess, which seems to be a euphemism for her vagina (a word that Ana never says, by the way), and her subconscious (no, seriously), who seems to chastise her.  The fact that James probably means “conscience” when she says “subconscious” is never addressed.  The fact that Ana couldn’t be aware of her “subconscious” because it is, indeed, something below the level of consciousness is never addressed.  Nevermind the fact that both of these inner voices are totally cringe-worthy, annoying, and completely unnecessary–one of them isn’t even possible.

Then there’s the issue of the novel’s characters, who are also supposed to serve as the book’s plot.  In her attempts to keep Ana completely innocent of the world around her, James makes it so that she has no access to a computer or to an email account–which, in 2011, is completely preposterous, especially for a college senior.  In addition to these total stretches of credulity, James spends an awful lot of time telling the reader things about her characters–and then manages to show the complete opposite of what she’s just told her audience.

Ana is so completely bland and unremarkable that it is astounding anyone would be drawn to her (let alone every male in the book).  She’s also completely stupid and seems incapable of inferring anything from any human interaction.  It’s not her supposed innocence that’s the problem here: it’s the fact that we’re told over and over again that Ana is smart, when in fact she demonstrates the total opposite throughout the novel.  Her only real defining qualities, besides stupidity, are her propensities for immature adolescent thought and shallow judgments about the people around her.  She wants the fantasy–admits as much–and struggles with the fact that Christian has any sort of baggage.

Christian is another problem entirely.  He’s an asshole of the finest order, only he’s supposed to be Ana’s protector and stalwart hero.  He’s a total manipulator, a control freak, and completely abusive.  When he has Ana sign a non-disclosure agreement before unveiling the fact that he lives a BDSM lifestyle, he is ensuring that Ana can’t discuss it with anyone but him–and she is a virgin who has no understanding of what is normal or healthy with regard to BDSM.  If this isn’t abusive and a total disregard of kink ethics, I don’t know what is.

Ana views Christian’s propensity for dominant/submissive sex as a monstrous thing.  There’s this underlying sense that if Ana teaches him how to really love, she can “cure” him of enjoying kinky sex.  This is where this book’s fundamental problem lies: more than the bad writing or the lifeless characters, it is James’s untrue and damaging portrayal of BDSM that is the most worrying.  By creating characters who view BDSM preferences as being the product of abuse as a child and as being “darkness” that must be cured, a message is sent that says that BDSM is something for people who are too damaged and screwed up to have a “real, normal” relationship.  There’s also this strange dichotomy throughout the novel wherein James separates the concept of romantic love from BDSM, as if the two cannot coexist.  What, exactly, is that about?

Of course, there’s also the fact that the kink factor in this book, while much talked about, is woefully tame.  It allows the average reader to be mildly scandalized while also feeling fairly ensconced in safety.  The whole reason a novel like this becomes popular is because it allows readers to have their moral high road while secretly getting off on the supposed “danger” of what is occurring on the page.  All of this is easier to swallow, of course, because readers know that eventually Ana will “cure” Christian of his monsters.

TL;DR: No conflict, no character development, and no real chemistry makes this an overlong read with nothing to recommend it.  Those looking for good erotica should go elsewhere.  Hell, those looking for good Twilight fan fiction should go elsewhere–there’s nothing here worth delving into.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House: 2011.  Borrowed copy.


Book Review: Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison

Izzie and Mark have been dating for a while.  Izzie’s always been secure in her relationship with Mark because he feels safe.  Her life is pretty good until new boy Tristan shows up and shakes up her entire world.  She decides that the best way to deal with Tristan is to give him a love potion (which he’ll share with her best friend Brangane).  Things go wrong when Izzie herself ends up sharing the potion with Tristan.  As she falls for him, she realizes that life is about to get a lot more complicated–and magical.

Honestly?  I don’t know where to start.

Everything about this book screams unfinished: the prose is so badly written that I found myself wondering (quite often) if the book got its start as fan fiction somewhere.  It certainly seems plausible: hailed as a modern retelling of Tristan and Isolde (a story which most readers probably aren’t familiar with, unless they’ve seen the atrocious movie version starring James Franco from some years back), there’s got to be a group of people out there who devote time to rewriting this classic love story.  I should state, for the record, that I have no problem with fan fiction in general.  It’s a creative outlet, and I respect that.  What I have trouble with is the fact that this book is a complete and total mess.

The problem starts with the fact that apart from borrowing some character names and the concept of a love potion, there’s not much to this story that could be considered a retelling of the love story.  After Harrison sets up the basic premise, she allows the narrative to spin wildly out of the realm of the original legend.  Tristan is from another world (kind of?) and so is Izzie.  The two must face off against a slew of monsters and beasties who want Izzie dead.  The original legend is convoluted enough; Harrison’s rendering of the story even more so.

Fantastical story elements would be easier to swallow if every aspect of the story didn’t seem so clunky.  The magical elements of Tris and Izzie’s world are so awkwardly inserted into the story that it’s jarring.  There is an unbelievable amount of exposition, and the narrative itself is disjointed and repetitive.  None of the characters are developed in any real way and most are vapid and unlikable.  The dialogue is stilted and unnatural.

I can’t recommend this book in good conscience.  The cover is gorgeous, which makes the book all the more deceptive.  It’s possible that very young teen readers will enjoy this book for the simple romance and the light action sequences, but I have my doubts about that.

Tris & Izzie hits bookshelves TODAY.

Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison.  EdgmontUSA: 2011.  Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

Movie Review: Beastly (2011)

When a vain but popular high school boy named Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) pisses off a witch (Mary Kate Olsen), he ends up visually transformed as punishment and must find a girl to love him before the year is up.  Enter the pretty, smart, motivated Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens).  A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, based on the eponymous novel by Alex Finn, the best thing this movie has going for it is that it’s only 86 minutes long.

Okay, that might be a little bit of hyperbole.  There are other things that are tolerable in this movie, but they are few and far between.  The problem lies mostly with the fact that writer-director David Barnz caters so directly to the movie’s demographic (the tween and teen set who watch the CW’s programming with nary a trace of irony) that the movie never really becomes anything.  There is no life given to any of the characters, and what’s more is that none of the situations they find themselves in are ever remotely believable.  An example, if I might: at one point, Lindy is in peril at the hands of a drug dealer who demands money from her father, and Kyle swoops in (literally swoops) and takes care of business.  I actually busted out a choke-laugh of disbelief.

For a movie that is supposed to be thick with witchcraft, there is very little magic to be found here.  The cast, to its credit, is mostly talented but is given nothing to work with.  Even Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle’s blind, snarky tutor, does little to elevate his scenes.  There were multiple times during my viewing of this movie where I could sense the cast’s embarrassment of being associated with the film (this was never more clear than when Peter Krause was onscreen, miscast and uncomfortable–did he lose a bet? Owe a favor to someone?).  Hudgens is adorable and smirks for the camera just fine.  Pettyfer, for all his good looks, does an absolutely terrible American accent.

The thing is, everyone associated with the movie knows what the deal is with a movie like this.  It’s not meant for adults–not really.  It’s meant for those teens I mentioned at the beginning of the review.  They’re the same ones who grew up watching High School Musical and consuming the brands that this (and other movies like it) place for optimal viewing opportunities.  The movie is best viewed on a weekend afternoon, preferably when you’re hungover and there’s nothing else on.

Beastly is available on DVD now.

Movie Review: Something Borrowed (2011)

Darcy (Kate Hudson) and Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) have been best friends forever.  While Darcy is vivacious and a little vain, Rachel is quiet and reserved.  On the eve of her 30th birthday, at a party that Darcy throws for her, Rachel ends up sleeping with Darcy’s fiancee Dex (Colin Egglesfield).  The two embark on an ill-advised affair, feeling guilty but also exhilarated.

Directed by Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) with a script adapted by Jennie Snyder Urman from Emily Giffin’s bestselling eponymous novel, this movie attempts to answer hard-hitting questions like: Is it ever okay to sleep with your best friend’s fiancee?  And: Are there really people this boring in real life?  The answer to both?  I hope not.  An interminably long movie that plods along with some of the blandest characters I’ve ever seen means that Something Borrowed is a total and complete mess, Gentle Readers, and not even in an entertaining, train-wreck sort of way.

The problem starts with the fact that the characters are so completely uninteresting.  Goodwin, whom I genuinely really like, brings nothing to the table as the meek little doormat.  At one point, viewers glimpse a towering bookshelf of books in her apartment, which is supposed to tell us that she’s smart, but one never gets the sense that she actually reads (or that she does anything except moon over Dexter).  Egglesfield is so wooden it’s like watching a cardboard cutout.  It doesn’t help that the character of Dex goes from being fairly innocuous to a totally weak whiny diaper baby.  While Hudson brings a sort of brassy glee to the character of Darcy, she’s also supposed to be so unlikable that it’s hard to care (we have to root for the other couple, remember?).  The only exception is John Krasinski in the role of best-guy-friend Ethan.  Krasinski oozes charm and provides literally the only humorous moments in the movie.  He is largely wasted in the film, and virtually disappears from the second half (which is a mistake).

It’s not just the characters that fall flat in this adaptation, though.  Much of the movie’s story comes from the past, and so there are large chunks of time spent in awkward flashbacks.  This slows down an already long movie (clocking in at 103 minutes, you’ll swear it’s over two hours), drawing out the story until just short of forever.  The story is also quite predictable: the only surprise is how long it takes to get to the (mildly depressing) conclusion.

As a fan of romantic comedies (and a self-professed connoisseur), I beg you: skip this one.  You’ll thank me later.

Something Borrowed will be released on DVD on August 16, 2011.

(#70) Book Review: But I Love Him by Amanda Grace

When Ann meets Connor, she is a straight-A student who runs track and is on the path to a successful, happy life.  The problem is that Connor is a troubled young man with abusive tendencies.  Of course, Ann doesn’t know this when she gets involved with him, and by the time she finds out, it’s too late: she’s in love with him.  If she’s the only one who can fix him and he’s the one who seems to be breaking her, what is the right thing to do?

Amanda Grace is a pen name for Mandy Hubbard, and her first novel under the name is a big old mess.  Gimmicky, poorly written, and shoddily executed, nothing about But I Love Him works the way Hubbard intended it to.  It starts with the reverse-chronological order and devolves from there.

Hubbard has said in interviews that she chose to tell the story in reverse-chronological order because it removes the reader’s judgment about Connor.  I’m not sure of the logic there, because by telling the story backwards, readers have no connection whatsoever to either character and therefore any sympathy for them is minimal at best.  Without having gotten to know the sweet side of Connor first, how are readers supposed to connect to him as he literally beats Ann to a bloody pulp?

Then there is the characterization itself.  Ann is an unreliable narrator (which I think was Hubbard’s intention), but she’s so poorly developed that it’s hard to even care that she might not be giving readers the full story.  As the book moves backward through time, readers are given very little insight into who Ann is or what her attraction to Connor is.  Connor himself is treated in much the same way: neither one of these characters have any dimension whatsoever.  Who are they?  What are their motivations?  We don’t know, and by the end of the book, I started to wonder if Hubbard does, either.

Added to the fact that the book feels gimmicky is the fact that it’s incredibly heavy-handed.  Ann spends much of the book thinking about and working on a gift for Connor: a sculpture of a heart made out of broken pieces of glass.  Seriously.  It’s too much, you know?

The good news is that But I Love Him is a quick read.  It’s fast-paced (because it wastes no time establishing its characters), the book will resonate with some readers who aren’t looking for anything more than a surface-level story about abuse.  Those looking to go deeper might check out something with a bit more substance.  Deb Caletti’s Stay comes to mind.

But I Love Him by Amanda Grace. Flux: 2011.  Library copy.

(#53) Book Review: Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Sixteen-year-old Helen Hamilton has spent her entire life on the tiny island of Nantucket.  Raised by her caring father after her mother split, Helen has tried in vain to be a normal girl, but her differences are becoming more pronounced.  When the mysterious Delos family moves to the island, Helen realizes that she’s extremely different from her friends.  When she crosses paths with the boys in the Delos family, she sees women weeping blood and crying for vengeance.  As Helen starts to put the pieces together regarding her ancestry, she realizes that big things are in store for her, and some of those things might be pretty lethal.

Sigh.

Not too long ago, I talked about how much I love Greek mythology and how much I struggled with Aimee Carter’s The Goddess Test.  The issues I had with that book were pretty complicated, but they pale in comparison to the relationship I have with Josephine Angelini’s StarcrossedStarcrossed, the first in a planned trilogy, is a total disasterpiece.

Readers who have already sought out reviews know that comparisons to Twilight abound.  It is undeniable that the story and the characters bear a striking resemblance to the characters and story found in Stephanie Meyer’s fantastically popular series.  Following the Meyer formula is guaranteed to be successful, at least with regard to some readers.

And there are a lot of readers out there who are gushing about this book.  There are a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, and there are a lot of book bloggers who hail this as the most exciting paranormal series to arrive on the book scene in a long time.  Originally pitched as “Percy Jackson for girls,” (a phrase that does actually rankle me), Angelini’s debut novel has been a high-publicity title since it sold for seven figures.

Being sold for an impressive amount of money can’t save the novel from being a total mess, though.  Clumsy prose, an inconsistent narrative, weak characters, and contradictory mythology take Angelini’s promising premise and turn the book into something that is really, really disappointing.  Described as Romeo and Juliet meets The Iliad by the author herself, the novel falls short of both in every way possible.

Angelini’s novel comes in at a whopping 500 pages.  Unfortunately, these pages are cluttered with some of the most awkward prose I’ve come across in recent memory.  In addition to her clumsy attempts to create pretty, flowery prose, Angelini’s syntax is overly complicated, rendering her action descriptions repetitive, killing the momentum and confusing the reader.  Too often, Angelini relies on telling the reader instead of showing; this is never more apparent than when the third person limited narration jumps suddenly to characters other than Helen.  The first time this happened, I was so surprised that I had to stop and reread the previous section.

Of course, the technical aspects of Angelini’s prose won’t bother all readers.  In truth, it might not have bothered me as much as it did had the characters and the story been compelling enough.  Unfortunately (again), this is not the case.  In addition to creating bland characters who act more out of compulsion than actual desire, Angelini’s rendering of Greek mythology is both convoluted and contradictory.  These demi-gods, descended from the actual Greek gods, are called Scions.  Instead of looking like their biological parents, they recycle the faces from their ancestors (with one exception, who is a doppelganger for her mother).  The ultimate goal of the Scions is almost pedestrian (raising Atlantis and becoming immortal), and much of the rest of the mythology borders on being a total cheese-fest.  Also, Angelini gets important facts wrong: according to these demi-gods, The Iliad got everything right about the Trojan War except for the part about the Trojan Horse, which is weird, because that doesn’t happen in The Iliad.  Really?

As I mentioned before, Angelini has gone on at length about how the idea for the story came to her when she saw Romeo and Juliet and The Iliad sitting next to one another on her bookshelf.  It’s clear that she has attempted to create star-crossed lovers like the ones in Shakespeare’s play, but it doesn’t work here.  Angelini spends an inordinate amount of time setting up the fact that Helen and Lucas can never be together, and in the process forgets to sell the reader on the actual romance that should occur despite their differences.  This “retelling” of the story feels hollow, unable to bring any of the complexities present in the source materials.  Readers are better off seeking out Angelini’s inspirations and reading those instead.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini.  Harper Teen: 2011.  Electronic galley received for review via NetGalley.