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Archive for March, 2011

The Promises She Keeps

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Erin Healy. 352 p. Published by Thomas Nelson, February 2011. Electronic review copy provided courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Contemporary/Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio: Promise has made it her life goal to become famous as a singer, before cystic fibrosis finally claims her life and she is forgotten forever.  A series of “accidents” and the suggestion of a local gallery owner lead her to believe that she might have the power to evade death within herself.  She discovers the truth through an unlikely source – the powerful and self-sacrificing love of an autistic man.  Read the first three chapters here.

Eyewitness Account: I’ll ‘fess up, I picked this book out because of the cover. I just loved the moment it captured – and unlike many covers, this moment plays a huge part in the book! There are three reasons why this book deserves some loud props and a hearty recommendation:

1) Healy developed very good characterization through multiple storylines that all managed to support and enhance her main theme. She easily balanced about 5 main characters and several additional supporting characters without sending me back through previously read pages for “who is that person again?” Not bad for a 350 page novel!

2) I can’t stick this book in a genre! It has elements of many – coming of age, the supernatural, suspense/thriller, mystery, romance – without any one dominating in my mind. Better yet, it was a story that, although defying the normal and natural, felt completely believable to me.

3) I fell whole-heartedly in love with Chase, the autistic guy. I loved his thinking process and his narrative voice in the book, and of course the message of truth he brings to Promise. He’s going down in my book of favorite non-real people (right under Fred & George Weasley)!

Healy definitely knows her way around a story, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she publishes!

Notable Quotes:

A longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  Draw the longing, for time is short.  Fill the heart, for days are full. All he could see were words, and then the meaning of the words disappeared and all he could see were strokes.  He saw the movement of a man’s hand gripping a grease pencil and forming each symbol, the sweeping and swooping of lines, the tight angels, the free flowing tails.  This was his father’s handwriting.”

“Can there be any greater accomplishment than saving a life? And maybe it doesn’t look like what we think it looks like — keeping the heart beating, keeping the brain alive.  I’m talking about the intangible stuff.  The reasons why a person gets up in the morning.  Because she wants to sing for the people she loves.  Or go to Paris with a friend.  Or take care of someone.”

“The promises of love are the promises you keep.  The promises of liars are worthless.  Throw those promises away.”

Other Books Read by This Author: This is my first book by Healy – she’s written a few with Ted Dekker, and another on her own titled Never Let You Go.

What are other people saying? 5 Minutes for Books, Thoughts From a Princess, Beyond the Bookshelf

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★

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“Comfort” book mystery


Reviewed by Cathy

Just the Facts: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark to be released April 2011 Galley edition by Netgalley

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares?  FICTION – ADULT: Mystery, Detective, Suspense & Thrillers: Mystery & Detective

Short Bio:  Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight is a tenacious, wise-cracking, and fiercely intelligent prosecutor in the city’s most elite division. When her colleague, Jake, is found dead at a grisly crime scene, Rachel is shaken to the core. She must take over his toughest case: the assault of a young woman from a prominent family.

But she can’t stop herself from digging deeper into Jake’s death, a decision that exposes a world of power and violence and will have her risking her reputation–and her life–to find the truth.

With her tremendous expertise in the nuances of L.A. courts and crime, and with a vibrant ensemble cast of characters, Marcia Clark combines intimate detail, riotous humor, and visceral action in a debut thriller that marks the launch of a major new figure on the crime-writing scene.

Eyewitness Account: As a mystery connoisseur, this is what I call a comfort book. It has all the expected things people imagine in a mystery: A death leaving questions as to the reputation of the deceased, a nosy investigator getting involved in someone else’s case to the point of endangering her own job, a love affair with a member of the investigating competition that both gives access to all clues they found and challenges Rachel’s fear of relationships, lastly, a group of friends that help her pull off all the illegal things she does to solve the case. The natural evolution of plot and Marcia’s character development are definitely the whipped cream and cherry on top of this comfort, sundae mystery.

Other Books Read by This Author: I don’t know that Marcia has written any other fiction. Nonfiction includes Without a doubt and Marcia Clark: Her private trials and public triumphs

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★☆☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Goddess Test

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Aimee Carter. 298 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Harlequin Teen.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio: Kate’s only desire is to spend as much time as possible with mom, who is dying of cancer.  Her mom takes them to a small, rural town where Kate meets James and Ava . . . and begins a series of events that lead her to make a bargain with Henry/Hades, the god of the Underworld that will give her more time with her mother.  If she can pass the 7 tests that the unseen “council” of gods puts before her, she will become an immortal (and Henry’s wife, to boot).

