Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: “Handle With Care” by Jodi Picoult

Handle With Care is a novel about a family who’s young daughter suffered from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone syndrome.  At five years old, she has suffered over fifty bone breaks and spends much of her time in a wheelchair.  The emotional and financial stress this disease has put on the family is overwhelming.  As a result, the mother, Charlotte, decides to file a lawsuit for Wrongful Birth, alleging that if her OB had told her earlier in her pregnancy that her daughter would be this severely handicapped, she would have aborted the fetus.  There are many moral dilemmas attached to this lawsuit, Charlotte has to say she wishes her daughter had never been born and her OB is her best friend, Piper. 

 I have read just about everything Jodi Picoult has written.  There is a formula to her books.  There is always an impossible moral dilemma which there is no easy answer to.  She usually shows the problem from many different viewpoints by switching narrators for each chapter.  These moral dilemmas usually involve an insanely protective mother and a much more sympathetic father.  The siblings are usually screwed up with their own problems that the parents just can’t see because they are too wrapped up in the moral dilemma.  There is usually a big twist at the end.  While this is formulaic for Picoult, the formula works for her.  Each of her books teaches me about a subject I formerly knew little about.  The layers built up by the sub-plots and multiple viewpoints are intriguing and add depth to the writing.  The books are also fiercely entertaining.  I can read one in about a day if I have time to spend on it.  A perfect way to spend an afternoon. 

My one frustration with Picoult’s books, and it happened again in Handle With Care, is that the mother characters are unsympathetic, unreasonable, and stubborn.  I have a really hard time liking them.  In Handle With Care, Charlotte is willing to rip apart her family, ruin a decade long friendship and perjure herself in court in order to obtain a big payout in a malpractice suit.  Yes, money is tight with her, and yes, her daughter’s medical bills are ridiculous, but I have a really hard time with people who are so money focused that they would sacrifice everything for it.  Do to her decision to sue, she ruined the career of her best friend, caused her healthy daughter to lose all of her friends at school, cause her husband to testify for the defense and file for divorce, cause her handicapped daughter to feel like a burden and that she should have never been born.  Really?  Was it worth it?

I emailed Jodi Picoult a couple years ago after reading another one of her books in which the mother character drove me crazy.  I asked her why she is so hard on mothers and why they are so unsympathetic.  She said that as a mother herself, she finds it is the hardest and also most important job in the world.  It is easy to be blinded by what you see as protecting your kids and make mistakes.  This is why she is so hard on the mothers in her books. Okay, I get that, but she has written almost twenty books and ALL of the mother characters are monsters.  I’m not a mother myself, but I’m curious what women with kids think about this issue. 

I also thought the POV was awkward in this book.  Picoult wrote it in the second person, which is very difficult to pull off.  This is where one character tells the story to another character using “you.”  The multiple narrators were telling the story to Willow, the six year old handicapped daughter.  I didn’t feel this was realistic or consistent.  Why would a parent tell their little girl about having sex the family laundry room?  It didn’t make sense.  Picoult should stick to the first person POV like she uses in her other books.

Overall, I give Handle With Care

Plot – 3 bookmarks.  (slightly predictable for someone who has read a lot of her books, but entertaining nonetheless.)
Moral Dilemma – 4 ½ bookmarks.  (I like that Picoult shows all sides.)
Character Development – 3 bookmarks
Courtroom Drama – 3 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Bridgette Andersen when she was six years old (Willow), Sara Clarke (Charlotte), Brad Pitt (Sean), Uma Thurman (Piper)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: “Bel Ami” by Guy de Maupassant

Written in 1885, Bel Ami is a scandalous French novel about a scoundrel.  I’m not kidding.  The main character, George Duroy is a major slime-ball.  Written as an anti-hero, the novel begins with Duroy fresh from the military, penniless and struggling to make something of himself in Parisian society.  Duroy’s major talent is his incredible good looks and ability to charm the ladies.  Through the seduction of various women, Duroy moves up in the world, landing a career in journalism at a newspaper and making more money at every turn.  The problem is, Duroy is never satisfied. 

