Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ally Condie's Crossed

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been in quite the reading slump. I went through a streak of excellent books, unfortunately I read them back to back and didn't review the books as I should've. Call it bad luck or karma, but I've gone through several books that I was less than impressed with and it made me kinda depressed.  Does that happen to you?

In hopes of finding a captivating story, I put on my "sequel shoes" and went looking for something that I knew would give me my needed book fix.

What I found was Ally Condie's Crossed, which is the second installment of the Matched trilogy.

Cassie Reyes has left her family in search of Ky Markham, the Aberration that she loves and sent to the Outer Provinces in the first novel. She works in the villages, hoping to get closer to Ky. Condie's poetic writing style is captivating, and she's able to capture this young love in such a mature manner. Cassie and Ky are just kids, but they seem so much more mature and observant than most adults I know. In Cassie's journey, she learns of a rebellion against the Society and becomes eager to join.

I predict that this trilogy will follow a similar pattern of The Hunger Games. The only thing Matched has in common with THG is that they are both dystopian and lead to a rebellion.

If you choose to read the Matched trilogy, I recommend that you read the books in close succession.  Most authors take some time in the beginning of a novel to give you some background information, and therefore refresh your memory, but Condie doesn't. I read Matched about two years ago, and I spent a large amount of time trying to remember the plot of the previous book.

Will I read Reached? I suppose I will, but I'm going to save it for when I need to put on my "sequel shoes."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tatiana De Rosnay's Sarah's Key- Not for kids

This novel was at the book fair at my middle school campus, and I don't know why.

De Rosnay tells a story of the French roundup on July 16, 1942 at the Velodrome d'Hiver. The Vel' d'Hiv became known as one of the largest roundups of French Jews during the occupation. What's so horrific about it is that it was ran by French police, under German orders, and the Jews were treated so inhumanely.  The families were forced to stay in a large stadium for days without any food or water.  Then, they were all shipped to a holding camp. The parents were brutally separated from their children, and sent away to Auschwitz to die.  The children remained at Beaune-la-Rolande, until receiving orders to go to Auschwitz.

De Rosnay made it very clear that this novel is not to be interpreted as a historical fiction, but as a way to remember what happened to those thousands of innocent children. The author ties the past and the present together by telling the story from two perspectives: an American journalist living in Paris during 2002, and 10 year old Sarah who lived through the roundup.

The novel is a beautifully written and horrific story. I had difficulty keeping my emotions in control.  The novel stayed with me so much, that I would lie awake at night and think about my daughter and what would/couldn't do to save her.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox- Not for kids


Iris Lockhart has always believed that her grandmother, Kitty, was an only child.  Until Iris gets a call from Cauldstone psychiatric hospital, explaining that a woman named Esme Lennox is to be released. At first, Esme is in disbelief that she has a family member that she doesn't know about.

What I like about the novel is that O'Farrell tells the story from the perspective of three women: Esme, Iris, and Kitty. Iris is a single woman, and has two married men in love with her. Esme has been in an institution for 61 years, and is free for the first time. Kitty has Alzheimer's, and her memories come to her in patches. Through Esme and Kitty's memories, their story unfolds and family secrets are revealed.

What I didn't like about the novel is the way O'Farrell organized the plot line.  The story was not broken down into chapters or sections, it's just a long and continuous story without any stopping points. Also, the way that the author chooses to switch the characters' point of view is strange.  In one paragraph, you are reading a memory from Esme's point of view.  In the next, you are reading one of Kitty's patchy memories.  The only way one can tell the point of view is by the use of the character's names.

Another thing that makes the novel harder to follow is the need to infer all the major points of the story.  The author never comes out and clearly says why Esme was institutionalized, but you can infer that it's because Esme's parents were tired of her antics. Through the telling of the story there are hints at a diagnosis, like schizophrenia or personality disorder, but I don't think there's anything wrong with her. At most, my guess is that she has Asperger's Syndrome. The reason I think so is because of the emotional outbursts, not being able to interpret appropriate social behavior, and the meticulous counting and observations she makes throughout the novel.  By today's standards, that isn't a reason to have someone committed to a psychiatric institution.

Oh, and about Esme? What the heck! All that poor girl needed was someone to love her and appreciate her quirks. Instead, she is left alone in India for days with a nanny and a brother that died of typhoid disease. She was raped in the coat closet at a party, just before being committed. Did anyone even realize that Jamie hurt her? I wonder this because his parents sent him away, but through Kitty's memories you learn that she was jealous and still pining for him after Esme was sent away.

You also have to infer what Kitty took from Esme, and that's the big secret. Plus, I'm a little foggy on how the story ends.  I don't want to reveal too much but if you decide to read the novel, I'd like to know your thoughts.

Overall, I think that the story has a great story line and a ton of potential. I just didn't like how the novel was organized, and unfortunately we can't cater books to meet our needs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stephen King's 11/22/63- Not For Kids

Historical fiction makes me feel tingly in funny places.  It's ok for me to say that, right?

After taking a trip to the 6th Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, my interest in JFK's assassination had been renewed. I got the book, hoping to learn more about the assassination and the time period (I'm guessing you already know how I feel about historicals). 

Jake Epping, English teacher divorcee with a penchant for cheap hamburgers, gets a late night call from the owner of his favorite hamburger joint, Al.  Surprised to even get the call, Jake humors his friend and meets him at the diner. Once he arrives, Jake learns of a "rabbit hole" that would take him back to September of 1958.

After Jake gets a grasp on the "rabbit hole" and accepts it as truth, Al then proposes a theory to him: saving JFK from being assassinated would prevent the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, racial wars, and Vietnam War. Al convinces Jake that he could save millions by going back to 1958 with a mission to save Kennedy.

Reluctantly Jake Epping goes back in time to become George Amberson, an aspiring writer/realtor travelling on business.

In traditional Stephen King fashion, the novel is woven with intricate, smaller plot lines that ultimately lead up to November 22, 1963.

I was born in the 80's, and I have no idea what 1958 was like.  King paints such a detailed picture, down to cigarette smoke, bus exhaust fumes, and limited air conditioning; that I can imagine walking through the rabbit hole and feeling the September 1958 sun shining on my face.

Well done, Mr. King. Well done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jennifer McMahon's Promise Not to Tell- Not for kids

This book had been on my reading list for about a year.  Why didn't I read it sooner?

Kate Cypher has returned to her hippie village in Vermont, to care for her elderly mother.  Upon her return, a young girl is brutally murdered. Strange things start happening in New Hope, as law enforcement tries to solve this young girl's murder.  Thirty years earlier Kate's best friend is murdered the same way, and Kate must also deal with her part in Del's murder.

The author tells Kate's story of present and past, through flashbacks organized in a reader friendly way. I like how each chapter is labeled with the time period, and it's easy to switch back and forth. The author brings in a unique style of living that intrigues me, and leaves me in constant suspense.

I work in a school, with kids in the same age group as Del. I see how cruel kids can be to one another, and I hear of heartbreaking circumstances daily.  I guess this book has struck a chord with me because of what I have seen and heard in real life. I can't stop thinking about this book, and yet it leaves me without much to say.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gareth Flood's Oil and Corruption

Upon reading the synopsis of the novel, I see that the author described it as "nefarious." In some ways it is, but in others I thought it was funny.  Like Inglorious Basterds funny. Maybe that's not what the author intended, but that's my interpretation.

The novel is about an British man, Jonathan Marshall, who is just some underdog analyst for a major oil corporation.  He completes an analysis for another coworker and people start dying, including his coworker and several attempts on his life.

I thought the novel to be funny for several reasons.  The author covers very intense and serious subject matter, but he uses words and phrases such as "The last of the coins were fed in faster than the slot machine rate of a Florida retiree with cancer in Vegas," to create images that may/may not be intentionally funny. The author also uses the same style of writing to create a character's inner thoughts.  My favorite example is "He is more slippery than a greased pig."  Hilarious, or is it just me?

Another reason I thought the novel was so funny was the way the characters were described and developed.  Most of the characters are pretty flat, with the exception of Jonathan Marshall.  That's ok, it works for this book. Let's just examine some of these other characters:

Hoot Mitchel: Oil tycoon and CEO, who is killed to pave the way for new oil pipelines. The way I imagine this guy is not very flattering. He's stupid wealthy, fat (thinks he's God's gift), and his dialect gives the impression of the stereotypical-dumbass-American that says "Amuricah" for "America."

The Cajun, The Tartan, The Nasty Arab, One Dirty Hebe- All of these are the "muscle man" for their bosses. The Cajun and The Tartan are "secret weapons," assassins that are killing machines meant for mass destruction. What's funny about these killers is that they all have a stereotypical character trait magnified. If people like this really exist, then I don't know what I'm gonna do....

Overall, the book is a good read.  If the funny parts weren't intended in this "nefarious tale," then it's an extra bonus.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen

Until recently, I have been reading mostly thrillers and mysteries.  By today's standards, some of the violence and gruesome scenes can effect the way I see the world and myself.  Dumb, I know.  But I'm addicted to fiction and sometimes I internalize too much.  To break the spell, I have to switch genre and get an attitude adjustment.

And I have fallen under a spell, by Sara Addison Allen. I have already read Garden Spells, her debut novel, and I loved it! I didn't see myself reading another of her novels, but a friend loaned it to me and I'm glad she did.

The Sugar Queen also takes place in North Carolina, where southern belles and the romance of The South still exist. Allen mixes together ideals of southern belles, magic, and romance together to weave a tale that is certain to lift your spirits.

Josey Cirrini, daughter of famed Italian Marco Cirrini and beautiful southern belle Margaret, is trapped in her life. Living in a small town, everyone remembers her as a child, and as daughter of Marco and Margaret Cirrini. Her mother wants to force her to be caretaker, punishing her for her existence. Josey wants forgiveness and permission to leave.

Feeling trapped in her life, Josey traps herself into her closet which is stashed with junk food and magazines. What she doesn't expect to find is hardened Della Lee, who has a past and a story to tell.

Combined with Della Lee's efforts and a new friendship with Chloe Finley, Josey finds herself and everything she's ever wanted.