- Book Reviews
- Hall of Fame
- Books Read 2010-
- Baileys Prize
- Bellwether Prize
- Booker Prize
- Carnegie Medal
- Dayton Peace Prize
- Dylan Thomas Prize
- First Novel Prize
- Folio Prize
- IFF Prize
- National Book Award
- NBCC Award
- NYT Notables
- Walter Scott
- 20 Under 40
- 1001 Books
- The "Darling, but..." Book Club
- Review Policy
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Sean wants to sue for what they went through in Florida, but the lawyer says that's not a case. A wrongful birth suit is an option, however. Did I mention Charlotte's obgyn is not only her best friend but the one who introduced her to Sean? Perhaps it's because I don't have children, but I found Charlotte to a completely unsympathetic character. I was upset that Picoult's thanks and acknowledgments at the beginning of the book included a spoiler. She mentions she changed the process of how jury's are selected in New Hampshire. I imagine there would have been much more suspense about if a trial would actually happen in the first half of the book if I didn't read in the thank yous that one did. Keep in mind, I try to avoid book flap summaries for spoilers too; I like to go into books (and movies) knowing little to nothing about the plot. I rely on the opinions of reviewers and friends much more than on plot synopses.
Part of me loved the book; I read it's almost 500 pages in less than 24 hours. I even found myself most engrossed with Marin, Charlotte's lawyer, searching for her own birth mother. I found her storyline most compelling. Wrongful birth is a fascinating issue, but it's an issue tied to the broken health insurance system in this country. Socialized medicine would alleviate all of the problems Charlotte faced, and as an advocate for equal access to health care regardless of disease, condition or income, I found myself bogged down in not only the politics of choice but of the inherent flaws in a health insurance system seeking to make money rather than help and protect people.
Politics aside, the book seemed rather formulaic. I realize I just finished My Sister's Keeper last week, but it felt like a retelling of that story with some of the medical details and legal details changed. The surprise ending wasn't much of a surprise, and I found it to be a cop-out. Again, it all comes back to Charlotte being a character I couldn't quite rally myself behind. I think the set-up and the idea of this story was fantastic, and I certainly learned a lot. I even enjoyed reading it enough to read it quite quickly, but I can't say I loved it. It is a book I would recommend most strongly for book clubs. The themes and ideas raised in this book are ripe for discussion, but it's not a book I loved.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Georgia's Greatness is the third in the Sisters 8 series. This book takes place in March (seeing a trend here?), and it's Georgia's month to discover her gift and talent. For some reason, this book incorporates fantasy, and I love it, while I took a little fault with the second one. I won't spoil the surprise of Georgia's talent, although I will tell you it's even cooler than Durinda's. The highlight of this book is seeing the eights truly come together to figure things out and get themselves out of a jam. They seem to be getting smarter, more sensible and more self-confident, and it makes them that much more enjoyable to read.
I realize I'm not the target audience, but the there is a two-page soliloquy (if you will) about The Waltons that had me laughing for hours (even nomadreaderboy loved it).
Georgia's Greatness is at least as good, if not better than Annie's Adventures. This series is a true delight to read.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
My Sister's Keeper is mostly the story of two sisters: Anna, who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was two, and Kate, who was conceived so her umbilical cord could be transplanted to save Anna. Kate is now thirteen, and she has decided to sue her parents for medical emancipation because every time Anna is sick, Kate must offer pieces of her body up to save her.
It's a harrowing tale told from the point of view of Kate, her mom (via flashbacks dating back to Anna's first diagnosis), her dad, her brother (a juvenile delinquent), her attorney, and her guardian ad litum. While the story is told through multiple voices, I found myself identifying (and enjoying) Kate's parts best. She truly wrestles with her love for her sister and her yearning for independence, as any thirteen-year-old would.
There are no easy answers in this book, and it's a fascinating look at a complex issue both legally, medically and emotionally. For the record, although I don't know what the new ending is, I'm appalled the movie has a different ending. I will try to withhold full judgment until I see it, but I can't imagine any ending as more appropriate than the one Picoult wrote.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The novel is part adventure, part ode to New York (perhaps my favorite city in the entire world), and part reinvention of a classical myth. It is a beautiful, engaging tale of friendship and the level of magic Marsh creates rivals the Harry Potter universe.
