Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wedding Night Review

When I finished this book today, my husband asked if I was going to describe it as breezy. I told him it was the literary equivalent to a mojito: delicious and light. And then he mocked me. Which I probably deserve.

I've mentioned before that I don't really go for these cheesy chick lit titles but I do love Sophie Kinsella. Wedding Night was ridiculous and entertainment, just like all of her novels.

Wedding Night is the story of Lottie, who is convinced that her boyfriend Richard is about to propose to her. When he doesn't, she ends up getting back in touch with her gap year flame, Ben, who is going through a lot of his own issues. When he spontaneously proposes to her, she jumps headfirst into a horrible decision. She does decide to hold off on sex until their wedding night, which they intend to have on the Greek island where they first met.

The chapters alternate between Lottie's perspective and her older sister, Fliss's. Fliss (Felicity) works for a magazine that reviews hotels. She is horrified by another one of Lottie's post-break up impulsive decisions. But she is also reeling from her own painful divorce that continues to wreak havoc on her life. Early on in the book she meets Lorcan, Ben's colleague, and they jump onto a one night stand, after bonding over Ben and Lottie's terrible decision.

Fliss then decides to sabotage the honeymoon. She bribes one of the hotel managers to do everything they can to prevent Lottie and Ben from consummating the marriage, because she worries Lottie might get pregnant, regret her spontaneity and then have to deal with a messy divorce. At least if there isn't sex, she can get an annulment. Meanwhile, Fliss, her son Noah, Lorcan and Richard (who quickly regrets losing Lottie), travel to Ikonos, hitting a few bumps on the journey (like a medical emergency that forces their plane to land in Bulgaria). Lottie and Ben are constantly frustrated by their honeymoon from hell. Their fabulous suite has two single beds, Ben gets drunks, she has an allergic reaction to massage oil. They are so desperate to get it on that they have a hard time seeing clearly. It soon becomes obvious that Ben isn't such a great guy. Richard, on the other hand, is desperate to get Lottie back. It doesn't take a genius to realize how the story will end. And how Fliss will get her own happy ending as well, given her chemistry with Lorcan.

If you've liked other Sophie Kinsella books, you'll like this one too. Read it in a hammock when the weather gets nicer. Or on a beach somewhere. It's totally a beach book: light, easy and fun. Enjoy!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fearless Review

Oops, I guess I published this without writing it. Sorry!

But honestly, you didn't miss much by my lack of a review. I struggled through Fearless; it took me forever and really wasn't very good, which is too bad because I've really loved some of Cornelia Funke's other novels like The Thief Lord and Inkheart. I should have known this wouldn't be that good when I could barely recall any details from the previous book, Reckless. The premise of the Mirrorworld series is that Jacob Reckless, a normal boy from New York, stumbled on a mirror that took him to another world as a teenager. Over a decade later, he still lives in that world as a famous treasure hunter while occasionally returning to his home with his brother, Will. Jacob and Will are based on the Grimm brothers and encounter of the similar German based fairy tale tropes that the Grimms did. Feel free to skim the synopsis of Reckless that I linked to above. I had to in order to remember most of this. The Mirrorworld resembles a late nineteenth century Europe, where the magic of the old world is being replaced by the science and industry of the new world.

Fearless is mostly a standalone novel. The events of the last book set the action but Will and Clara aren't in this one at all. At the end of the last book, the Red Fairy, whom Jacob had previously had a relationship with punished him for leaving her by making her sister enact a punishment that will end with Jacob's death. Or something like that. The point is that the whole book, Jacob is seeking a way to prevent his death. He scours the Mirrorworld for magical items to save himself and eventually ends up on a quest with Fox, his loyal companion and shapeshifter, to locate three body parts of a dead emperor which will help them find a magical crossbow. Apparently when the crossbow is shot by someone who loves the person the bow is aiming for, that person will be healed of whatever plagues them.

Jacob's nemesis is a Goyl (a stone man) who wants the crossbow for his own reasons. However, he is stuck traveling with a spoiled prince, a bodyguard and a tutor. There are a few side stories too - Jacob's search for his father, who is is convinced disappeared into Mirrorworld but is still alive, and Fox's side trip to meet up with her mother and stepfather, who drove her out of their home at a young age because they feared her ability to shapeshift. Jacob and Fox (and the Goyl) search for the three pieces of a dead emperor while fighting each other along the way.