Eyewitness Account: I thought this book was going to be a lot more interesting – it follows the popular trend of books about the “contemporary” Greek gods.  However, what made for great adventure-packed stories for kids came across rather bland for a YA romance.  While a number of plot devices showed good promise (great foreshadowing at the beginning, interesting development of “the Underworld”, and clever theme behind the 7 tests),  this modern-day twist on the tale of Persephone didn’t quite work.  The plot felt contorted and contrived, and the characters never fully enough developed to be real.  Rather than acting “ageless,” Henry acts like an old protective father, which makes it difficult to picture him as someone a teenager would fall in love with.    

The fun part of the Greek gods are how they interact with each other, play around with mortals, and create great quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules.  As the plot focuses only on one god (Henry), who generally mopes around or acts overly parental, the best part of setting is rather lost.  The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the desire to know what the tests were (of which I only guessed a couple, so kudos to the author for not giving everything away).

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Lit Express, A Myriad of Books, WhatchYAReading?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Before I Go to Sleep

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by S. J. Watson. 356 p. To be published June 1, 2011 by HarperCollins.  Advanced copy provided electronically, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares?  Adult Suspense/Thriller 

Not-so-Short Bio: (from Marketing copy) Every morning, Christine awakens beside a stranger in an unfamiliar bed. She sees a middle-aged face in the bathroom mirror that she does not recognize. And every morning, the man patiently explains that he is Ben, her husband, that she is forty-seven-years-old, and that an accident long ago damaged her ability to remember.

In place of memories Christine has a handful of pictures, a whiteboard in the kitchen, and a journal, hidden in a closet. She knows about the journal because Dr. Ed Nash, a neurologist who claims to be treating her without Ben’s knowledge, reminds her about it each day. Inside its pages, the damaged woman has begun meticulously recording her daily events—sessions with Dr. Nash, snippets of information that Ben shares, flashes of her former self that briefly, miraculously appear.

But as the pages accumulate, inconsistencies begin to emerge, raising disturbing questions that Christine is determined to find answers to. And the more she pieces together the shards of her broken life, the closer she gets to the truth . . . and the more terrifying and deadly it is.

Eyewitness Account: Reading this book was a little like watching Memento – I felt like I was literally on the edge of my seat the entire time!  From page one, I couldn’t put Before I Go to Sleep down.  Not only does the book have a complex, fascinating plot, but the author succeeded in making me completely identify with the main character.  I distrusted characters, nearly clawed my eyes in fear and panic when things didn’t seem to add up, and felt deep despair when Christine realized that she’d lost precious pieces of her life. 

Although this book is clearly a Suspense/Thrill ride (and well done, for that!), I liked how it allowed Christine to explore ideas of identity, self, and fulfilment – would anyone want to live a life in which your memories reset every morning?  Is such a life worth living?  What kind of price does your family pay for that? What memories are worth re-learning and which are better left forgotten?

Dang good job, Watson!  Thou must publish more books! (And congratulations to him on already landing a movie deal for this one).

Notable Quotes: I simply loved this exchange between Christine and her doctor –

“Keep your journal, Christine,” he said. “You still have it?”

I shook my head. “He burned it.  That’s what caused the fire.”

Dr. Nash looked disappointed.  “That’s a shame,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter. Christine, you’ll be fine.  You can begin another.  The people who love you have come back to you.”

“But I want to have come back to them, too,” I said. “I want to have come back to them.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None – I believe this is a debut from S. J. Watson

What are other people saying? Wading Through Treacle, Pop Tart

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Alice I Have Been

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Melanie Benjamin.  368 p. Published January 2010 by Delacorte Press.  Read for my book club.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares?:  Adult Historical Fic (Memoir-style)

Short Bio:  Meet the “real” Alice in Wonderland – Alice Liddell, princess of Christ Church at Oxford and favorite photography subject of Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll).  As an enigmatic 11 year-old defying the strict constraints for girls in Victorian England, a young lady blooming under the attentions of Prince Leopold, or as an imperial mother of three sons who worries which ones won’t return home from World War I, Alice tells the story a life that seems both completely separate from her fictional namesake, and yet forever altered by Mr. Dodgson’s story.