While it is not rare for me to delight and enjoy a children's book, it is rare for me to forget I'm reading a children's book. The Night Tourist is so thoroughly engaging, any adult reader (especially sci-fi and fantasy fans) would love it. Despite being filled with intrigue, humor and fun, it's also incredibly wise. There are an ordinate number of illusions to mythology and great literature, many of which I was not as familiar with as I should be.
The follow-up, again featuring Jack, The Twilight Prisoner, was just released, and I can't wait to read it.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
The story picks up in February, and this round seems more fantastical than the first, which combined reality and fantasy. There is love drama between the talking refrigerator, Carl, and the robot maid, Betty. Durinda discovers her magic gift, which is the awesomely cool ability to freeze people. Even cooler is that her cat can do the same thing to the other cats.
It's a nice continuation of the story, but it felt a little too tied into Valentine's Day. Granted, I read it in May, so I was a little removed the festive occasion. It's still delightful, and I'm still excited for the third book.
Stories from Candyland is one of those books that's really hard to review for a simple reason: it's not good, but I absolutely loved it. I don't think it's a coincidence the reviewers at Amazon are equally divided between 5 stars and 1 star ratings.
I am a huge fan of Tori Spelling's faux reality show So NoTorious, and I read STori Telling and enjoyed it. I've seen a lot of Beverly Hills, 90210 episodes in my time, and I am pretty well-versed in the Spelling universe. I can't say I had much of an opinion of Candy going into the book. From Tori's stories in her first autobiography and the hilarious anecdotes from the show (brilliantly played by Loni Anderson), I gathered she was a little cooky.
Stories from Candyland is a completely bizarre autobiography because it's not even remotely chronological. I imagine her writing it, appearing at the computer, and deciding what to write that day, and keeping the book in the same order. There are ridiculous gaps in what is interesting: how she came to be married at 17, then divorced; how she came to meet Aaron Spelling; the relationship with her former "friend" and alleged lover; her relationship with Tori. Candy merely alludes to these omissions. Is she hankering for another book deal? I hope so!
In all seriousness, I've read a lot of children's literature last semester. A recurring theme was the ability of authors to employ a child as a protagonist and have the reader understand both how the child viewed his or surroundings and knowledge of what was actually going on . Candy Spelling is a child protagonist. Part of the book's joy is hearing her tell stories and knowing what's actually happening, even though I'm confident she has little to no idea. She often speaks directly to Tori in the pages of the book.
Candy Spelling is delightful, and I would hate for her to be my mother. I want to go to her home, drink wine, talk to her, then go home and deconstruct everything she said and did. Stories From Candyland is a small window into her world, and although I don't particularly like her or respect her, I find her immensely fascianting, and I loved the book. I cannot wait for Mommywood to arrive for me at the library. I also plan to read Aaron Spelling's co-written memoir, A Prime-Time Life.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5 stars).
What could easily become schlocky or depressing is ultimately uplifting in the deft hands of Forman. The characters are a family I want to have over for dinner. The book is a mere two hundred pages, but Forman manages to have not just one, but a multitude of well-formed, likeable characters.
Yes, it's a young adult novel, but I would recommend it to adult readers as well. It's a timeless tale, and it's the second-best book I've read this year (the best is The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis, but read his City of Fire first).
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Nobody Move is the story of interconnected characters in the California desert. Jimmy Luntz is a gambler deep in the whole to his bookie, Gambol is the man sent to inflict physical harm to get the money, Juarez is the king of this underworld, and Anita Desilvera is an alcoholic and soon-to-be-divorced woman convicted of embezzlement who happens upon Jimmy. It's a motley cast of characters, and the cover's gunshots holes are a good indicator of the amount of violence.
Denis Johnson is a gifted writer; no one disputes this fact. The characters are intriguing, and there is suspense of sorts, but somehow it didn't all come together for me. Perhaps my own cynicism led me to believe their futures to be bleak and inevitable and I didn't fully embrace the characters. I usually adore noir, but I was ambivalent about this one. It's a brief book, less than 200 pages, and it seems to beg for a movie rather than a book. I wanted to like it more than I did, although I did enjoy reading it (except for one completely unnecessary, disgusting scene that would not have been out of place in a cheap teen comedy).