As I was reading this, I realized that Duroy is guilty of all seven of the deadly sins.  Lust – He seduces married women, balancing several at a time.  Wrath – He is vengeful on those men who are more fortunate than him.  He also flayed a government minister in the press rather viciously.  Sloth – Unless you count his bedroom activities as work, Duroy is lazy.  He even gets his wife to write his newspaper articles for him.  Envy – Duroy gets insanely jealous for the fortunes of other men.  This gets really bad when the owner of the newspaper lands a windfall in a savvy investment scheme.  Gluttony – Duroy is a slave to the pleasures of Paris, from food to wine to women.  Pride – He is in credibly sensitive to any perceived slight against him and demands full respect at all times, even when he is clearly in the wrong.  He also allows the women in his social circle to call him “Pretty Boy” in reference to his good looks.  Lastly, Duroy has no sin greater than that of Greed.  He is insatiable in his appetites for money and pleasure.  He is never grateful for his good fortune, rather once fortune is received, he sets his goals higher. 

Somehow, despite all of this, I found myself rooting for him.  I’m not sure why that is.  I guess de Maupassant did a compelling job with showing Duroy’s humble beginnings at the start of the novel and I found myself wanting him to succeed.  It was all very strange.  It did leave me with the feeling that Duroy will never have a happy ending, no matter what good falls on his plate.  Very sad, although just. 

Overall, I give Bel Ami….

Plot – 3 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks (He made me care about this total swine.)
Love Story – 3 ½ bookmarks (This is pretty racy stuff for 1885.  I can see why women fall in love with Duroy over and over.  I think the only one that he had any genuine feelings for was Clotilde, who seemed to accept him for the cad that he was.) 
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Many people probably know that the movie for Bel Ami was filmed earlier this year and is due to come out in 2011.  While I think Rob Pattinson is a perfect George Duroy, I had some problems with the female actresses opposite him.  Kristen Scott Thomas will make a good Madame Walter.  Here are who I thought of for the other roles – Kristen Prout (Susan Walter), Adrienne Frantz (Madame Forristier), Scarlett Johanssen (Clotilde).  

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: “Soulless” by Gail Carriger

I have officially completed my first steampunk novel!  I have to say, I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I really liked this!  There is humor, love, supernatural beings, Victorian fashion, cool clockwork gadgets and plenty of gore.  The writing was very witty.  During the most gruesome of scenes, main character Alexia Tarabotti is able to maintain a staunch hold on her Victorian etiquette. 

The novel opens with Alexia being rudely attacked by a rogue vampire while taking her tea.  She kills the vamp with her wooden hair pin and trusty parasol.  This attack leads to a mystery involving the vamps and werewolves of London.  While vamps and weres are known and somewhat accepted by London’s human society, the humans are not aware that Alexia herself is a preternatural, she has no soul.  This makes Alexia a natural threat to the supernatural community, because she can neutralize their powers, in effect turn them into weak humans, with one touch.  Luckily for all involved, Alexia chooses the path of good manners rather than using her talents against anyone. 

Lord Maccon, Alpha of the local were community and head of the BUR (forgot what that stands for, but it is like a police division dealing with supernatural beings), is on the case to find out where this rogue vamp came from and why many vamps and weres have been going missing.  Meanwhile, Alexia keeps finding herself in the midst of dangerous situations.  Is it a case of wrong place/wrong time, or is someone actually hunting her? 

Overall, I give Soulless…

Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 2 ½ bookmarks
Humor – 3 bookmarks
Love Story – 3 bookmarks
Fight Scenes – 3 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Gerard Butler (Lord Maccon), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Alexia Tarabotti), Elton John (Lord Akeldama)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: “The Passage” by Justin Cronin

I first learned of this book when Justin Cronin was interviewed on Good Morning America.  A couple of days afterward, I went to hear him speak at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago.  He is such an intelligent and interesting man, that I just had to read his latest book, The Passage

The Passage is about a little girl who saves the world, and begins in the near future.  The US Military gets it’s naughty hands on a virus which basically turns people into vampires.  (Not the supernatural kind, more like a biological changes as a result of the virus.)  These vamps are animalistic, lethal, amazingly strong, powerful, fast and have the potential for being the perfect weapon of war.  Of course, the military loses control over the vamps and they get loose, decimating the population of the North American continent (possibly the world, the few survivors don’t know who is left out there).  After almost a century, a small group of human set out on a mission for survival. 