I really wanted to like this series. It's apparent at the end that there will be a third book but frankly, I don't think I'll buy it. I basically forgot that the first one wasn't so great, which is how I ended up with book two. Hopefully this blog will remind me not to buy the third one. Cornelia Funke really is a good writer, but this just isn't my favorite. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of her older books. The Mirrorworld novels just aren't worth it.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The SIlver Linings Playbook Review

I saw The Silver Linings Playbook a couple months ago, right before the Oscars, and enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw amazon offering the book for under $5, I picked it up, thinking it would be an entertaining read, which it was.

For those of you who saw the movie, the book is fairly similar. For those who didn't (first off you definitely should), The Silver Linings Playbook follows the story of Pat Peeples (not Solitano like the movie), a 34 year old NJ resident who is released from a mental health facility at the start of the book. In both the novel and the movie, the audience is unaware why he was committed in the first place but we know he has agreed to have some time apart from his wife, Nikki (referred to as "apart time" in the book) and that he desperately wants to win her back, although it is unknown what happened to drive them apart early on.

Pat moves back home with his parents. His father, Patrick, is obsessed with the Eagles. His emotions and relationships with his family are centered almost completely around whether the team wins or loses. Robert De Niro did a fantastic job portraying the father in the movie, but in the book, he's a distant figure who barely acknowledges Pat's existence. His mother is deeply unhappy and overly mothers the adult Pat, buying him clothes and babying him. Pat also sees an Indian therapist named Cliff (a huge Eagles fan himself who is part of a group of 50-something Indian fans who refer to themselves as the Asian Invasion and who go to all home games). He's on quite a bit of medication and no longer works (he used to be a history teacher).

Pat spends most of his days working out. He wants to be a better man for Nikki so he spends hours upon hours exercising. He also tries to catch up with the Eagles but he does not realize how long he has been gone for (four years) so he struggles to learn the new players and connect with his father and brother, the latter of whom buys him a Hank Baskett (yes, former Playboy bunny Kendra's husband) jersey. His father has been banned from games (clearly violent outbursts run in the family) but his brother, Jake, has season tickets and takes Pat to some games. He also starts reading classic novels that his wife teaches in her English class, from Catcher in the Rye to Huck Finn. Pat has come to believe that his life is a movie and that God will guarantee him a happy ending. Books without happy endings depress him further (although the movie has a far funnier scene where he throws a book out the window that he doesn't life).

He also reconnects with some old friends: Ronnie and his wife, Veronica. One night, they invite Pat over for dinner where he meets Tiffany, Veronica's younger sister, a depressed widow whose husband was a policeman before being killed in a drunk driving incident. Tiffany has dealt with her grief by becoming a bit of a nymphomaniac. She tries to proposition Pat, but he rebuffs her, explaining that he is married. Nevertheless, she begins to pursue him in a sense by following him when he goes for his 10 mile runs every day.

Eventually he learns that she has been scouting him to be her partner in a dance competition. The whole dance thing is very different from the movie - it isn't the culmination of the plot, nor is their victory part of a bet between Pat's father and one of his friends. In the movie, his training can be done as an actual montage, but in the book he tries to recreate a montage through writing, which is pretty funny.

I'm missing a lot here but I found the book to be pretty enjoyable. Not as directly funny as the movie but still an entertaining read. Pat seems more... special, I guess. Or maybe just drugged? This is hard to describe without being insulting. It seems like he's recovering from a brain injury, especially when he starts skipping his meds and he still narrates in a certain way. You'd think that an educated former teacher would seem more literate. His style of "speaking" was a bit off putting at times but the story is good enough that you can't help but cheer him on even as he finally figures out what happened between him and his wife. There is better closure at the end of the book than the movie in terms of his relationship with Nikki. Tiffany stays in the picture as well. Of course I kept picturing the actors when I was thinking about the characters, but that's ok. I'm not even a sports fan but I found all the Eagles love heartwarming (like the same way I feel when I watch Fever Pitch, one of my all time favorite movies. I couldn't care less about baseball but I just love that movie and appreciate the obsessive love that Jimmy Fallen has for the Red Sox) especially as you see Pat find his own little family unit among the Eagles fans.

