Category Archives: Bandwagon Fiction

Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Dan Brown Inferno [ This Post Contains Spoilers & Extreme Snarkiness ]

 So I finished Inferno by Dan Brown, finally.

What I expected would take me two days ended up taking me closer to two weeks, and I’ll tell ya, I’m not super pleased about it.

Now, I’m not usually a Dan Brown basher. I know he isn’t a great writer, but his books sell. And I enjoyed his previous books. You can’t hate a guy just because his books make money. But now, after reading this book, I think I officially give up on trying to defend him.

I originally picked up Inferno because I was interested to see how Brown used Dante’s Divine Comedy as a backdrop to a thriller plot. I mean, levels of hell? Come on, it’s ripe of interesting conflict! Sure, I knew there would be another scavenger hunt of historical clues and some ridiculous melodrama – that’s exactly what his other books had, so I figured I knew was I was getting into. But what I really got was a book full of tired cliches and exhausting repetition.

The book opens to Robert Langdon in a hospital room in a foreign country with amnesia having just suffered a bullet wound to the head. Okay, interesting! I mean, it felt a little forced, and the visions/hallucinations were kind of lame, but it still an interesting, page-turning way to start a story. But as soon as we cut to the spiky-haired woman in an all-black, skin-tight body suit garnishing a gun with a silencer, I wanted to throw the book across the room. So freaking cliche. Why was she wearing a body suit? What is this, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? And then we meet the beautiful blond doctor who saves his life and also happens to be an incredible super genius with an IQ over 20o. Groan.

We then spend the next half of the book basically catching up to where Robert Langdon was before the “head injury,” following clues focused around Dante and his famous works in the Divine Comedy. This was pretty standard in comparison to the previous books. Find ridiculously obscure clue, try to figure out what it means, be baffled, then suddenly remember something from a lecture ten years ago and then find the next clue. Rinse and repeat.

Did I mention that he is being chased by a ton of people with guns and drone planes? But he just keeps giving them the slip….

Eventually we learn the underlying plot to this story, which is actually not that bad. Apparently there is a famous doctor who has been concerned about the world collapsing due to overpopulation to the point where he sort of goes mad and creates a super virus that will kill a big chunk of the world’s population similar to what the Black Plague did to Europe, paving the way for a Renaissance.

Considering over-population is a real concern, I was intrigued. Why the doctor felt the need to go all Dante on us is not certain since the only real explanation we get for that is because no one would have a meaningful discussion about a solution with him so he felt angry and isolated, thus driving him insane. Oh, and he sort of jumped off a building and killed himself before all of this nonsense even really got started. But not before planting a super virus to be released on a certain date and time. Cue ticking time bomb plot trope.

In all seriousness, seeing how Brown was going to tackle the whole over-population thing is what kept me reading this book. There were so many times I wanted to put it down and never finish, but I was determined. Sure I could have just skipped to the end, but I consider reading to have a code of honor – and skipping to the end is just not allowed.

So around 75% of the way into the book, we are still chasing down clue after clue, following Langdon and his brilliant, sexy blond doctor all over Europe. The thing is, they don’t exactly know why they have to solve this mystery. As far as they know, some Dante man has hid a bunch of clues and the woman from Langdon’s visions is tied up in the back of a car. Otherwise, they are flying blind. The only real pressure on them to keep moving is that this mysterious group of people might catch them so they have to get to the end of the bread crumb trail to figure out what they are even looking for…because as I said, THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW.

There is one specific thing about this book that I really, really liked. But it is a HUGE spoiler and reading this will ruin the effect should you choose to read this book. DO NOT READ BELOW THIS LINE IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED FOR YOU. Simply skip this section and get to my take on the book in general.