Eyewitness Account:  Alice I Have Been seems like the perfect book club choice – the fictionalized memoir of Lewis Carroll’s real-life muse.  However, this is one of the few books that I wish I hadn’t read.  While the author’s voice and flow was above par, the actual content of the story and portrayal of Alice’s cast of characters left me feeling disturbed and depressed. 

The main characters that Benjamin creates are not exactly stereotypical, but don’t quite make it to fully-dimensional.  Charles Dodgson comes across sometimes as a gentle, lonely professor and sometimes as a creepy pedophile; Alice’s sisters are either older and bossy, or young and sweet; Alice’s future husband is the antithesis of her first-love, and even “old Alice” becomes a re-creation of her mother, Lorina.

To be fair, Benjamin stuck faithfully to all known facts about Alice Liddell’s life, but of course filled in the numerous (and sometimes very deep) holes left by historical documents. My main beef is that if you’re an author who gets to fill in the holes with your own imagination, why take it in such a dark way?  Alice’s life is portrayed as one series of misfortunes and disappointments after another, until at the end of her life she gives up the memories of all the real people she has loved and resigns herself to being the “Alice in Wonderland” that she has always sought to escape.  Benjamin masterfully holds your attention through the entire book by withholding the one piece of information that you want to know – what causes the breach between Alice and Mr. Dodgson?  The answer is somewhat anti-climactic, and becomes the reason Alice “deserves” such a disappointing life.

As I commiserated with one of my other book club friends, I can never view Alice in Wonderland the same again . . . and it saddens me.  I have no problem with learning about real historical facts, but I’d rather not believe a depressing version of history if I don’t have to.  I doubt I’ll recommend this book to anyone.  I will, however, still try other Melanie Benjamin books as she did prove to be a good writer in many other respects.

Notable Quotes:

“I myself suffer it each time I consult a looking glass, only to wonder how the glass can be so cracked and muddled–and then realize, with a pang of despair, that it is not the glass that is deficient, after all.”

“How could I tell her that I–seemingly alone of all the literate world–had never read the entire book?  How could I tell her that I had no idea whether I was truly Alice–or Alice was truly me? For as long as I had lived with her–on the other side of the looking glass, staring back at me every day–I’d never dared to ask her how much, or how little, we were alike.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? A.V. Club, Good Books and Good Wine, BookNAround

Rating:

★★☆☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Sea and the Silence

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Peter Cunningham. 254 p. Published April 7, 2010 by GemmaMedia.  Electronic copy provided courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio: The story of Ismay Seston is told amid the tumultuous context of newly independent Ireland, grappling with the dilemmas of class conflict and World War II.  The second half of her life is told first, and the book concludes with a short account of her life before marrying a fellow Anglo-Irish gentry whose family estate was also stripped by the Land Commission. 

Eyewitness Account: Cunningham proved to have some pretty fancy plot development and writing skills in this novel!  The second half of the book makes the first half an almost entirely different story, all foreshadowed with appropriate subtlety and almost none of which I anticipated.  I loved reading about a period and setting that I knew almost nothing about – the beginning of civil unrest in Ireland as a country of lower-class Irishmen tried to reconcile with their Anglo-Irish upper-class gentry after gaining political independence from England.  Ismay asks the tough questions that inform the discussion – is it fair to strip a family of land they’ve held for centuries? Is it fair that 95% of the land is owned by 3% of the population, most of which would shudder to call themselves “Irish”? 

This is the second book I’ve read in a week that’s omitted quotation marks (Cunningham prefers em dashes) – is there a new editing trend I’m not aware of?

Although Ismay’s story is written in a beautiful voice, the character development left something to be desired (as sometimes happens when men write with a female voice) – Ismay felt a bit wooden for someone who was supposed to be so passionate and lively, and the other characters fell flat.  Great characterization leaves you with sadness at the end of a book, as if you are saying goodbye to dear and beloved friends;  having finished this book an hour ago, I can hardly tell you the names of the secondary characters, much less attach any sense of personality to them.  Because of this, the love story pieces felt awkward and unbelievable (not to mention that one character tells another “I love you” after talking to them briefly twice?  Really?). 