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Gathering Blue is the story of Kira, a lame (as in she was born with a bad leg) girl newly orphaned. As in The Giver, the reader discovers the world and community Kira lives in through her eyes. As an orphan, Kira may soon be kicked out of the village. The first few chapters treat the reader to a court hearing of sorts determining if and how she should stay. This world is quite different from the world of The Giver, and dare I say, it's not quite as interesting. Granted, it had a lot to live up to.
Ultimately, Gathering Blue, is good, but it's not great. The novel seemed to divide itself into three parts in my mind: the beginning, where the reader learns the setting; the middle, where the action is rather subdued; and the end, which is once again intriguing, if not riveting as The Giver was.
Perhaps it's not fair to compare Gathering Blue to The Giver. If I didn't know they were related, I wouldn't have spotted the connections between the two. (The connections apparently come in The Messenger, which features characters from both books). It's still an interesting read, and young science fiction fans will likely delight in it. Gathering Blue doesn't have the cross-genre appeal of The Giver, and it doesn't have a powerful enough narrative to intrigue readers of all ages, but upper elementary students would be the ideal audience for it.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Our story begins on New Year's Eve, when our beloved octuplets notice their father went out to get more wood for the fire quite a while ago, and their mother went to get eggnog quite a while ago. The girls soon discover a note, telling them they each have a gift, and they each much find a present to uncover the secret to where their parents are.
The story is a mix of reality (how the not-yet-eight-year-olds must learn to function as adults so as not alarm neighbors, teachers, etc. that there parents are missing) and humor (their mother, a scientist, has a dimwitted robot maid who doesn't follow directions well) and fantasy (they're smart enough to fool adults). The overall affect is a delightful combination of realism, fantasy and humor sure to delight the intended audience, but clever enough to satisfy their parents.
There are eight girls with eight cats, which means there are sixteen names to learn and try to keep straight in the 130-odd page text. There are occasional pictures (see the gorgeous cover) that are beautifully done. It seems the series will be at least eight parts, one devoted to each of the Huit sisters. I will warn you: I am enamored by this series, and I don't want to wait for all eight to be published. Start reading at your own peril; we won't find out where the parents are for quite a few more books. In the meantime though, enjoy.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Here's what the publisher has to say:
"When an obscure charity recruits Josh Hagarty to manage their activities in a war-torn region of Africa, he is eager to sign on and atone for a past he regrets. After a lifetime of bad luck, someone is finally giving him a chance. All he has to do is not blow it.
He tries to lose himself in his new job, but soon the precariousness of his situation becomes impossible to ignore. Gideon, the man assigned to guide him through the dangerous and exotic world he's been thrust into, is revealed to be a psychotic thug with ties to the country's genocidal dictator. And Josh's predecessor didn't quit as he'd been led to believe, but was found dismembered in the jungle after asking questions that no one wanted answered.
When the life of his young sister in the United States is threatened by the organization, Josh is forced to face the fact that his employer may not be the benevolent charity it claims to be. Worse yet, Josh realizes he has become an unwitting player in a billion-dollar conspiracy with tentacles snaking across the globe. Escape is impossible -- the only way out is to bring the whole institution down.
With the help of Annika Gritdal, a beautiful Scandinavian aid worker, and journalist JB Flannary, Josh pits himself against an American criminal organization backed by a dictator who is virtually omnipotent within the borders of his country. As his own survival becomes less and less likely, Josh realizes that his life is just one of thousands -- perhaps millions -- at stake."
Lords of Corruption reads almost like a movie script. It's a lushly visual novel, even though I wished some of the violence was not described as vividly as it was (a la Josh Bazell's brilliant, but often cringe-inducing Beat the Reaper). Lords of Corruption is an exciting story, and it raises some interesting issues about the world we live in. It's refreshing to read a novel where the safety of our protagonist is uncertain. This was the first novel by Kyle Mills I read, and I certainly liked it enough to read more. Mills was a Bureau Kid, and I can't help but wonder how many elements of truth found a way into this novel. Regardless of its "truthiness", it's a good read, although I recommend you once you hit the book's midway point, you ensure you have time to finish reading it.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
This book was featured in mailbox delight on March 23, 2009.
The Giver is told from the point-of-view of Jonas, an almost-twelve-year-old boy. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and clear Jonas lives in a very different world than we do. Details of when and where are scarce, as it is all Jonas knows. The reader is along for the ride as Jonas learns more and more about the community he lives in.
