Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Forbes 25 Reviewers - #8 Dan Schwent

Today's guest is Dan Schwent.  Dan posts at his blog, his book blog, Shelf Inflicted, and Dantastic Photos.

How did you discover Goodreads?
It was 2008 and I was pissing away an evening on MySpace when someone in the Christopher Moore group mentioned Goodreads being like crack.  She was right.  After staying up into the wee hours playing with it that first night, I've been cooking it on a spoon over an open flame every day since.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
Hands down, that would be Lawrence Block liking my review of Getting Off enough to start sending me ARCs.  When your favorite living crime writer starts sending you free shit, you're probably doing something right.  #2 would be Kemper sharing a joke his wife told him that is now my favorite dirty joke of all time.  Honorable mentions go to having MAC accost me for talking shit on his Nolan character and drinking with Kemper at Bouchercon.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Since I came up with the questions, I should probably stick to one reviewer instead of mentioning the greater portion of the Shelf Inflicted staff and a few other people.  I'll go with Anthony Vacca.  At 23, he's so talented I just want to slap the shit out of him.

To hell with it.  I'd also like to mention the Shelf Inflicted staffers that will be at the top sooner or later (Stephanie, Nancy, Amanda, Brandon, Carol, Trudi, James L. Thane, Sesana, and Robert), and also ShovelMonkey , Jason Koivu, and Nikki.  And about a hundred other people.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
Like I posted in a couple places, I felt like Peter Parker when Aunt May got engaged to Dr. Octopus.  I was pretty sure things were going get nefarious at some point but at least Aunt May was happy.  I'm not slitting my wrist over it but I'm not doing back flips either.  As long as they don't tamper with it, I'm cool.

How many books do you own?
Not nearly as many as I used to.  Less than 500, I'd say.  Since I know I'll be moving in the next year or two, I'm trying to lighten the load.  Also, I like having a ton of store credit at my local used bookstore.

Who is your favorite author?
All time, I'll go with Lawrence Block or P.G. Wodehouse.  Hot on their heels is George Pelecanos.  He's the guy, right now.

What is your favorite book of all time?
If I can count Stephen King's Dark Tower series as one book, that would be it.  If I can't, it would probably be Eight Million Ways to Die or Code of the Woosters.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I'm still devoted to treeware books but I recently invested in a Kindle to take advantage of all the ARCs out there and it's quickly paying for itself.  Ebooks cost too damn much for what you actually get.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Self-published books are a crap shoot, emphasis on the crap.  I've read a couple good ones but most of them look like they have never been edited and/or have really bad formatting and lackluster covers.  If book itself doesn't look like a professional product, why should I take a chance on the story?

Any literary aspirations?
I've written seven books, six in NaNoWriMo events, but only the last two are ones I'm continuing to put work into.

Hungry for a better ending - The Hunger Games Trilogy

So, I'd been avoiding the Hunger Games for years. It has several strikes against it:
1. It's a young adult book
2. The enormous amount of hype
3. The fact that it appears on the surface to be a combination of two Stephen King books, The Long Walk and The Running Man

One winter night, I was talking about the Robert Crais book I just finished and my lovely girlfriend asked when I was going to start reading the Hunger Games. Monday, I said. She was making country fried steak that night. What else could I do? Lucky for me, the country fried steak and the Hunger Games were both great.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian future, Katniss Everdeen takes her younger sister's place as District 12's representative in the Hunger Games, a 24 person free-for-all broadcast on live TV. Will she walk out of the Games alive?

Suzanne Collins crafted quite a tale in the Hunger Games. From the start, I was impressed with her lead characters. Katniss's personality reflected her background nicely. She wasn't cutesy or even particularly charismatic when the story started and was definitely rough around the edges. Peeta's questionable motivations kept the story moving for much of the book.

The Hunger Games themselves reminded me of the Stephen King books I mentioned earlier and also Lord of the Flies. I never had the safety net feeling that I had while reading other YA fare like Harry Potter. The way the story was told in the present tense gave it an urgent feel that kept me turning pages until my bedtime had come and gone.

Any gripes? Just the usual curmudgeonly ones about it being the first in the series with a lot of dangling threads left to be resolved in the two subsequent books. It was an easy four star read.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the wake of The Hunger Games, insurrection brews, an insurrection Katniss has unknowingly become the symbol of. President Snow expresses his displeasure with Katniss in the only way he knows how. Can Katniss and the other victors of the Hunger Games survive the Quarter Quell?

Here we are, the middle book of the Hunger Games trilogy. In a lot of ways, it feels like a transitional book. In some others, it feels like a rehash of the first one.

I liked seeing how the Hunger Games changed the lives of Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of District 12. Katniss' relationships with Gale and Peeta both moved along. Seeing the other districts as the Victory Tour moved along was a nice bit of world building. I also liked that Haymitch's past was explored a bit. President Snow and his controlling of Katniss made my skin crawl. I can't wait until someone settles his hash in the third book.

Of the new characters introduced, I have to say Finnick is by far my favorite. The carnage level was ramped up significantly in the death match part of the story. The combatants were a lot more capable and the threats were much much worse. The nerve gas in particular is going to stick with me.

The growing unrest really makes this feel like a transitional book. It almost feels like the Empire Strikes Back at times. Instead of the whole "Ben, why didn't you tell me?" at the end, it's Haymitch.

Still, I didn't like it as much as I did the first book. It was a little been there, done that, especially in the end. Also, Katniss seems to have taken a step back. She seemed very strong in the first book but not so much in this one. Also, I know the whole Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle is supposed to be a big part of the story but Gale doesn't get developed enough for me to really care about him and Peeta's feelings for Katniss are a little on the unbelievable side given Katniss barely gives him the time of day most of the time.

Three stars, possibly 3.5.
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After surviving two Hunger Games, Katniss finds herself as the face of a revolution. Can Katniss lead the rebels to victory against President Snow and the Capitol?

The Hunger Games trilogy comes to a conclusion in this volume, a conclusion that tends to polarize people. Without giving too much away, the ending was actually one of the parts of the book I liked the best.

The story coming out of the previous volume, Catching Fire, sees Katniss uniting the districts against the Capitol, primarily through propaganda films. Peeta, on the other hand, is used in counter-broadcasts by the Capitol in an attempt to undermine the rebellion. Issues are raised that leads Katniss to believe that Coin, the president of District 13, may not have her best interests at heart.

Sounds good, right? It was, for the most part. I liked that Collins didn't do all the expected things. Characters died left and right. Katniss assassinates someone. Katniss' choice in lovers is finally made for her.

My main gripe with Mockingjay is that Katniss has been on a downhill slide since the Hunger Games, going from being a capable fighter to someone that has meltdowns pretty consistently throughout. Even at the end, I still didn't care about either of her love interests. Cinna or Finnick would have made a better companion.

So that's it for me and the Hunger Games. Overall, I'd give the trilogy a high three. I think Collins may have been better served to condense it into two books, though. Or even leave the Hunger Games as a standalone.  It was an enjoyable read but I don't think it deserves the level of hype it receives.  On the other hand, it has kids reading so I'm in favor of it.