Although not a 5-star book, the writing style, plot and historical setting make this novel well worth the read. 

Notable Quotes:

“. . .but at least then I would have him alone, which is to say, a man without pretensions, in need of love, who stayed at home and close to me, who came out the cliffs for walks and who listened as well as spoke.”

“We’ve only got one life.  You’ve got to live your dreams.  No one else is going to do that for you.”

“The love I known had both buoyed me and drowned me, for there were times when I knew I had lived rarely.”

Other Books Read by This Author:  None. 

What are other people saying?  Meredith Dias, Historical Novel Review, Suite 101 

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Heidegger’s Glasses

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Thaisa Frank. 320 p. Published October 2010 by Counterpoint.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio:  The luckiest of Hitler’s hunted are those who knew other languages – they are pulled from the long lines of people destined for shooting ranges or concentration camps and designated “Scribes”.  Due to a peculiar paranoia of Hitler’s, they are tasked with responding to the numerous unanswered letters throughout the Third Reich that are mailed, but never delivered, to those that disappear.  The Scribes live in an abandoned mine shaft that has been renovated to look like an underground city – complete with a sun that rises and sets on pulleys.  The Compound is largely ignored until the Scribes are tasked with answering a letter written to someone who is not dead, but alive.

Eyewitness Account: Not gonna lie – I thought this was going to be another WWII tear-jerker.  Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but they are so common that you need a great plot and great characters to make your story something exceptional.   Much to my great delight, Heidegger’s Glasses stood out right away, with the author doing some daring things like not using quotation marks (which did not, surprisingly, drive this OCD reader crazy) and using BEAUTIFUL prose.  Toward the end, I started to realize this book wasn’t just another “here’s how horrible WWII was”, it was a book about how we handle personal grief and guilt and WWII just happened to be the setting that Frank chose as the context.

The premise of the book is entirely fictional (except that a philosopher named Martin Heidegger did exist) – it is not based on historical evidence that Hitler really believed the dead might upset the living if their letters were not answered and that such a compound of Scribes existed. What kind of author comes up with this stuff – I can TOTALLY believe that Hitler would fall for something so superstitious!

There are two amazing parts about this book that could be easily overlooked: the first is the scattering of letters that seem to interrupt the plot at random intervals, and the second is the author’s manipulation of the copy format.  The letters puzzled me at first (Who is writing them?), then astonished me (How could someone in a concentration camp write THAT?), and finally, after abruptly changing tone mid-book, devastated me (see letter below in “Notable Quotes”).  The letters alone tell a powerful story that is almost overlooked if you don’t pay attention to them (they’re tempting to skim over – DON’T DO IT!). 

The format is unusual; I already mentioned that Frank does not use quotation marks (making it unclear sometimes what is spoken and what is merely thought) – she also puts a line space between every paragraph – which means that in a running dialogue, sentences don’t appear connected, but isolated and detached from context.  You wouldn’t think this would be such a big deal, but I found that it had a profound effect on me.  These unusual formats in tandem created a sense of surreal disconnect from reality – the lack of quotes felt like a lack of boundaries, and the isolated sentences felt disjointed and taken out of their native context.  How brilliantly Frank connects her reader with the world of the Scribes, not by overused prose, but through copy text!  I have several theories on exactly what purpose these changes serve, but I’ll let you read and decide for yourself. 

Overall, this story was not astounding because of an amazing plot or vivid characters (I wasn’t quite as impressed by them as I was by the other aspects of the book) – it is the clever writing and slow crescendo to a poignant ending that make it a solid 4-star book.

Notable Quotes:

“We always walk on paths that lead us back to getting lost.”

“Everything seemed tilted in the light, as though it were cast in sepia and framed by the sheer certainty of having happened.”

“. . .Letters from the time before the time that mattered; a time when no one ever thought about writing to make false records; a time when the dead didn’t need letters to stop the world from falling apart; a time when people didn’t depend on knowing languages to save their lives; a time when letters brought the living together, sentenced no one to live below the earth, and weren’t used as weapons to rewrite history.”

“Alain,

Sometimes I imagine you.  You are never doing anything remarkable–just going to the refrigerator for milk, or letting in the cat–yet I find these memories precious just because you are yourself.  I do not know if I’ll see you again.

Love,

Sylvie”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Diary of an Eccentric, Books & Movies , The Divining Wand

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★