Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures Review

I love old movies. I could watch black and white films all day. Give me Cary Grant in a tux over even Ryan Gosling any day. I love movies in general, but there's nothing like old movies. There might not be amazing special effects but the stories and acting are fantastic, even when they are the sillier screwball comedies like Bringing up Baby or My Man Godfrey. So of course I thought this book was going to be awesome. The plot description was about Elsa Emerson, a young girl from Wisconsin in the 1920's who leaves home to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Despite her marriage to a fellow actor, Gordon Pitts, Elsa is charmed by Irving Green, one of the owners of Gardner Brothers Studio. He suggests that she change her name to Laura Lamont (although I think Elsa Emerson was just as nicely alliterative; Elsa Pitts not so much) and dye her hair dark. After the birth of her second daughter, Elsa - now Laura - starts acting more seriously in movies. Irving helps her move into serious films, which garners her an oscar. She also falls in love with Irving and after leaving her husband, marries him and moves her two daughters into his home. The book spans many years, from Laura's first arrival in Hollywood to what she does in her sixties. Her career has ups and downs, as does her family life.

So here was my issue. The novel was called Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures but really, there were not a lot of actual movies in the book. I was expecting much more detail about the movies themselves and maybe appearances from some actual stars who would have been  Laura's contemporaries. There was literally only a handful of actual film experiences mentioned. The majority of the plot was about Laura's family and how she struggles to maintain a family and her career. It wasn't that different from a classic family drama. A few reviewers on amazon called the book boring. I didn't think it was boring. It was a solid story, but it wasn't what I was expecting and that was a bit disappointing. Overall, it was a solid book but not amazing.

Entertainment Weekly Review

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Breed Review

Confession time. I've wanted to be a mother my whole life. I always felt like having and raising children was what I was meant to do. I was ready to have kids as soon as I was married, over three years ago, but my husband wanted to wait a bit. We had been friends for a very long time before we got together and when we finally started dating everything happened really fast. So he wanted time for just the two of us. I'm really grateful he insisted on that and I wouldn't change the last three years for anything in the world. But I was really excited when we were finally ready to try to get pregnant last October. However, it became clear pretty quickly for reasons that I don't need to get into that something was wrong. I trusted my GYN, though, because I had been with her for years and just kept trying, charting my fertility, taking progesterone supplements, etc. That is, until she made some errors when putting me on Clomid for the first time last May. Then I switched to another doctor in her practice, who was fine, but it wasn't until I finally saw a fertility specialist at the end of July that I learned that getting pregnant wasn't just taking a while, it actually wouldn't happen at all without going through assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Anyway, super long story short, I know what it's like to desperately want children, to be heartbroken month after month when it doesn't happen and to do anything to have one, from going gluten free to acupuncture to quitting spin class to going through test after test and finally scheduling an upcoming surgery. All this is even before we get to ICSE, the method we are going to use to hopefully get pregnant. Post-surgery, I will have my eggs stimulated and removed, fertilized and frozen for three months while I get shots of lupron to shut down and reboot my entire reproductive system in the hopes that I will be able to conceive and carry a baby (or two) sometime next year.

You might be wondering why I'm writing about my fertility, or lack thereof, in a book blog. I haven't been open about this struggle on facebook (although since I link this blog to FB, some people might end up reading it, which is fine), but haven't hidden it from my close friends or family either. I have avoided a lot of books about children recently because I simply couldn't take it. I needed distractions from the whole kid thing as I watched so many of my friends and people I know on facebook having children. My sweet brother even bought me a book called The Possibility of You for my birthday but I haven't been able to bring myself to read a book about giving children up for adoption when I can't even have one on my own.

Last week I spotted the review for Breed in Entertainment Weekly and it immediately caught my interest. Breed is the story of Alex and Leslie, an upper east side couple who have tried to get pregnant for three years using every possible method without success. That is until they fly to Slovenia and meet with a doctor who gives each of them three shots and make them drink an odd liquid that seems to boost their sex life. Immediately after they have crazy, violent sex and Leslie is sure that she is pregnant. But her pregnancy is odd. She sprouts hair all over her body (more than normal for pregnancy) and both she and Alex face strange, intense mood swings and an increasing desire for red meat.

At five months, she goes into labor and delivers two seemingly healthy (and one barely alive, misformed child that is quickly disposed of by the hospital without the parents knowing... although I had suspicions about that immediately) children: Adam and Alice. The story then shoots forward ten years and focuses on Adam, who is terrified by the things he overhears from his parents. He and his sister are locked in their rooms every night, but Adam uses a baby monitor to spy on his parents who have violent tendencies, continue to sprout hair, and who whisper in the dark about wanting to eat their children. They have neglected their formally successful careers and their gorgeous Manhattan townhouse is falling apart. Plus the family pets keep disappearing.

