Sunday, March 16, 2008

#19 - Th1rteen R3easons Why

Book No: 19
Title: Th1rteen R3asons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: YA
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Border’s
Completed: 3/15/08
No. of Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5*****

One day Clay Jensen receives a package. Inside are 14 audiotapes. When he plays them he is shocked to hear the voice of his high school crush, Hannah Baker, a young girl who took her life just a few weeks earlier. On the tapes Hannah tells the story of the 13 people who contributed to her decision to take her life, and Clay is one of them.
Written in alternating voices, Hannah’s on the tapes and Clays reactions to and memories of the events described, made for a compelling read, I barely stopped reading this book for 6 hours straight. It is heartbreaking to see how sometimes seemingly small events can snowball in one person’s mind, until she feels she has no choice. A must read for both children and parents, hopefully opening up some lines of communication.

#18 - Change of Heart

Book No: 18
Title: Change of Heart
Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008
Completed: 3/15/08
No. of Pages: 464
Rating: 4/5*****

Boy oh boy, Picoult sure knows how to pick some hot buttons issues and put them into a story that you cannot stop reading, even when you know the outcome cannot be good.
In her latest outing we have Shay Bourne, a convicted murderer on death row and facing imminent execution. When he learns that the sister of the young girl he is accused of killing needs a heart transplant, he tells his spiritual advisor Father Michael that he wants to donate his heart to her. Enter Maggie Bloom, ACLU attorney, who sees this case as a way to make a stand against the death penalty, and to stand up for Shay’s belief that his only way for salvation is to make this organ donation; despite the mother’s decision not to accept the heart. When miracles seem to be occurring around Shay, many people come to believe he is a Messiah. The media picks up the case and soon people are protesting and picketing outside the prison and the courtroom when Maggie gets an expedient trail for his case.
Telling the story from the viewpoints of Maggie, Father Michael, another inmate and June, the mother of Claire the girl in need of a heart, we see the death penalty and religious beliefs in many different lights, always causing us to think about our own feelings to these subjects. This should be a hot book club book because there are so many things to talk about, not the least of which is the last sentence in the book.

#17 - Lost and Found

Book No: 17
Title: Lost and Found
Author: Carolyn Parkhurst
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2006
Obtained: 2006/
Completed: 3/13/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4/5*****

Reality series have become a staple of television for a number of years now. They are in fact one of my guilty pleasures, especially The Amazing Race. This book is a look behind the scenes of a fictional reality show called Lost and Found, an around the world race very similar to The Amazing Race.
The book focuses on a few of the teams that are playing the game, teams that seem to have been chosen not just for their personalities or appearance but also because of some secrets or sad stories or controversy they may bring to the show. As the show races to its conclusion we are treated to some twists and turns in the game play, some betrayals, some game manipulation, melt downs and a budding love story.

I really enjoyed this book that succeeds in poking a little fun at the game realty show genre, the people who choose to be contestants on the show and those of us who watch these shows, choosing our faves and cheering them on, even if almost nothing on the show is real except some of the raw emotion that pokes through here and there. Lost & Found was a satisfying and very entertaining read.

Monday, March 10, 2008

#16 - The Palace of Illusions

Book No: 16
Title: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/
Completed: 3/09/08
No. of Pages: 360
Rating: 4/5****

The Mahabharat is an epic poem that tells the tale of the Pandava and Kaurava families and their rivalry for the throne of Hastinapur. The author uses that poem as the basis for her retelling, imagining the story from the view point of Panchaali, the woman who was the wife of the five Pandava brothers.

Divakaruni expertly brings together the stories of the two families, effortlessly weaving history, mythology and magic together into a fantastical retelling of this tale. Reminiscent of the story of Homer, here too the gods live and intermingle with the people on earth. The writing is so well done that we soon accept the magic and interaction with the gods as normal.

Panchaali’s story is fascinating and complex. Born in fire and told that her destiny is to change the world she is always wondering what it is she is meant to do. When her desire for revenge sets a course of action that ends in devastation she realizes that she does indeed change history, but not necessarily for the better.

At times I had a little difficulty with the names in the book as they were sometimes very similar, but I soon was able to follow the story line and was captivated by Panchaali, even when she was sometimes petty or whiny. I read through the last half of the book in one sitting, I had to know how everything turned out. I loved the ending; it was the perfect finish to a wonderful story.

Monday, March 3, 2008

#15 - Mystic River

Book No: 15
Title: Mystic River
Author: Dennis Lehane
Genre: Suspense
Published: 2002
Obtained: 2003
Completed: 3/03/08
No. of Pages: 448
Rating: 4/5*****

Three young boys from the mean streets of Boston lives are forever altered when one of them is abducted. Jimmy Marcus and Sean Devine did not get in the car with the two men who turned onto their street one day, but Dave Boyle did. Although Dave manages to escape from the pedophiles the friendship is never the same and all three men move on with their lives. Sean is now a police officer, Jimmy a reformed mobster who spends a few years in jail and changes when his wife dies while he is away, leaving him to raise their daughter Katie. Dave is married but hasn’t done much with his life, still harboring the pain of his past. All three of these men’s lives come together again when a teenaged Katie is murdered; Sean is the lead investigator, Jimmy is wracked by grief and guilt, and Dave becomes increasingly unraveled as many of his secrets become exposed.

Powerfully written with unforgettable and complex characters, this is one of the best suspense books I have read in a very long time. Each character seems so real they almost come off the page. You empathize with them; shake your head at their weaknesses but care about each one. The language is real, the situations are real and the question of morals and ethics is explored time and again. Good people do bad things; sometimes bad people can do good things, and there is a strong sense of karma throughout the book. The ‘what if’ questions of making a different turn on a given day and the consequences are explored and the scars that are left on three boys as they mature into men is examined in their day by day reactions to Katie’s death.

I have never read Lehane before, but I plan to remedy that situation. I have A Drink Before the War on my TBR and I will definitely read that one very soon.

#14 - Born Standing Up

Book No: 14
Title: Born Standing Up; A Comic’s Life
Author: Steve Martin
Genre: Memoir
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Kindle
Completed: 2/24/08
No. of Pages: 224
Rating: 4/5*****

I love Steve Martin. I loved him on SNL, when he did stand up and in the movies. I have never read any of his books, but I think I will now. I really enjoyed this memoir of Martin’s life as a youngster working in Disneyland, where he got his start in show business. Alternately sweet and funny the chronicle of Martin’s years of creating and honing his craft as a comedian and his decision to walk away from it all was a warm and engaging story. Martin is known to be intensely private, but here he lets us all in, just a little, but enough to appreciate how much work went into becoming that ‘Wild and Crazy Guy”. A memoir that wasn’t self pitying but instead is a compelling narrative of a less than happy childhood that led to one of the world’s funniest and ground breaking comedians alive today.

#13 - 20th Century Ghosts

Book No: 13
Title: 20th Century Ghosts
Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Horror
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Kindle
Completed: 2/22/08
No. of Pages: 336
Rating: 4/5*****

I am not big on short stories, but having read and loved Heart Shaped Box last year, I thought I would give Joe Hill’s anthology try. I’m very glad I did. These stories are an eclectic collection, some of them not horror at all, but perfectly pitched stories about fathers and sons. Some were outright creepy, like the boy who turns into a cricket and some were a bit of both, sweet and slightly creepy, which was the story of a young teen ghost who haunts a movie theatre. Although not every story clicked with me I really enjoyed the writing and the variety Hill provided here; I hope he is working on another novel as we speak, I will be first on line to buy it.

#12 - Firefly Lane

Book No: 12
Title: Firefly Lane
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Kindle
Completed: 2/20/08
No. of Pages: 496
Rating: 4/5*****

Kate and Tully meet as teens, both of them outsiders in their school. They form a bond that cements and binds their friendship through thirty years of life and love. Tully, the abandoned daughter of an alcoholic mother and unknown father strives to be loved and to that end chooses a life in the spotlight. Kate, always a little in Tully’s shadow, chooses a more mundane life; marriage and motherhood. Through their many ups and downs, fights and jealousies Tully and Kate are always devoted friends until Tully begins to interfere with Kate’s raising of her teenage daughter Marah. Although it seems as if their friendship is over and cannot be repaired one event will bring them back together… friends forever.

I’ve had my ups and downs with Hannah over the years, but I have to say I loved this book, even if it was a bit predictable. A lot of the subject matter hit close to home, I needed the tissues at the end. Although this was a long book I read it in two days. If you like contemporary fiction about friendship this book is a must read.

#11 - In the Woods

Book No: 11
Title: In the Woods
Author: Tana French
Genre: Suspense
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Kindle
Completed: 2/18/08
No. of Pages:429
Rating: 4/5*****

In the Woods is not only a mystery but a look at how the past shapes everything in our lives, and how psychological damage that is deeply buried is always there waiting for a chance to pop out its head and say got ya’.

Adam “Rob” Ryan was the victim of a mysterious crime when he was 12 years old. He is found alive but the two friends he was with disappear and Adam has total amnesia regarding the events of his ordeal. Now as an adult he goes by Rob and has told no-one about his background except his partner Cassie, with whom he has formed a unique friendship. They are both detectives on the Murder Squad, and when a young girl is found brutally murdered in the same place where Rob and his friends were the long ago victims the linking of the two crimes is inevitable. Or is it?

Well written, intricately plotted and with characters that were completely believable I found I could not put down this book. For those who expect their mysteries to be tied up in a neat little package, beware, this book ends the way life often does; not every question will have an answer.