Really the book is much cooler and more involved than I can give it justice within one paragraph.  Seriously, this book is a work of art.  While this is defiantly a plot driven novel, the characters are compelling, sympathetic and very different from each other.  The survivors of the “vampocalypse” are like a perfect cross-section of the current US population.  There is someone for everyone to identify with. 

I liked about this book is it gives us a glimpse into what humans in the future will think about us based on the artifacts that we leave behind.  They read our books and look at our photographs, but think of them as fantasy… not really a real thing they can relate too.  It makes you think about the traces of your life that you will be leaving behind. 

Oh, another thing!  You have got to read Cronin’s description of the Gulf of Mexico in the future.  Given the current oil spill crisis and the fact that he wrote this prior to the oil spill, it is just creepy!

This book is the first in a trilogy.  I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel! 

Overall, I give The Passage

Plot – 5 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Interpretation of Vampire Lore – 5 bookmarks (He takes elements of the vampire myths and makes them real.  For example, the humans fight the vamps with crossbows because they have no ammo for guns anymore.  They call them crosses.  Similar to the myth that a crucifix can ward off a vampire.  Genius!) 
Fight Scenes – 4 bookmarks (plenty of action)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – I gave this a lot of thought, because it was a long book.  Bradley Cooper (Bradley Wolgast), Ruby Jerins (Amy), Mehcad Brooks (Peter), Natalie Portman (Alicia), Freida Pinto (Mausami), Eric Close (Greer), Reese Witherspoon (Sara), Michael Graziadei (Michael)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review: “In the Runes: Make Me Remember” by Emma Petersen

I realize I haven’t posted a new review in a while.  This is not because I haven’t been reading (trust me, I read like a fiend), but I happen to be reading a couple of very long books and over-lapping them, which means I am not getting them completed as fast as I should.  Also, I have read a few things which I don’t care to review for various reasons.  Anyway, that is my little explanation for my I’ve been absent. 

In the Runes: Make Me Remember was given to me by Emma Petersen through some drawing I won in a chat room one day.  It is a short erotic romance about two people who meet and realize they have met before.  Hannah is a California doctor who is inexplicably drawn to a volunteer assignment in nowhere South Dakota to treat the poor folk in the Native-American community.  She has a loveless relationship with a fiancé who she plans to marry once her year of service is complete.  One day, the police chief, Gabe, comes into the hospital and they are immediately struck by each other.  It turns out, they were married in a past life where they vowed to each other to reconnect.  Sounds strange, but Petersen tells the story much better than I do, and it works really well. 

There are several things that I liked about this story.  The emotional bond with these characters, both in the present and in the past was vividly described, which made my engagement into their story very strong.  At times, I forgot this was an “erotic” romance because the sex seemed like such an integral part of the relationship and the love.  It didn’t feel gratuitous at all.  I also liked the idea of loving someone so much that you are bonded over multiple lifetimes.  The historic story was filled with tragedy and chaos, so seeing them together in the present truly does feel like a happy ending. 

One of the things I had an issue with in this novella is Hannah’s relationship with her fiancé.  I didn’t get why these people were together at all.  I know the reader is supposed to hate him and root for her hooking up with Gabe, but it seems like there needed to be something redeeming about the man to explain her initial attraction to him.  I didn’t like the mother either.

Overall, I give In the Runes: Make Me Remember…

Plot – 3 ½  bookmarks.  It was truly unique.  On the other hand, since it is only novella length, you can expect sub-plots and deeper elements to suffer. 
Emotional Relationship – 4 bookmarks
Sexual Relationship – 3 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Chaske Spencer (Gabe), Halle Berry (Hannah)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: “The Vampire’s Seduction” by Raven Hart

I’m not a patient person, and I spend a lot of time waiting… doctor’s offices, the DMV, airports… so I keep a book in my purse to keep from going insane.  I usually designate some mildly entertaining, but not horribly engaging  novel.  (It has to be something I can easily put down when my name is called.)  The Vampire’s Seduction has been my purse book for the last couple of months.  I originally put it there because I assumed form the title that it was going to be a romance.  However, I think I was wrong.  The Vampire’s Seduction in a sexy book, but not overly romantic.  It is told from the POV of two different male vamps who find their beloved city of Savannah under attack  by an evil European vamp.  I would actually classify this novel as more of an action oriented vamp book than a romance. 

First, some things I liked… I liked the relationship between the vamps William and Jack.  William is Jack’s sire.  He is more of the cliché vamp in that he is rich, suave, powerful, etc.  Jack is different.  He is loveable and human like.  He is an innocent in many ways.  And very funny!  William love’s Jack’s humanity and works hard to keep him innocent of the darker elements of vampire life.  Jack sees this as heavy-handed and oppressive.  Throughout the course of the story, William sees his error in keeping Jack ignorant and Jack discovers William’s love.  It is a wonderful bromance!  I also enjoyed the co-mingling of vampire lore with Savannah voodoo legends.  It added an interesting twist.

Some areas where I thought improvement was needed… I was never really convinced of the evil vamp, Reedrek’s motivations.  Was it really all about power?  If so, yawn.  Reedrek himself also didn’t feel scary to me.  He was like a composite of all cheesy 1950’s vamp movies and cartoons.  I also had some issues with William’s time-bending mind travel.  It seemed to come out of nowhere and felt wrong. 

Will I continue to read this series?  Maybe.  I don’t feel a burning need to run out and buy the rest of them, but if I came across the next book in a bargain bin, I would be excited to pick it up. 

Overall, I give The Vampire’s Seduction

Plot – 2 bookmarks
Love Story – 1 bookmark (There was a tiny one between Jack and Connie.  I assume that will get explored more in future books.)
Characters – 2 ½ bookmarks.  (Loved William & Jack.  Loved some of the supporting characters.  Thought a huge opportunity got missed with Reedrek.)
Interpretation of Vampire Lore – 3 bookmarks.  (Love the incorporation of voodoo, but thought the whole male/female vamp sex thing was stupid.)
Bromance – 4 bookmarks

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner” by Stephanie Meyer

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must pre-face this review by admitting that I am a Twilight Saga fan.  (Make fun out of me if you must – I don’t care.)  The reason I think that information is pertinent is because I feel different people will read this book for different reasons and the angle you come into it will determine what you get out of it.  Most people read Twilight for the romance between B, E, & J.  There is nothing wrong with this, but those people will have to understand that B, E & J have little if nothing to do with Bree’s story and therefore aren’t really in it except at the end.  Also, since this is only a character sketch and not a full novel, there is very little time to develop any kind of romance at all. 

Now, for people like me who just dig vampires in all forms, you may enjoy this book.  Bree Tanner is more of your typical, human-eating vamp who is completely consumed with her newborn thirst for blood.  This book is darker and more gory than the other Twilight novels.  For this reason, the romance readers might not get into it.

One problem with Bree’s story is that I don’t feel it went deep enough.  Since readers will be going into this story, already knowing Bree’s fate, the background story is essential.  I thought Meyer did a great job showing us what life was like for the newborns under Riley’s leadership, but I would have liked more of Bree’s life as a human.  A tiny bit was mentioned, but not enough to really connect to and care about. 

So, this book did have me thinking about other side stories form Twilight I would be interested in exploring further.  (Yes, we all want Meyer to release Midnight Sun.  Sorry, I don’t think that is going to happen.  She is too pissed off about it leaking on the internet, and I don’t blame her.  Out of respect for my fellow author, I have chosen not to read the leaked copy.)  I was thinking a story from Alice’s POV about her and Jasper’s time away from the Cullen’s during Breaking Dawn.  You know, when they pretended to run off, but were really seeking out half-breeds in South America.  I think there could be a good story there, and I would love to see more of Alice and Jasper’s relationship.  (Team Alice!)  What do you think?  Any suggestions of other characters that you might want to see Meyer explore further?