One of the things I've loved most about my immersion into children's literature this semester has been the coming of age story. I don't think it's a coincidence so many narrators of children's books; it's the magical age of intellectual awakening it seems. Jonas is a great narrator. He's thoughtful, kind, and increasingly skeptical. Lowry does a marvelous job of telling the story through Jonas's eyes but leaving clues for the reader to pick up on before even Jonas himself does. This layering of knowledge provides suspense on two levels: the reader wonders what really is going on in this strange world and when and if Jonas will fully realize it as well.
I cannot recommend The Giver highly enough. It's a fascinating novel, and although it's intended for upper-elementary students, it's appropriate for teenagers and adults too.
(Yes, I also realize most everyone with even a passing interest in children's literature read this novel fifteen years ago, and I am ridiculously late to praise it, but I am anyway).
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5) - life-changingly good
As a bride-to-be, I'm doing the requisite reading (or skimming) of bridal books and magazines. So far, I've found it more sociologically fascinating than actually helpful, and I've enjoyed reading novels about weddings more than wedding handbooks, but Offbeat Bride was fabulous. It's more of a memoir than a wedding planning book, although I did get quite a few great tips from it. As it is more of a memoir of the author's journey planning an unconventional wedding, I would recommend it to those of you not planning a wedding.
The book is certainly geared at those of us brides-to-be who may not embrace the ubiquitous white dress (I'm wearing blue because it's my favorite color and makes my eyes shine) or getting married in a church (I'm getting married in a library) or having someone walk you down the aisle (nomadreaderboy likes this idea far more than I do, and he may elect to have his parents walk him down the aisle.) Regardless of what traditions you embrace, subvert or create, you'll find ideas. For those of you not getting married, it's still a fascinating, thoughtful glance at wedding culture.
Ariel Meadow Stallings, who is funny, interviewed tons of people, mostly her friends, and the results were surprising, at least to me. She's a former raver, club kid, crazy kid (I don't think she'd mind these descriptions) who was with her now-husband for seven years when they decided to get engaged. She's a fun and funky feminist who welcomes the traditions she chooses and doesn't judge those who view them differently. Even traditions based in the sexist patriarchy and capitalism can have meaning for modern, feminist brides and grooms. The big picture: your wedding is your wedding. Do what you want, compromise when it's prudent, and relax enough to enjoy yourself. After reading this book, I'm mostly convinced all of us are offbeat brides (or grooms) in some ways. Sure, some weddings are more traditional than others, but it doesn't make them less offbeat.
Hearing from a large cross-section of theoretically similarly like-minded brides was fascinating, and I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I read it when I wasn't planning a wedding. Weddings should be deeply personal, and ritual is rich with meaning. Finding the right combination is a choice each couple must make themselves. The book is a few years old, but the Offbeat Bride lives on at http://www.offbeatbride.com.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
There's a lot going on, but not much really happens. The reader is introduced to the killer of the young and fabulous rather early on. I am not opposed to hearing some of the interior monologue of the killer, but knowing the killer's name and reasons for killing took away much of the suspense. Yuki barely got to interact with the other three, and her subplot was rather dull. I would have much rather seen her spend time in the courtroom and be a witness to the actual trial than picking up during jury deliberations. Yuki's other subplot was a blossoming romance that was incredibly awkward, odd and unncessessary, and I want to see her happy. The killer's weapon was interesting, but the early outing of the killer's identity killed the suspense that could have (and should have) accompanied the crimes.
I normally really enjoy the Women's Murder Club series. Some have certainly been better than others, but the stories are usually interesting. Patterson (or Pietro--I'm still not sure how much authoring each one does) is not a great writer. There is usually at least one time I groan out loud at the dialogue. The 8th Confession had a lot of great elements of a good mystery (unique method of killing, the reality of relative morality and importance when it comes to solving crimes against the rich and poor), but I found it to be awkward throughout. For such a short mystery, there were too many storylines, and far too much time spent on the romance lives of Cindy, Yuki and Lindsay. Women's Murder Club is at its best when the four heroines work together, combining their skills and jobs for the greater good. A few meetings for a quick conversation do not drive this series. Yuki needs something to do. She needs some good luck to come her way. Please, Jame and Maxine, stop using italics every other line to emphasize a word. It's sloppy writing, and it makes me think a teenager wrote it. Learn to emphasize like writers.
I'll still read the next Women's Murder Club, but they are on probation after this debacle. The series is still work checking out, if you haven't read it. Start from the beginning (1st to Die), and enjoy.