The Silver Linings Playbook is definitely worth a read, especially if you also liked the movie!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia Review

"And off we go into this year's Gone Girl..." With that one line from Entertainment Weekly's review of Reconstructing Amelia, I immediately knew I'd be hooked and have to read this book. If you've read my reviews since Gone Girl, you might know that I've been looking for a book with a similar feel some  one of Gillian Flynn's novels. Reconstructing Amelia almost hit the spot - at least it got closer than anything else I've read recently. 

Young single mother Kate is a workaholic lawyer whose daughter Amelia Baron has killed herself by jumping off the roof of her exclusive, Brooklyn private school, Grace Hall - all because she supposedly plagiarized a paper on Virginia Woolf. This is shocking for anyone who knew pretty, brainy Amelia - never one of the popular girls, but a relatively happy, if slightly lonely sophomore.

Not long after the funeral Kate received an anonymous text message reading "Amelia didn't jump," which sets off her investigation into her daughter's death. Like Gone Girl, Amelia and Kate take turns narrating chapters - Kate from the present as she searches for clues into how/why Amelia died and Amelia from the months leading up to her death as she is tapped to join a secret society of girls and falls in love for the first time, all of which happened without her mother's knowledge. Interspersed in the book are excerpts from Amelia's texts, her facebook posts, Kate's diary entries and emails dating back to 1997, when Amelia was conceived, and Gossip Girl-eque school blog called gRaCeFULLY. Obviously bullying plays a large role in the twists and turns of Amelia's final weeks. Kate, who is racked with guilt over her long hours working, throws herself into the case, trying desperately to reconstruct the last months of Amelia's life and illuminate the truth behind her daughter's death. 

At first I wanted to call this book Gone Girl light. Or Gone Girl meets a combination of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars (which I am not ashamed to reveal that I have become a bit obsessed with recently. For a show on ABC Family that seems incredibly dumb, it's actually an entertaining, soapy, gothic story that I kinda love). There seemed to be more at stake with Gone Girl. After all, in that book Amy, the main character was missing. With Amelia already being dead, what could really happen in this book? The incredibly fucked up twists within Gone Girl wouldn't work here because Amelia wasn't missing, wasn't pulling a fast one on anyway; she was really, truly dead. I wasn't expecting much more than a standard whodunit. However, there were so many twists and turns in this book revealing not only how Amelia really died but also what she had been up to before her death, who her father is and how much the school was willing to cover up. 

I guessed some of the twists but was mostly pretty surprised by what happened (the author also threw in some red herrings that made me second guess my original suspicions). I read the last 20% at the gym today and spent an extra twenty minutes there, forgetting to let my husband know where I was because I was so totally engrossed.

So do yourselves a favor: if you loved Gone Girl, pick this up. If you haven't read either, get cracking. This was an awesome book! 

NY Daily News Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble 

Some Kind of Fairy Tale Review

My husband just asked me where I found this book. I can't remember, but I had previously sent the sample to my kindle and when I was looking for something to read, the title jumped out at me.

Some King of Fairy Tale is the story of Tara Martin, who disappeared from her little English town twenty years ago. Since then, her family has moved on. Her parents still live in the house where she grew up, her brother is now a farrier with a wife and four children and her ex-boyfriend, Richie (who is now estranged from the family and was a suspect in her disappearance), is still playing music and doing drugs.

But then, on Christmas Day, twenty years after she disappeared, a young woman, barely looking older than 16 (the age Tara was when she disappeared) shows up at the Martin's house and claims to be Tara. She looks like Tara did at 16 but has barely aged. Her reappearance throws the family into absolute chaos. Her brother, Peter, in particular is enraged by the story she tells, although her return does make him finally reach out to Richie, his childhood best friend.

Tara claims that after a fight with Richie, she was alone in the Outwoods when a man approached her on a white horse. They spoke together for a bit and then he invited her to accompany him to his home. At 16, Tara was discontent with her life and reeling from the end of her relationship with Richie, so she decided to go with the man. They rode through a strange landscape that she ceased to recognize as her familiar home and ended up in a house where other, loosely moral people lived. She soon realized that there was no phone, no technology and no way to leave. The man explained to her that she could not cross back into her home for six more months when the stars and planets aligned correctly. Tara would not call these people fairies, but it's clear that they are some version of magical folk who crossed a boundary into her land and took her home with them.