Adam and Alice decide to flee from home one night. The majority of the book concerns their attempts to run from their parents and their parents' attempts to bring them home. Their journey pulls in Adam's teacher, Michael, his boyfriend and the twins' aunt. They travel back and forth across the upper east and west sides, meeting other children who have similar stories to theirs.

The book was described as being a sort of Rosemary's Baby, a movie that I love, and it was to an extent. It was definitely creepy, especially as Leslie and Alex devolve into being more and more like animals. You really feel for the kids caught between loving their parents and fearing for their lives. It was definitely a bit of a cautionary tale for those of us who are reproductively challenged, but frankly, even as much as I want kids, I will draw the line at going to Slovenia and having a sketchy doctor shoot me with needles. The biggest thing I've learned from my own experience is to trust your gut. It took me a little too long to listen to my doubts and see a specialist and if I had to do anything over again, I'd go see a specialist earlier. In Breed, Leslie definitely has misgivings but in the end, goes against her instinct and it doesn't turn out well.

My one complain is the abrupt ending. Nothing was really resolved (*Note, I just read that the author is planning a sequel called Brood, which makes me feel better about the ending). I would have liked an epilogue of some sort but up until the ending, it was a very entertaining read. It freaked me out a little bit but also made me laugh at the irony of their situation. It definitely made me also feel better about my own issues, and that's the important part, right?!

Reviews: NY Times and NPR

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Other Half of Me Review

I bought this book because the description reminded me a bit of The Thirteenth Tale, one of my all time favorite books. With the weather finally cooling down, I've been in the mood for something gothic. The Other Half of Me seemed to have all of the elements that I had been looking for: a big old English mansion, neglected children, mysterious scandals, etc. However, it wasn't the book I was expecting.

The Other Half of Me is the story of Jonathan and his sister Theo, who live in a house called Evendon in Wales. They live with their neglectful, alcoholic mother and a nanny, who barely pays attention to them. All they know about their father was that he died in Australia. They live in relative isolation and are permitted to do anything they want, really, since no one seems to care what they do. Jonathan is smart and serious, while Theo is flighty.

Their lives change when their mother is hospitalized and when she returns, their grandmother, Eve moves in with them. Eve Anthony is the daughter of a famous archaeologist named George Bennett. She was widowed in her early thirties when her politician husband died in a boating accident. After that, she took his job in the government and was a politician during the Kennedy and Nixon years. Finally, she left DC, married a studio owner in Hollywood and eventually became a famous businesswoman.

Eve changes the children's lives, encouraging Jonathan to pursue his interest in architecture since he seems to fit the role of her heir. Theo is more difficult. She can't stay in school or hold a job and frustrates Eve. Alicia, the children's mother, continues to drink her days away. Their often missing uncle, Alex, simmers with anger towards Eve but rarely enters the picture.

The book is narrated by Jonathan, who is happy to be Eve's heir, but wishes his sister would pull herself together. He lacks patience and understanding when it comes to her flightiness. Slowly their world spins into disaster as Theo begins to lose it.

So the book wasn't really the gothic story I was looking for but I still enjoyed it. Towards the end tragedy occurs and secrets are revealed but it was too little too late. Most of the book revolves around Jonathan and Theo growing up under Eve's watchful eye. Jonathan falls for a girl named Maria, who is always just out of reach, and succeeds in his career, while Theo flounders. The last 15% or so took me a while to get through as it dragged a bit, but ultimately the ending was satisfactory. This was no Jane Eyre, but was still an enjoyable story.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Burial at Sea Review

I had just started A Burial at Sea last November before my kindle was stolen from the gym and it took me until the summer to start it again. This was the fifth book in the Charles Lenox series and was just as good as the previous novels, even if the cast was almost entirely new, except for Charles, of course.

I first met Charles Lenox in A Beautiful Blue Death and have read all of the other books that he is featured in. Lenox is a Victorian gentleman. He lives in London and spends most of his time relaxing in his armchair, in front of a fire, drinking tea, reading and planning trips. However, he has the reputation of being a brilliant amateur detective. His adventures takes him from the slums of London to Parliament. The mysteries are also interesting and suspenseful and there is also a wealth of historical detail which never becomes boring.

A Burial at Sea removes Charles from his normal surroundings. As a junior member of Parliament, he is being sent to Egypt for a partially diplomatic, partially spy related mission. His wife (former dear friend and neighbor), Lady Jane, is left behind for obvious reasons as is Graham, Charles' former butler and now secretary. He was greatly missing in this novel, as were Charles' close friends Thomas and Toto.