In a semi-related note, how lame is the cover? I know Patterson's books sell no matter what is inside, or apparently on the cover, but a little effort would be nice, graphic arts department.
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Lil is a sad but lovable narrator. I found myself enjoying the modern scenes set in Manhattan much more than the slowly evolving story of Cinderella. Each chapter begins with the long ago tale, but it became increasingly clear to me the outcome of Cinderella and the ball (it's not the fairy tale we grew up hearing) far earlier in the book than it's actually revealed. These breaks into the past disrupted the flow of the story. Still, Lil is a delight.
I confess I don't read many books dealing with fairies, so I can't speak to the originality of the banished fairy. Before this book, I wasn't familiar with visual depictions of fairies or the plethora of fairy lore.
Overall, I enjoyed the book enough to read it in two days, but I didn't love it. I fully admit I am not a fan of fairy tales, and I imagine this predilection colors my view of this book. I do want to read Carolyn Turgeon's other novel, Rain Village, about a Midwestern girl who becomes a trapeze artist.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Friday, May 1, 2009
Author Cassandra Fallows has achieved remarkable success by baring her life on the page. Her two widely popular memoirs continue to sell briskly, acclaimed for their brutal, unexpurgated candor about friends, family, lovers—and herself. But now, after a singularly unsuccessful stab at fiction, Cassandra believes she may have found the story that will enable her triumphant return to nonfiction.
When Cassandra was a girl, growing up in a racially diverse middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore, her best friends were all black: elegant, privileged Donna; sharp, shrewd Tisha; wild and worldly Fatima. A fifth girl orbited their world—a shy, quiet, unobtrusive child named Calliope Jenkins—who, years later, would be accused of killing her infant son. Yet the boy's body was never found and Calliope's unrelenting silence on the subject forced a judge to jail her for contempt. For seven years, Calliope refused to speak and the court was finally forced to let her go. Cassandra believes this still unsolved real-life mystery, largely unknown outside Baltimore, could be her next bestseller.
But her homecoming and latest journey into the past will not be welcomed by everyone, especially by her former friends, who are unimpressed with Cassandra's success—and are insistent on their own version of their shared history. And by delving too deeply into Calliope's dark secrets, Cassandra may inadvertently unearth a few of her own—forcing her to reexamine the memories she holds most precious, as the stark light of truth illuminates a mother's pain, a father's betrayal . . . and what really transpired on a terrible day that changed not only a family but an entire country.
This novel featured narration by a variety of characters, but predominantly our protagonist, Cassandra Fallows, narrated. As a reader, I did not feel a connection with her. She's wonderfully articulate, introspective, and thoughtful, but I didn't find her interesting or lovable. I found the so-called mystery to be interesting enough to finish the book, but not interesting enough to make me care what happens to these characters. I expected this novel to be mostly a mystery, but I found it to be mostly about race relations surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how his death affected these characters. As a tale of race relations, it was awkward at times. It's not a bad book, but there is something about it that does not quite work. It's certainly better in theory than in practice. The idea of this book is riveting and fascinating, but the execution fell short. Still, I'm eager to read Laura Lippman's other books. She is a good writer, and I look forward to reading an actual mystery.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
The Sisters Antipodes, a memoir, begins with novelist Jane Alison's childhood. When she was four, her parents developed a close friendship with another couple with two daughters of nearly identical looks and ages. Both men were diplomats. The two couples swapped spouses, and The Sisters Antipodes is Alison's recounting, through diaries she kept as a child and her own memoirs, of what happened and how she came to greater understanding as she grew up.
Jane Alison is a beautiful writer. I adore her prose. Marriage of the Sea is one of my favorite books. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn more about novelists. It's wonderful to discover the elements of themselves and their loved ones they incorporate into their fiction.
The Sisters Antipodes was interesting, but it didn't grow throughout the memoir. Alison's writing was mesmerizing throughout, but I found the events less interesting as the book wore on. It almost the opposite of a celebrity tell-all. Alison tells little, as she perhaps knows little of her parents' stories, but she analyzes and pontificates extensively. If you're a fan of introspective memoirs (or even novels), then you'll likely enjoy it. If you enjoy thrillers, you'll likely be underwhelmed. It was an interesting read, but it doesn't stand up to her three novels. Read those first.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)