Archive for the ‘review’ Category
Friday, August 6th, 2010
Seems I’ve been on a trend of books written about widows lately. However, this one was NOTHING like “The Lovers”. Instead of focusing on the wife’s journey through memories, “As Husband’s Go” follows Susan B Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten’s quest to find out the truth behind her husband’s murder. The first chapter is her self-introduction where she immediately tells us how about her good looks, shallowness, and only moderately intelligence.
Perhaps on of the goals was to turn this woman from irritating narrator to a protagonist worth cheering for. And while she is unarguably stubborn, it wasn’t a trait I found admirable. Or rather, her motives did not appeal to me. She was not on a quest to clear her husband’s name or provide peace for her children. Her sole motivation was to prove that her life – and husband – was as perfect as she’d imagined. And here’s the rub – in view of the fact that she had just found out her husband, a high profile plastic surgeon, was found murdered in a prostitute’s apartment, it’s hard to blame her for her reaction. I felt like I SHOULD sympathize with her but I never did.
The supporting cast was flamboyant. All of them were over the top in some aspect or another. The storyline was standard and there were no major twists. The one big reveal was more of a “huh that’s interesting” rather than “WOW? REALLY?”. The plot didn’t keep me glued to the pages. And yet – it was enjoyable. It was simple, it was fun and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an easy summer read.
Friday, July 30th, 2010
I don’t know what I expected from this book but I didn’t get it.
Scratch that. I DO know what I expected. But I didn’t get it.
That’s not to say the book isn’t good. It is. It’s just much more serious than I expected.
In “The Lovers”, Yvonne returns to the place of her honeymoon as a widow hoping to immerse herself in happier times. Instead she finds herself plagued by memories and regrets. I opened the cover looking for a character to sympathize, grieve and remember with. Instead I found Yvonne. I spent the entire narrative alternating between pitying her and well, not particularly LIKING her. And yet – she’s much more real than the woman I anticipated. I didn’t encounter a glossy widow traversing a painful but sweet grieving process. No, Yvonne was displayed in all her neurotic, past dwelling, self centered glory.
I loved that she is a history teacher as it elegantly encapsulates her personality. Her thoughts and emotions occupy the past to the exclusion of many present realities – including her daughter’s growth into a self sufficient woman. She is unable to even fully understand herself. On one hand she complains that everyone sees and interacts with her through the filters of “history teacher, widow, mother, etc” without recognizing her depth and complexity. And yet, she never actually displays any complexity. It is only after a trip gone even more awry than my expectations of the book, that she shows any sign of moving beyond her self- imposed walls. In the end is the beginning of redemption and the journey there is satisfyingly bumpy.
Friday, July 23rd, 2010
“The Scent of Rain and Lightening” by Nancy Pickard
Published May 4, 2010
The book starts with 26 year old Jody Linder watching her uncles park their trucks outside “her parents” house. Her parents have been dead (Dad) and missing (Mom) since she was three. She is immediately suspicious as the three ranchers are in clean clothes and have shown up unannounced. And in fact, they’re there to tell Jody that the man jailed for murdering her father 23 years before is being released.
So begins a classic mystery with an emotional undertow of a raging river. Jody is an intriguing character: independent yet fiercely family centered, strong yet suspiciously wary of good times. She grew up sheltered by her grandparents but simultaneously in the fishbowl of a small farming community where her family’s tragedy was the biggest scandal…ever.
Pickard draws out the story and its players beautifully. After the initial scene, the story flashes back to the events leading up to the murder/disappearance. It then proceeds linearly until catching back up to present day and moving into the resolution. Although the facts seem clear cut, the fate of Jody’s mother infuses the pages with a suspense that seeps into other aspects. I found myself questioning everything…and being wrong with every theory. The end was completely unexpected without any hint of contrivance.
I’m very glad I picked up “The Scent of Rain and Lightening”. Fair warning – once you pick it up, you’re not going to want to put it down.
Friday, July 16th, 2010
As you may have guessed, the movie “16 Candles” plays a rather significant role in this book, shaping the lead character’s view of her life and the world. This is where I must disclose that I’ve never actually SEEN the movie. However, I don’t believe that omission lessened my enjoyment of the book at all. Key scenes are described in enough detail that I almost feel like watching it now would be a waste of time.
“32 Candles” is written from the perspective of Davie – a young black woman who spends her first fifteen years in rural Mississippi. She’s the abused daughter of the local…um…floozy. After a particularly brutal beating at the age of 5 she vows to quit speaking – a decision that hardly makes her loved among her class mates. It’s a vow she keeps until she runs away from her mother’s, and peers’, abuse. She lands in LA under the tutelage of a rough edged but kind(ish) club owner where she blossoms. Throughout the book, there is a common element behind everything Davie does or says. James, the unattainable love of her life, isn’t always at the forefront but the twisted relationships she had with him and his sisters (or the lack thereof) are a constant driving force.
The tone of this book is frank and honest. I often felt as if sitting with a good friend and listening as she confessed her life story. And what a story it is! It’s impossible not to feel a bit of sympathy – and a lot of pride – for Davie. But when “behind the scenes” plots are revealed three quarters of the way through, they reveal a side of her that suddenly complicates those feelings. It’s as if Carter reaches into the soul of every woman ever rejected or scorned and displayed their hidden fantasies. On the surface is a sense of appropriate horror at the revelations. But beneath glows a fierce pride for what Davie does – and sympathy for when things turn ugly in her life. When she comments that she’s been “handed an invitation to Crazy”, it’s easy to nod in complete understanding.
“32 Candles” is definitely chick-lit. I can’t think of any men in my life that would enjoy it. But it is one of my favorite books so far this year. Even the ending – despite being cliché – wraps up the book with a satisfying sweetness. Normally I would have been frustrated with the last few pages but honestly, it works perfectly this time. This is a must read. I’d dare say this is even a re-read.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher to review; however, I did not receive any compensation for this review….unless you count the book!
Friday, July 9th, 2010
“A Fierce Radiance” by Lauren Belfer is classified as historical fiction. But in all fairness, this novel cannot be pigeon holed into the expectations of one category. It combines love with espionage, mystery with idealism and wraps it all in the sweeping tale of Claire Shipley.
Set in NYC just after the Pearl Harbor attack, the book follows the life of photo journalist Claire Shipley. She is assigned to cover a study of a new potentially lifesaving medicine – penicillin – at the Rockefeller Institute. The story intertwines with and changes her life as it builds & destroys relationships.
Although I’m not usually a fan of romance, that particular element in “A Fierce Radiance” was a bonus, not a distraction. A few scenes were more explicit than expected, but given the context of the relationship, it never felt inappropriate. Strong language, which is only an issue for me in excess, was used artfully for emphasis. The mystery/intrigue elements kept the narrative moving at a nice clip. But best of all, the characters were not flat individuals living two dimensional lives. Belfer infuses them with deep personalities and places them squarely into complex situations with no easy or “right” decisions. There are no well orchestrated tidy endings. When you close the back cover you’re left feeling as if you’ve glimpsed into a life that is still burning brightly. And personally, I was glad to have had that glimpse.
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
The vast majority of books that I read are fiction. That’s not to say I refuse to read non-fiction but there it takes a lot more to pique my interest when I know the story is (supposedly) bound by reality. The cover of “The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir”* (Josh Kilmer-Purcell) was all it took to rouse my curiosity with this one.
The book opens with an “Author’s Caution”. One page in and I was already giggling. By the time I finished the prologue, I was loathe to put the book down. Kilmer-Purcell recounts the journey of how he and his partner, Brent, transform from simply an advertising executive (Josh) and employee of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (Brent) to adding “gentlemen famers” and owners of Beekman 1802 to their resumes. Add in a dash of flashbacks to his drag queen days and you have quite a rollicking tale.
The first twenty chapters were lighthearted. Kilmer-Purcell recounts what could have been tense, uncomfortable scenes with humor. Hilarity is intertwined with quiet intimate moments. His jokes can be barbed but those are, more often than not, aimed at his self allowing the reader to laugh along at his antics. I laughed out loud more than a few times and twice so hard that tears rolled down my cheeks and my husband starting showing (more than usual) concern about my sanity.
Reality gives no guarantees of a happy ending and in Chapter 21 the tone turns much more somber, reflecting the conditions in their life. Though the hilarity has been set aside, the story is no less absorbing. Kilmer-Purcell is honest about their faults. He doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties. He leads us down the dark roads memories as readily as he did the more buoyant ones. The last few chapters are a guided tour through his self-reflection and discovery as well how the realizations impact him and his actions. His recollection is so achingly transparent that I was drawn completely into the account.
If you don’t usually read memoirs, make an exception for this one. If you do, add it to your list. I haven’t read enough memoirs to judge if it is truly unconventional (although some of his stories certainly are!) but I will tell you, it’s worth your time.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher for the purpose of review. I was not compensated in any way by HarperCollins for this review (unless you count a free book) nor did they in any way influence my opinion on this book.
*Since I have a pre-published review copy, the title reads “The Bucolic Plague: From Drag Queen to Goat Farmer: An Unconventional Memoir”. I kind of wish they hadn’t changed it.
Friday, June 25th, 2010
A few weeks ago, BookAngel from As I Turn the Pages posted that she had received “The Souls of the Fire Dragon” from debut author John Wrieden for review. She commented that she hadn’t read sci-fi in a long time and felt it was a good chance to step outside her comfort zone. When she realized she couldn’t finish it though, she offered it to whoever would do a review. We all know I’m a self professed sci-fi fan and the book sounded intriguing so I jumped at the chance. (Although I must admit, I cringe every time I refer to myself as a “sci-fi/fantasy” fan because I’m just waiting for someone to contact me with a quote from some obscure cult classic that I’ve never heard of, much less read, and I’ll be exposed as a complete fraud.)
Mr. Wrieden’s debut book had every element that (usually) pulls me into a book: magic and dragons, alternate realities, love and war, rivalries and sacrificing friendships. There’s a lot of clichés but that’s not an issue for me; I consider familiar formulas the comfort food of entertainment. However, the ONLY reason I finished “The Souls of the Fire Dragon” was because I promised to do a review. This is not a fun review to write though. The writing was heavy handed and wooden. It lacked the subtlety that allows a reader’s imagination to take over and draw them in. Elements were introduced, then never mentioned again (ex. Akea’s telekinesis…he never uses it except to play with a chandelier once. Was it only supposed to be a hint of his true power?). There were inconsistencies from line to line, paragraph to paragraph. Descriptions were flat and often repetitive. On more than one occasion I wondered if maybe Mr. Wrieden’s first language is something other than English. I started to compare it to a bad translation of a great book but that’s not accurate. It’s poor construction from the start. It was just…awkward.
There were a few points where I wondered if he wasn’t going for a “punny” tone in the vein of Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” novels. For example on page 63 describes “The sounds of the operations were like a ticking clock, without the ticking.” But if that’s the case, it got bogged down quickly.
I wanted to love this book. I expected to love it. I know every story, including this one, is a labor of love. I KNOW its hard work. And the premise of the book was good – great even. It excited me: Fate (who is married to Chance) discovers that the main character, Akea, has cheated him – he was moved from one reality to another as a baby. Akea turns out to be the most powerful magician of all time and the key to overthrowing the oppressive government. He falls in love with a dragon and with their friends (and the help of Fate, Chance and their twin children Death & Life) they train and embark on their mission. It SHOULD have been fun…especially with the family of Fate, Chance & kids. That idea had me salivating with the possibilities.
Fans of this author, of this book, please stand up. Defend this. Tell me I’m missing the point, the subtle British humor. Tell me I’m dense and that I clearly did not understand the satirical jab at modern society. Show me why I should have loved this book. Because I wanted to but right now, I’m not feeling it.
Friday, June 18th, 2010
I picked up “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi, not because it was a new release, but because it is the 2009 Nebula Award winner.
The events take place in a world where all food is bio engineered. Plagues have wiped out natural crops and continue to be a serious threat, leaving a starving, desperate world. Enter the “calorie corporations”, the big companies that control food, turning calories into currency and bio-terrorism into a tool for profits. In addition to food, there is a new race of bio engineered people, grown & programmed to perform duties for the Japanese. Though accepted there, these New People are shunned in Bangkok where the story takes place. This new race of people are often called “windups” for their tell-tale stop/start stuttering movement – hence the book’s title.
The cast of characters is rather large and often seem unrelated. Emiko, the windup girl the book is named for, is introduced in chapter 3 but doesn’t become a major player until much later. Another character begins as a key player and continues to affect events throughout the pages, though in a very unexpected manner. Anderson Lake is the first character to make an appearance and continues to be a dominant figure until the end. As the book jumps from story to story, the plotline initially seemed disjointed. However, as the narrative progressed Bacigalupi wove these diversities into one intense story line that presses forward towards the climax.
I had high expectations for “The Windup Girl”. After all, it was written by a Hugo nominated and Locus Award winning author. The novel itself earned top honors from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It had a lot to live up to. I thought the book started out slowly. While initially reading, the world was so alien that it took awhile to become familiar enough to immerse myself in it. Those first few chapters seemed interminable at the time but they built a strong foundation for the environment and characters. By the end of chapter three I couldn’t put the book down. And by the time I closed the back cover, I felt that it had more than met my expectations. This won’t leave you with warm fuzzies. But Bacigalupi shows skill in creating a believable and spine chilling future as well as characters that draw the reader in. You might not LIKE all of them, but you’ll care what happens to them.
Friday, June 4th, 2010
I was wandering through the library when a title leapt off the table at me. It was one of the recent parodies – genre benders I’ve heard them called. I had found “Little Women and Werewolves” by Porter Grand (& Louisa May Alcott). I was hesitant. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf story. I just didn’t see the point of spoiling a beloved classic. And “Little Women” is definitely a personal beloved classic. But a combination of morbid curiosity and boredom tipped me over the edge.
“Little Women and Werewolves” wasn’t a complete devastation like I halfway expected. All the important characters and events were present, more often than not, verbatim to the original. Meg’s experience of being dressed up at the ball had an extra twist. Beth’s death was much more, well, dramatic. Amy and Laurie’s engagement involved a little extra incident. But the werewolf element felt forced. It read like the result of a junior high English assignment: “How would you have written a classic literary piece differently?” I know; it’s a parody. Subtlety and originality are not requirements. I’m generally not a fan of parodies in any format which SHOULD have been reason enough to have left the book where I found it.
At best, I hoped to find a clever combination of my two favorite things – a literary version of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups – something I wouldn’t partake of daily but is a nice little treat on occasion. At worst I figured I’d finish off a terrible story and could bemoan the butchering of the poor little women. Instead I found a boring, awkward hodgepodge. In the future, I will stick with pure genres for my reading indulgences. If I want werewolves, I’ll find an original story. And if I start missing the March family, Ms. Alcott provided more than enough to satisfy.
Friday, May 21st, 2010
Stephen King had quite the impact on my life. I spent weeks cringing anytime someone sneezed after reading The Stand and my dislike of clowns was fully cemented through It. (I was already mildly terrified of spiders which didn’t help matters.) I can still visualize random scenes from various King novels as vividly as some of my own memories. So when I found out (a few years late) that his son had published horror novels under the name Joe Hill, I knew immediately that I HAD to read them. And I was right. These books needed to be read, but not because the author is Stephen King’s son. Joe Hill may have followed in his father’s footsteps by writing horror but it is his voice, and his alone, that colors the stories.
I began with The Heart Shaped Box and as I’ve noted in a previous post, managed to give myself the creeps within the first few chapters. The summary seems simple enough. An aging rockstar who collects morbid items is contacted about purchasing a dead man’s suit with the idea that the ghost will follow said suit. Of course the suit is purchased. The problem is the transaction was a set up and the ghost has a personal vendetta against our star. Sounds like a standard horror plot. However the ghost was just the surface fright, the equivalent of a formulaic scary movie. As Hill moves his characters deeper into the plot, the true terror is revealed not in the supernatural, but in the depths of corrupted human minds. While the idea of a ticked off ghost is disturbing enough, the realization that it was simply the continuation of a truly twisted psyche gave me chills.
Hill continues this theme in Horns. A man loses the love of his life in a brutal rape/murder that most of the town believes he committed although there’s no evidence. He spends a year in his own personal purgatory until he wakes up one morning hung over, with a raging headache and a pair of horns. People tend to overlook the horns though and are instead compelled to admit their deepest, darkest fantasies & thoughts. Through this and the ability to read memories through touch, the protagonist quickly learns the actual events of his beloved’s death while Hill simultaneously reveals that the horror lies not with the emerging Devil, but with the humans and their capacity for pure selfishness and evil. Even with the overwhelming intensity of malevolence exhibited by the revealed killer, it is still the everyday human thoughts that were most upsetting.
Human depravity is much more frightening than any boogeyman. It’s the monsters that lurk within our psyches that terrify me. Those are real. Those walk among us, and within us, every day. Hill skillfully wraps that idea in layers of the bizarre to present stories that not only entertained me but also had me considering night lights.