The best part about this book was the one major twist that I did not see coming. And it was because the setup was actually pretty well done. Brown essentially introduces a new character to the bread crumb crew while the B-plot characters realize that a specific character is actually a bad guy. Cut to a phone call we don’t get to listen to and a chapter entirely in flashback about meeting the crazy Dante scientist and becoming his lover. So logically, we assume that this new character is evil (and infected with a plague), which colors our reading of him for the next few chapters. Then, after Langdon is picked up by the B-plot people who were chasing him, and who are actually good guys…sort of, we find out that the flash back we saw wasn’t from the new character’s point of view…but actually from Langdon’s hot blond doctor! And that it was actually her who was the doctor’s lover. And that, GASP, she is a bad guy! The old switch-a-roo!

I thought this was actually pretty clever on Brown’s part. It was the one twist I didn’t see coming and it was a pretty cool realization to come so late in the book since it completely changed the playing field.

(Except not really because we find out that she was never really a bad guy at all…. which is a whole other issue with this book that I’ll talk about later.)

Then they head to the end of the trail only to find that the specific date on which the virus was to be released was not the release date, but instead it was the saturation point for the plague to have affected everyone on earth. Okay, Interesting!

And then we find out what the virus does. Apparently, it manipulates the human DNA to make people infertile, meaning no more babies, thus curbing human overpopulation. But it doesn’t happen to everyone! It only works on 1/3 of the population (a number taken from Dante and the Black Plague). So it is just this DNA defect now built into everyone so some people can have babies and some can’t. No one dies, they just stop having kids.

Okay, this might sound horrible, but my first reaction when reading this was, “that’s not a the worst solution to global overpopulation…” I know, that’s an awful thought, but after spending the entire book thinking people were going to die horrible deaths, things ended in sort of a “could be worse” type of situation.

Oh, and since everyone was infected, the book just sort of ends with “guess we’ll just have to deal with it.” What? Okay… I guess…

It was the first time one of these books felt separated from our reality.


I found the book’s ending to be really interesting, but not satisfying at all. It felt like we had departed from our reality and now Robert Langdon is part of a completely different universe. It just took away some of the “oh cool, maybe that’s true” from the story.

5 thoughts on this book:

1) Cliches. Cliches everywhere. Seriously, assassins in tight body suits brandishing guns. Hot blond brilliant doctors. Epiphanies for every single clue. It felt tired, old, and not original at all. I mean, it’s the same story over and over again, and I knew that going in, but it got to the point where it just felt so forced and contrived. Couldn’t he have tried to do things differently at all?

2) Repetitive. Repetitive. Repetitive. I swear I did more skimming in this book than actual reading. Brown kept telling me the same things over and over again, as though he were trying to reach his word count through repetition. A video was a critical part of the story, and every time we sat down to watch it with a new character (which was like, 4-5 times), we sat through almost the entire script of the video again. And just constant reminders about the plague and Dante and amnesia, etc. etc. etc. I know that emphasis is important, but I don’t need eight different instances of contemplating the exact same thing.

3) No one was actually a bad guy. So the woman trying to kill Langdon is the bad guy. Oh wait, no, she’s not. Must be the other guy trying to catch him. Wait, no. Maybe the guy ordering those two people around? Nope, he’s not so bad either. How about this random new character? He must be evil. Okay…how about this other character who is clearly made out to be the villain. Nope, not that one either? Okay, crazy doctor guy for sure. Well, he didn’t really…er….okay, who is evil here because seriously, I feel like that was a lot of work and effort for nothing.

4) Not enough Dante. I don’t think Brown did as much research for this book as his others because the interesting Dante facts were few and far between. There just weren’t as many clues or steps to take before reaching the end of the trail. In fact, once they reached the location of the virus, it felt like all of the tension was pulled out of the story. And anything related to Dante felt like an afterthought to the actual bio-terrorism plot that was actually kind of interesting.

5) A little bit of interesting character work and a lot of running around for nothing. Some of the characters had potential to be so interesting but then twists upon twists made them lame again. It just sort of felt cheap at the end.

Overall: Don’t read this book. Seriously, it took way too much of my time to force myself to read this book and it was mostly skimming anyway. It would be a waste of your time to pick up this book. There isn’t all that much Dante so it’s not like you’ll learn anything and I’m pretty sure any summer blockbuster movie would be better than this — and that’s saying something.

Sorry Dan Brown. I tried, I really did. But this book was bad and you should feel bad (while you roll around in your piles of money.)

Do you finish books even if you aren’t enjoying them?

What are your guilty pleasure books?

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

  [ This Post Contains Spoilers ]

Gone GirlA friend and I decided we would do a two-person book club since all of our friends are in school and don’t have time to join with us. The first book was my suggestion so I figured, why not read the book everyone is talking about? Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn has won a number of accolades including Goodread’s Reader’s Choice for 2012 in the mystery/thriller category.

But I was particularly drawn to read it because during a trip to Michigan with some girlfriends, one of the girls spent the entire weekend plowing through this book rather than carrying on with the rest of us. And I thought, if she can’t tear herself away from that book, it must really be good!.

So I set to reading.

The main thing I hear from people who talk about this book is how they read the whole thing in one sitting, how they just couldn’t put it down. That is definitely the case. The only reason I stopped myself from reading was because it was midnight and I was only halfway through the book. I honestly had to tear myself away so that I wasn’t a zombie at work the next morning. But I will say that it took me about a week to pick it back up again. I really had to set the time aside to make sure I wasn’t interrupted because I knew once I started again, I HAD to finish.

And by the time I turned to the last page (on my kindle), I was literally sick to my stomach.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is about a husband and wife who have quite possibly the most toxic relationship possible for two human beings who claim to have been in “love.”

On the day of their 5th wedding anniversary, Nick returns home to find his wife, Amy, missing, and the house a mess. She’s gone. Then begins the police investigation, making Nick the primary suspect, a development not unheard of in cases like this. As the reader slowly learns what has happened through Amy’s diary entries and chapters in Nick’s point of view, it become clear that things just don’t add up.

The best part about the first part of the book is the reader’s uncertainty about Nick, especially when the diary entries and his thoughts contradict each other. The unreliable narrator is used perfectly in this instance, especially because we aren’t completely sure when Nick is lying, when he is telling the truth, and when he just isn’t telling the reader something–something important–like his affair.

And then we get a chapter from Amy’s point of view.

Without giving too much away, because I’m already shared plenty, I can say that this book is just full of “WTF” moments. More often than not, at every turn of the page, I was saying out loud, “WHAT?” and “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” You are certain that each development can’t be topped with something more outrageous, but you are always wrong.

I can’t decide if I was satisfied with the ending of this book, or just so disturbed that I was glad it was finally over. There were times when I really wanted to put this book down and walk away, but I simply had to know how it all ended. And yet, the end, though not all that exciting, seems like it’s the only way things could have gone for these characters.

Some things I really liked about this book:

  • Great Pacing: The chapters never felt too long, I learned things exactly when I needed to, and I was pulled through the story with ease.
  • Unreliable Narrators: This is one of my favorite narrative techniques, and it works perfectly in this book. Every character is the worst and you don’t want to trust what any of them say, but you don’t have a choice because no one else is telling the story….so as a reader, you really have to draw your own conclusions.
  • Realism: The first part of this book reminded me a lot of the highly publicized Scott Peterson murder case, and something about that kind of realism made the beginning of this book especially creepy.
  • Evoking feelings: When the characters felt trapped, the reader felt that just as profoundly.

One thing I didn’t like about this book was some of the blatantly stupid decisions the characters made. Like smiling like an idiot when your wife is missing or carrying on with your mistress when YOUR WIFE IS MISSING AND YOU’RE A SUSPECT. I mean, come on. Sure, they were characterized in way that sort of explained this behavior, but half the time, they just ignored basic logic, and it drove me nuts.

I am also unsure about my personal feelings about the book about 3/4 of the way through. At many times, I was tempted to just free myself from this book and read the end, but thanks to having a kindle that wasn’t an option. But there were times where I was so desperate to know what was going to happen next that I didn’t care what was happening on the page I was reading. However, this may be my own fault more than a fault of the book.

With all that said, I am in awe of Gillian Flynn. This book is incredible and I can see why so many people enjoy reading it. While the plot is definitely front and center, there are some elements of craft that are really quite impressive. And to those who complain about not liking this book because they didn’t like the characters, I think that was the point, and it was very, very well done.

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Bandwagon Fiction: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

[This post definitely contains SPOILERS]

I picked up The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because the movie was coming out (and is in fact, out today!). I’ve heard great things, and people kept telling me to “just read it already!” I am very glad that I did. It’s a strong concept, executed in a way that I can definitely respect and enjoy. There were something that I loved, and things that were a bit lack-luster to me. But overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

The world building in this book is, in my opinion, excellent. It is clear that this book is set in a dystopian future where North America, most likely the US, is divided into 12 districts and a capitol. There is evidence of both technological advancements in the Capitol and also a massive communal shift backwards in the poorer districts where they are still forced to hunt and gather. The unique, colorful and slightly clownish “look” of Capitol people is a really interesting choice, but one I am really excited that Collins made. Not only is it visually stunning (for the movie), it creates a great juxtaposition to the horror of the Hunger Games. The world is also not shy when it comes to how absolutely horrible the living conditions are with people starving to death in the streets or whipped to death for small crimes, and there is no effort made to save them. These people are essentially on their own, and they know it. This book perfectly treads the line between the ridiculous and absurd excitement for the actual games, and the unfathomable horror that is children murdering each other in a dystopian society that cheers for their deaths.

I am also stunned by some of the lingering images that, I’m not afraid to say this, made me quite emotional. Even in the first two chapters, before I’ve really gotten to know the characters, I am so empathetic toward their situation that the community’s refusal to clap at the announcement of the tributes really moves me, and their combined gesture of farewell just floors me. That image will be with me for a while. There are other moments that you hold on to where future mentions in the book stirs your feelings back up, such as the solemn moment when Katniss thanks the people of District 11 for their gift in response to her caring for Rue in her last moments. That comes up a few times and each time I felt my heart break again.

The games themselves are well-constructed and thought out down to the last scientifically frightening detail. This was definitely the most exciting part of the book, but then again, how could it not be? I was particularly fond of the gifts from sponsors which were both a lovely way of communicating with the world outside of the games, but also a way to move things along. Sure, they are a bit of a Deus ex machina, but that worked for me because the setting is such a manufactured one that the gifts don’t seem out of place. I also loved Katniss’s awareness of being on camera, giving the audience a show. It kept me very aware of the fact that people are watching this for fun, which added to the playful, yet extremely dark reality to the event.

I have two issues with this book: 1) the manufactured stakes at the end of the book, and 2) how things never really seemed to go all that wrong for Katniss during the games.

First, the end of the book. It was very obvious that this book is setting up the next book. No surprise there, it does a great job of it. But the reunion of the characters, the interviews, everything that happens right after the games end are so….forced. There is a sense that the Capitol is angry with Katniss and something might happen to her if she doesn’t totally pull of this “love story” that she’s been playing out for the cameras. But it falls so flat because they never seems to be in any real danger. Sure, it serves to create a falling out between Katniss and Peeta right at the end of the book and also to demonstrate Katniss as sort of a rebel against the Capitol, which will no doubt become a theme in the next book, but it just didn’t work for me.

My other issue was during the games, Katniss kind of had it easy. I never really worried about her. Every time there was the potential for her to be in a really bad spot, to have to figure her way out of a dangerous situation, it was solved out so quickly and without much issue that I felt like she got off easy. This is probably more of a length issue with YA novels in general, but this quick resolution of problems and lack of time spent on any one thing makes things feel less drastic than they are actually supposed to be.

I will say that many of the criticism I read from others about this book didn’t really bother me. I was fully willing to accept that Katniss was too distracted by the games to acknowledge the fact that someone may have feelings for her. And that the excessive kissing, though silly in a way, was just a means to accomplish a difficult task. The characters acted their ages, foolish as they may be at 16, and that was just fine with me. Although I do hope I see some age and growth in the next two books.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I haven’t stayed up till 3am to finish something in a long time and that says something. It’s an easy read filled with moving scenes and memorable characters. And I am VERY excited for the movie. I think it will make a perfect transition to the big screen.

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Popular Books by Young Authors

Goodreads recently announced their winners for the Reader’s Choice awards, which evoked two distinct emotions in me. 1) I realized how out of the loop I’ve been with popular fiction in my favorite genres as a result of reading only books required for class, and 2) Blinding jealousy, but in a good way.

The big winner with year was Divergent by Veronica Roth, which was named Reader’s Choice Book of 2011. After a little digging, since I’ve never even heard of this now-incredibly-popular author, I discovered that this is not only her debut novel, but she is only 23 years old. Cue blinding jealousy. I am in fact, almost 23 years old and I am no where near a Reader’s choice novel, or even a full novel!

Now, first off, I want to say that while I am super jealous of Miss Roth, it is not because of her success, okay it is a little, but I wish her the absolute best sales because what she has done is awesome and she has my full support. My jealous is more of along the lines of: why haven’t I finished writing and polishing a worthy novel by now? She has, why haven’t I? If nothing else, this book as laid a swift kick in the pants for me. Miss Roth graduated from college with a degree in creative writing just like me, but unlike me, she wasn’t just trying to survive college–she was actually writing. And the frustration I feel as a result of seeing her mega-popular novel is a frustration in myself for not being nearly as productive. Because while the agent, publishing and movie deals are all, in a sense, sort of luck–the physical act of writing and finishing something that is ready to send out is a much greater and personally-driven task.

Not to mention, she already has her second book coming out sometime next year. I mean, damn girl! That’s  awesome.

And not only is she a successful writer, but she also has a great personality. Check out her blog for some great tips and inside information on how the whole process went for her.

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Bandwagon Fiction – Game of Thrones

I am a huge fantasy buff. Granted, my specific tastes tend to graviate toward young adult and middle grade fantasy because that is the genre I’d ideally like to write and publish. Let’s call it “research”. But I also enjoy fantasy at a higher reading level every now and then. My current favorite is The Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch including The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Skies over Red Seas.

But with the hype from the new HBO show Game of Thrones, I decided to finally break down and read the Song of Ice and Fire series that I keep hearing so much about. Especially since it shares two big similarity to Scott Lynch’s books: it takes YEARS for each book to come out and they are all around 700 pages long.

I’ve only had the time to finish the first book, Game of Thrones, and I am not sure how much I want to keep reading. It feels wrong to judge this series before catching up to the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, but I am not sure I have the stamina.

Yes, I absolutely love the political scheming, the conflicted characters, the naughty themes that you just don’t get in children’s books, but there are some aspects of the books that just irk me.

The Pros (and this is just for GoT because I haven’t gotten farther yet)

The book is actually well written. There are long, eloquent descriptions, and scenes are well constructed in a logical way. The characters are complex, the narrative style is interesting and easy to follow, and the pace is good.

The book characters are great.  Most of them are very authentic, no one is perfect, no one is all good or all evil, and no one is safe. There is always someone to root for, even if it’s not who you’d expect. Everyone is conflicted, making them very interesting and complex.

The plot is always thickening. I love how there is always another complication. The characters never get an easy break–they have to work for it. There are no fantastical fixes to these problems like you might see in other books. And when a child’s life is thrown into question in the first 70 pages, you know it just got real.

There are subplots! This might just be because of my focus on younger books, but having multiple plots to follow is very intellectually stimulating. And in this particular book, following them isn’t a struggle at all.

After the jump: The Cons

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