But Charles is still a great character and can stand on his own. He is barely at sea 24 hours when a crewman turns up dead. He begins investigating the murder, while learning about the British navy during the Victorian period. The detail is fascinating for someone like me who doesn't know a lot about naval stuff (outside of pirates. I'm great with pirates). And the mystery is suspenseful because Charles is stuck on a ship and someone is clearly the murderer.

My one complaint is that the murder is solved around 80% into the book and then Charles goes onto Egypt for his mission. I thought that part was a bit unnecessary. It seemed obvious that the killer would return. I guess it was a good look at the role Egypt and the Suez Canal played in the tense relationship between England and France, but I thought it dragged a bit.

Anyway Charles eventually makes it home in the last page or so of the book and the author, Charles Finch, sets up the domestic adventures that Lenox will face in the next book, A Death in the Small Hours. If you've read other Charles Lenox books, this is just as good as the previous ones. And if you haven't but you like mysteries or historical novels, this is an excellent series to jump into, starting with A Beautiful Blue Death.

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The Kill Order Review

I read this right before Where'd You Go, Bernadette and didn't love it. Last winter or spring I read The Maze Runner trilogy. I definitely reviewed all three books but I'm feeling a little too lazy to link to them right now.

This was not exactly the book I was expecting. At the end of The Death Cure (SPOILERS AHEAD), we learned that the surviving governments of the world ordered the Flare virus to be released into the general public because there were too many people and too few resources. And of course the virus went rogue and people went crazy but eventually Thomas and his fellow immune friends survived.

I thought The Kill Order would be about the scientists who made the virus or the government who gave the order. But instead the book followed Mark, a sixteen year old survivor of the original sun flares who was present when a government ship landed in his mountain settlement and started shooting people with darts carrying the virus.

He and his companions decide to head for a facility nearby where they assume they will get answers. Along the way they meet people who have already been affected by the Flare virus and who are crazy, like the Cranks from The Scorch Trial and The Death Cure. He is separated from the women of the group at one point. He sticks with Alec, a fifty something former military guy and his girlfriend Trina is left with Lana, a military woman and a young girl named DeeDee, who appears to be immune to the Flare. She is probably one of the earliest kids whose killzone was mapped to find a cure.

Mark also flashes back to where he was when the sun flares happened and how he and Trina, his neighbor, survived. The novel is intense and never slows down, but there's something juvenile about James Dashner's style of writing that puts me off. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger and eventually that just isn't interesting anymore. Mark was a little too similar to Thomas for me and none of the other characters were well developed in my opinion.

If you liked The Maze Runner, you'll probably enjoy this, but it wasn't one of my favorites.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette Review

This book caught my eye at some point over the summer but since I knew it was an epistolary, I wasn't super excited about reading it. I was turned off of epistolary novels as a kid when I read Dear Mr. Henshaw. Not a favorite. Then again, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of my all time favorite books and that's also epistolary. I guess I just approach these sort of books with reservation.

I've read a few other books before this one but clearly I'm a bit behind on reviewing. There will be more coming soon, I promise. I had to jump into this because I loved it so much. I downloaded a sample and very quickly bought the book... and then finished it within two days.

The novel follows the nutty life of Bernadette Fox, as seen through emails, letters and other documents, as well as through her daughter Bee's life. Bee is 15 and adores her mother. They live in a huge, ramshackle house in Seattle where her father works at Microsoft. Bernadette seems to love their eccentric lifestyle but is scornful of the bigger community. She calls the other mothers at Bee's school gnats and generally avoids them at all costs. It quickly becomes clear that she is deeply agoraphobic, but Bee just worships her, even if she knows little about her.

At some point in the past, Bernadette was a famous up and coming architect. Why she stopped her work and moved to Seattle to live in a decaying house is part of the mystery that unfolds throughout the book. We read emails that she sends and received from Munjala, her virtual Indian assistant, who essentially does everything for her. We read prose sections from Bee's perspective. We see letters between Bernadette's husband and a doctor, between an architectural professor and his student, and the funniest, emails between two mothers at Bee's school, women who Bernadette loathes.

Bernadette is definitely a fascinating character. By the end, it is clear why she is the way that she is and there is certainly hope that things will improve for their family. There's a trip to Antarctica, a mudslide and a fascinating house called the Twenty Mile House. I'm not saying any more because I don't want to give anything else away. Long story short, I adored this book and highly recommend it. Was it a little absurdest at times? Sure, but it was also great fun.

Here's some reviews if you don't want to take my word for it:

Washington Post
Denver Post

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