No one really buys Tara's story, which unfolds over the course of the book, even after she agrees to therapy with an older, eccentric man named Vivian Underwood. There are multiple perspectives in the novel, which also moves between past and present and includes the musings of her therapist, who attempts to diagnose her as some sort of amnesiac who is blocking out the time after some sort of traumatic even occurred. While as a reader, you experience Tara's story as told to other people, she rarely has her own POV chapters. You never really know what she is actually thinking, only how people react to her story and to her.

The ending of the book is ambiguous. Tara makes a decision about how she will live the rest of her life but the audience is never fully clear as to what happened. Was her story true? Was she suffering some sort of delusion? Her return definitely altered the future of people around her but there was no definite resolution to the question of where she had been, which I thought worked well. The novel emphasized the importance of family and friendships and the characters around Tara certainly evolved for the better.  I thought it was an interesting, enjoyable read, and I will definitely check out some of the author's other books!

Salon Review

Washington Post Review

Blog Review

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The Great Gatsby Review

I feel a little silly reviewing The Great Gatsby. It's one of the great American novels that most people have to read at some point in their lives. I've been really excited for the new Baz Lurhmann version of the movie for a long time now and when I came across two copies in my attic a couple weeks ago (mine and Geoff's, both from high school), I decided to reread it for the first time since 1998.

I don't actually remember reading this book originally although I know the plot well from the original Robert Redford movie. But I did write a term paper on Fitzgerald, so a lot of my notes were in the book for the paper. I don't know if I read it just for that paper or in class but a lot of the notations were really intelligent comments that I think must have come from class discussions and teacher notes (and not just from my brain).

Anyway, it was cool revisiting high school with reading those notes, which gave me a bit more insight into the book than I might have originally had. But, reading the book for fun instead of for school was nice. This time around, I let myself get sucked into the plot and characters without focusing on all the symbolism, etc, even if my 17 year old annotations did give me a deeper view of the story.

To those who don't know, The Great Gatsby takes place in the 1920s in New York, mostly in the city and the fictional Long Island towns of East Egg and West Egg. East Egg was where the old money people lived, while the nouveau riche live in West Egg. Nick Carraway, a WWI veteran and Yale graduate, rents a small house in West Egg for the summer of 1922. He works in New York City, spending his days riding the train back and forth.

In East Egg, his distant cousin Daisy lives with her domineering husband, Tom Buchanan, who went to school with Nick. He spends some time with them, finding Daisy to be delightfully flighty and learning about Tom's affair with Myrtle, the wife of a garage owner who is living a double life with a Manhattan apartment and Tom. Nick also meets Jordan, a professional female golfer who is a friend of Daisy's. 

Nick observes great, glittering parties at the giant mansion next door to his, to which he is eventually invited. There he runs into Jordan and tons of other celebrities and other newly wealthy people. His host, Jay Gatsby, has a bit of a shady background but seems to be a decent guy who befriends Nick. Eventually he tells his story to Nick. He was in love with Daisy before serving in WWI himself but when he was delayed in returning home from Europe, she married Tom. But Gatsby never stopped thinking about her, even buying a home that looked across the harbor from her dock and throwing elaborate parties in the hopes that she would one day find herself there. Nick, of course, becomes the conduit between Gatsby and Daisy, throwing her existence into chaos. Tom is a pretty awful husband but Daisy, despite a flirtation with Gatsby, is hardly capable of throwing her whole life away and leaving him. 

The Great Gatsby is a slim little book but packed with such tension. The summer gets hotter and hotter (as a New Yorker, I so get that) as the flirtation between Daisy and Gatsby heats up. Everything comes to a head one night in New York City, a night that ends in a dramatic tragedy that destroys Gatsby's life. 

If you've never read The Great Gatsby, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Like I said, it's short, but beautifully written. I actually didn't know that six versions of the film had been made, although the most famous is the 1974 one with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I'm hoping the Baz Lurhmann version will draw people to the book. It's an easy read but there's definitely a reason why it's considered a great American novel. I truly loved rereading it and now I'm intrigued to read some of Fitzgerald's other works, as well as this new fictional novel about his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, that just came out. 

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble