Monday, October 19, 2009

Dune Road

Book No: 55
Title: Dune Road
Author: Jane Green
Genre: Chick LIt
Completed: 10/12/09
No. of Pages: 341
Rating: 2/5**

Jane Green, Jane Green where have you gone? After writing some of my favorite books (Jemima J, Bookends and Mr. Maybe) and a few fairly good others, I was pretty disappointed by Dune Road.

Dune Road is set in a tony Connecticut suburb, filled with trophy wives, soccer moms in designer duds and workaholic husbands. Kit Hargrove is recently divorced and trying to make a new life for herself and her children. Her best friend Charlie is a married to a successful banker (or financial planner or something) and she is a part time florist- they don’t need the money it’s just for fun. Tracy is a yoga instructor at a studio that she owns. These three women are the best of friends, always there for each other when needed (well kinda, sorta- not really). When the financial market crashes leaving Charlie destitute, Kit starts dating a new man, Tracy becomes involved with Kit’s boss and a mysterious stranger causes some havoc; everyone’s live will change. Excuse me while I yawn.

Cardboard characters, lame dialogue and some ridiculous plot lines caused me to roll my eyes a couple of times. The mystery of Steve the new man in town is pretty easy to figure out, the intent of the mysterious stranger is telegraphed from the start. I question the implausible easy forgiveness of some transgressions that frankly for me would take years to get over. By the end everyone is happy, except you because you paid $26.00 for this hardcover mess. It’s an easy read for the beach, be sure to borrow it from the library if you still want to read it.

The Physick Book of Deliveerance Dane

Book No: 54
Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 10/03/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4/5*****

Connie Goodwin is a PhD candidate at Harvard in 1991, seeking to move along in her field of American Colonial studies. When Connie’s mother, Grace, calls from New Mexico and tells Connie she needs her to clean out her grandmother’s house in Marblehead Connie is taken aback because she never knew of this home. While cleaning things out Connie comes across an old fashioned key; a scrap of paper with the name Deliverance Dane written upon it is attached. Intrigued Connie sets out to learn Deliverance’s story; in so doing she learns some truths about herself, her family and her mentor at the University.
The premise for this book is intriguing in that explores the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It actually poses the question “What if the claims of witchcraft were true”? The book is set in 1991, but Deliverance’s story is told in several flashback chapters. As often happens with these types of books I often find the ‘older’ story more interesting than the modern one. I really got caught up in Deliverance and Mercy’s story, it was quite fascinating.
It is very clear that a lot of research went into the book and the depiction of early colonial life and the trials themselves were very detailed. I was curious as to the placement of the book in 1991 instead of today, but I read that the point was it was before many of the universities had transferred their catalogs online so that allowed for some old fashioned detective work, digging through the stacks.
I have a few quibbles;, at times for a smart woman Connie could seem a little slow on the uptake, but I’ve known book smart people who were not at all street smart, so that was somewhat believable. Connie could also seem a little boring but the romance with Sam, the steeplechaser, helped make her far more human so that was a good touch. The Boston accents, especially Chilton’s, Connie’s adviser, were a little annoying after a while and some of the storyline involving Chilton seemed a little over the top. The ending felt very rushed and a bit confusing. I did however really like the epilogue where Ms. Howe went into a lot of the background for the story.
Overall a good book that could have been better, but I would recommend it if you like books on Salem and the witch trials.

Nine Dragons

Book No: 53
Title: Nine Dragons
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 10/02/09
No. of Pages: 375
Rating: 4/5*****

I am a long time Connelly fan, in particular the Harry Bosch series. Over the years there have been some less than stellar books, but a so-so Bosch book is still better than most police procedurals out there. Nine Dragons however is among the best in the series. We get a vulnerable Bosch in this story, a man who will go to the ends of the earth to protect those he loves.

The book starts out fairly routine, Bosch and partner are called upon to look into the murder of a liquor store owner. During the investigation it becomes apparent that this murder involves a Chinese gang, a Triad, and they are notoriously violent. When Bosch makes an arrest the case turns on its head when it becomes clear that this gang has kidnapped Harry’s daughter, who lives in Hong Kong with her mother. In a race against time Harry flies to China to try and find his child.

Taking Harry out of his element brings a fresh feel to the story and the pacing of the book is at break neck speed, a sense of urgency permeates every page. We also get to see Harry in a new light, a man terrified for his daughter, bringing another facet to his personality. It is a book that keeps you turning the pages all night until you are done. There is more than one twist and a few shocking moments sprinkled throughout and the ending completely blindsided me. It also looks as if the next book is going to bring even more change for Harry. This entry in the series is a winner, a very enjoyable read and highly recommended.

The Hunger Games

Book No: 52
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 9/26/09
No. of Pages: 374
Rating: 4.5/5*****

The Hunger Games is an amazing post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel set in Panem, the former USA. This nation is ruled by The Capitol and surrounded by the 12 districts. In an effort to wield control over the Districts an annual competition called The Hunger Games is held, in which one girl and one boy from each District competes in a fight to the death, which is televised night and day during the competition. When 16 year old Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen for the games she steps forward to take her place; Katniss does this knowing that she is probably going to die.

This is a concept that has been explored in many different novels over the years. It’s a bit of 1984 with a dash of The Running Man and a heaping serving of Survivor. What really sells this book though is Katniss. She is a fighter long before she is chosen for the games. She is the sole means of food for her family, hunting against the rules, dealing in the black market, a strong female protagonist who is not going down without a fight. By using her survival skills and forming an alliance with Peeta, the other contestant from her district, Katniss becomes a challenger in the games. Along the way she is also confronted with her feelings for Peeta as well as those of the boy she left behind at home.

I love that this book is written for Young Adults in a way that is exciting and engaging, while at the same time opening their eyes to injustice without it seeming like a history lesson. So many topics are touched upon; a nation filled with so many poor and a handful of very rich, the use of fear to govern, Big Brother watching every move, even the issue of our addiction to ‘reality tv’ and questioning how real it is. To have a female character that uses her brains to survive, without losing her humanity, is a great achievement, although the games and deaths are very, very brutal. The burgeoning love story between Katniss and Peeta is handled well, with just enough romance to not be mawkish and the book doesn’t wrap everything up completely, since the last line is: END OF BOOK ONE.

The tiniest of complaints is at times some of the writing feels a little repetitious, but that is a small criticism for a truly riveting story.

Now I need to get Catching Fire, book 2.

The Lace Reader

Book No: 51
Title: The Lace Reader
Author: Brunonia Barry
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/17/09
No. of Pages: 388
Rating: 2.5/5*****

Thank goodness for libraries, because had I spent good money on this book I would have thrown it against the wall more than once, but I restrained myself as I didn’t own the book.

The title is intriguing, as is the premise of the book as presented on the blurb inside the cover, promising a story about a family of women who can read the future in the patterns of lace and the generations of secrets they guard. If only the book was actually about this family of women. The Whitney family of Salem Massachusetts is featured in the book and it does focus on several of the women, but the book is really about Towner/Sophya Whitney, who introduces herself as a person who lies all the time. So we have an unreliable narrator who is telling us the story of her sister’s death and her own mental breakdown. The lace reading plays a very small part in the story, what we are left with is a fairly weak psychological mystery.

This book meanders all over the place, the construction is wildly disjointed, characters come and go with no real purpose, the narrative changes perspective for no apparent reason, time jumps happen all the time and any storyline that holds any promise is abruptly dropped. The big ‘twist’ at the end was not very surprising; I had pretty much figured it out about half way through the book. So beware the hype surrounding this story and if you feel you still want to read it - borrow it.

Fragile Things

Book No: 50
Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Short Stories
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I have only discovered Gaiman recently, definitely because of the Author, Author group. I read Coraline and The Graveyard Book both of which I loved, and I am now working my way through his back catalog. Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poems. I am not a huge fan of the short story, because I always find I want more than I get and often resent the ending to the story as I have just begun to get into the rhythm of the story. This collection was a very mixed bag, so I really liked several of the tales and others were just okay. Because the two previous books I read were children’s books I was a little surprised by the language and some of the sex scenes, but it’s just because I wasn’t expecting it. I would have to say my favorite story was October in the Chair, where the months of the year have a sort of board meeting, and one month gets to tell a story. I would have loved to hear each month’s story. I also really liked The Monarch of the Glen which featured an enigmatic character named Shadow; I’d really like to read something more substantial featuring this character. The few poems were lovely and because I listened to this on audio there is always the added bonus of Neil Gaiman’s beautiful voice. Overall this was an interesting if not great collection of horror/fantasy/sci-fi tales.

Thhe Widow's Season

Book No: 49
Title: The Widow’s Season
Author: Laurie Brodie
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: 303
Rating: 3/5*****

The premise of this book sounded very promising, a young widow whose husband is presumed dead after a kayaking accident, however his body has never been found. Three months later Sarah suddenly begins to see David everywhere. Is her husband dead? Is Sarah having a mental breakdown? Is she being haunted by a ghost? The answer to this mystery was pretty predictable and not at all surprising. Throw in the fact that I actually disliked Sarah, the protagonist of this story and you have the makings for a run of the mill story.

At first I understood a lot of the inertia and apathy Sarah has as a reaction to her husband’s death and part of her grief process. After a while I began to see that this was the way she was about everything- never taking the initiative and seeming to just do whatever is expected of her or never reacting to events around her. I found her constant analyzing and complaining about her marriage contradictory to her reactions to the apparent reappearance of her husband. I also greatly disliked the turn her relationship with her brother-in-law takes. In fact the only person I liked in this book was Sarah’s calm and competent neighbor Margaret. The revelation of what was going on was pretty ho-hum and not at all surprising, and contrary to a number of the blurbs on the cover I did not find this story haunting at all. I was hoping for a great mystery or a paranormal story and got neither, just a mediocre story that ended up disappointing.

Life's A Beach

Book No: 48
Title: Life’s A Beach
Author: Clare Cook
Genre: Chick-lit
Completed: 8/30/09
No. of Pages: 256
Rating: 3/5*****

Clare Cook has found a formula for her books that produce quick, light, beach reads. Take a woman of about 35-40, floundering through life. Mix in a quirky boyfriend or possible boyfriend, an eccentric father and a loopy cast of relatives and friends; have a few misadventures and a happy ending. Voila you have Life’s a Beach (or Must Love Dogs or Summer Blowout) Cute, light, easy to read. Cotton Candy for the brain, you enjoy it while reading it but you hate yourself in the morning.