Overall, I give The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Plot – 2 bookmarks (It’s anti-climatic that we already know the end.)
Character Development – 2 bookmarks
Love Story – 1 bookmark (There was a very brief one, but not enough to engage the reader.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who i pictured while reading) – I pictured the actors from the movie, so no surprises there.  Although I have to point out one thing… The color bronze is a goldish brown, not red!  Bella repeatedly refers to Edward as having bronze colored hair.  On the other hand, Bree keeps calling him a red-head.  It was super annoying.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: “Gossip Girl” books 1 & 2 by Cecily von Ziegesar

Okay, so I’m writing my first YA manuscript and was a little unclear how far was too far for sexual topics.  While at my local used books store, I picked up a couple of the Gossip Girl books to see how they handle mature subjects.  The good news… I have nothing to worry about.

So this series follows several different students in private high schools in New York City.  Most of them are over-privileged and obnoxious.  At best, they are stereotypical.  That’s not to say there is no appeal.  I can definitely see how the average Mid-Western teenage could get lost in the Gossip Girl world.  I just don’t know if kids like this really exist.  They live in a world where money is no object, the bars never card, the parents don’t parent and there are no consequences for anything.  Again, I understand the appeal… really. 

Part of me liked the wild, no holding back of von Ziegesar.  Teens really do deal with drugs, alcohol, sex and eating disorders.  Her incorporation of technology is also brilliant.  But in real life, there are things like parents and consequences.  In real life drugs are not glamorous, sex sometimes leads to pregnancy or STD’s, binge drinking sometimes leads to alcohol poisoning, intoxication while driving sometimes leads to accidents, smoking sometimes leads to cancer, bulimia sometimes leads to real health problems, bank accounts sometimes run out of money.  Perhaps I’m too much of a realist.  I just think this world is too much fantasy to be interesting.

Oh, and the cheating POV’s are enough to give you whiplash!

Overall, I give Gossip Girl

Plot – 2 bookmarks
Character Development – ½ bookmark
Love Scenes – ½ bookmark
Craft of the Writing – 2 bookmarks (Hated the POV shifts, sometimes paragraph to paragraph, but liked the incorporation of the website.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – I’ve never seen the TV show, but I did check out the cast on the IMDB sight.  I think it was fairly well cast, although Taylor Momsen doesn’t fit Jenny and in the book, Vanessa has her head shaved.  I guess I don’t have anything to add.  I wasn’t invested enough for my imagination to roam too far off the TV show.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: “High Fidelity” by Nick Hornby

Why did it take me so long to read this book?  It’s not like it hasn’t been taking up valuable real estate on my book shelf for the past few years.  If I would have known how much I’d like it, I would have moved it a little closer to the front of my To-Be-Read list. 

The best way for me to describe High Fidelity is this (and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible): It is a slightly more literary version of Bridget Jones’ Diary for men.  It follows Rob, a thirty-five year old, hopelessly average, un-ambitious, record store owner and his shredded love-life, but it tosses in a healthy dose of humor to keep things rolling. 

Part of the genius of this book is the character development.  The main character, Rob is deeply flawed, yet incredibly sympathetic at the same time.  In fact, all of the characters seem to have dual-natures.  Barry & Dick, Rob’s friends from the record store start off seeming like a couple of losers, but end up growing on you.  Laura, Rob’s ex-girlfriend begins as a female to hate, but completely does a 180 by the end. 

High Fidelity achieves something few book s can in that it would be equally appealing to men as it is to women.  Men will see themselves in Rob and women will get a rare glimpse into the heads of men.  Definitely worth the read.

Overall, I give High Fidelity by Nick Hornby…

Plot – 3 bookmarks
Character Development – 5 bookmarks (a very rare feat!)
Humor – 3 ½ bookmarks
Intellectual Stimulation  - 3 ½ bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Okay, I know John Cusack stared in the movie version, but I never saw it.  I love Cusack, but he’s not British and this book has to be set in London.  So, for Rob, it would have to be a British version of John Cusack – not too good looking, slightly neurotic, in his thirties.  Rest of the cast – Carey Mulligan (Laura), Mike Pierce and Johnny White (Barry & Dick), the chick singer from Sugarland (Marie), Holly Grainger (Liz).