Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: Forever, Interrupted (Taylor Jenkins Reid)

After reading Taylor Jenkins Reid's worthy debut novel, Forever, Interrupted, I was left with a message that I know in my heart but sometimes have a hard time remembering.  The only moment we're ever guaranteed is the one we're living in right now; the past is over and the future is not here yet.  You never know when your life will come to an end, and Reid reminds us to always live life to the fullest and with lots of love.

She does so by killing off one of the main characters on page 5 (I'm not giving anything away; it's on the back of the book.).  Ben and Elsie are madly-in-love newlyweds, having just been married a few days and knowing each other for only a few months.  Elsie gets a craving for, of all things, Fruity Pebbles, and Ben offers to ride to the store on his bike to get her some.  He is hit by a truck and killed instantly, leaving Elsie completely lost in her grief.  At the hospital, she meets Ben's mother, which is awkward in its own right since Ben never told her he was seeing anyone, let alone married.  Even though Elsie's heart is completely broken, she is made to feel as if knowing Ben for just a few months does not give her the right to grieve as a normal widow would.  Can she ever pick up the pieces of her unraveled life, and can she ever have a relationship with her mother-in-law who never knew Elsie existed?

I was completely drawn in by Ben and Elsie's relationship, even though I found some of it to be over-the-top.  They had a few arguments here and there, but they almost seemed too perfect to be true.  It's not too often where one of the main characters dies at the very beginning, but Reid effectively shocks us, and only
then tells the story of their relationship, all the while making us dread what we knew was going to happen to one of them.  Taylor Jenkins Reid has a bright future as a novelist, and I look forward to reading more from her.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton (Elizabeth L. Silver)

In Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa. P. Singleton, the reader counts down the months until the title character is put to death for her murder crime.  As is often the case with books nowadays, Silver switches back and forth between time periods…very effectively I might add. 

As Noa is waiting for her November execution date for the murder of Sara, she gets a prison visit from two people: Oliver, a new lawyer eager to look into her case and surprisingly, Sara’s mother, Marlene.  Marlene has had a change of heart since Noa’s trial, and even though she still believes Noa killed her daughter, she does not want her to die for it.  Noa does not want any part of clemency because of the guilt she feels over a twist I guarantee you won’t see coming. With the narrative told in present day, by Noa herself, and through Marlene’s letters to a deceased Sara, the reader is in for a treat with a multidimensional, layered tale that’s filled with suspense.

That being said, the ending was disappointing and was left way too open-ended for my liking. With the exception of one or two characters, none of them were very likeable or entirely innocent for that matter.  However, for a debut novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is fascinating and Silver definitely kept me reading into the night…until she left me hanging at the end.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review: Between You and Me (Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus)

The authors of the wildly successful The Nanny Diaries have written a book that explores the darker side of fame.  Obviously using the troubled life of a pop star we all know as inspiration, Between You and Me reiterates the fact that someone who is rich and famous can also be very lonely and sad.

Logan Wade is trying to distance herself from her unhappy childhood in Oklahoma. At the spur of the moment, she finds herself accepting a job in California as her very famous cousin Kelsey's assistant. Logan hasn't seen Kelsey in a long time for a reason we don't find out about until the end; however, she has been very unlucky-in-love, and sees this job as a new start for herself. It doesn't take Logan long to see that Kelsey has a very troubled life, especially in her relationship with her overbearing parents, Andy and Michelle. As Kelsey begins to pull away from them, she makes horrible decisions in her quest for a more normal life, and Logan must desperately try to save her cousin from herself.

The main problem with Between You and Me is the unlikable main characters. They were written in such a way that I can't really say I was rooting for any of them to succeed. I also felt that the Logan/Kelsey secret was brushed over too much and resolved way too quickly. However, if you're looking for a breezy book for some light reading on the beach, Between You and Me will suffice.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: Happy This Year! (Will Bowen)

Back in 2006, I became very intrigued by Will Bowen's initiative and subsequent book, A Complaint Free World.  The idea seemed simple enough...ask for a free purple bracelet from their website (you could really use just any old bracelet or even a rubber band) and change wrists every time you complained about something.  The goal was to make it 21 straight days without changing wrists.  Now, I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, so I thought for sure this would be a no-brainer for me.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself having to change the bracelet many times the first day...and the second day...and so on.  I haven't yet completed the program, but I do start it quite a lot!

I was thrilled to get Bowen's latest, Happy This Year! The Secret to Getting Happy Once and for All.  Again, I am generally a happy person, but sometimes life gets in the way.  Bowen offers step-by-step instructions and real-life examples illustrating how your thoughts, words, and actions can all get in the way of your happiness.  He insists that you and only you control your own happiness, and I found myself saying "A-ha!" quite a lot to myself as I listened to the audio book.

Some of the ideas seem a little hokey, like using the word "Abracadabra!" to wipe away any unhappy feelings.  However, there are quite a few helpful ideas here that seem new to the very busy "happiness self-help field."  While A Complaint Free World is still the book that had the most effect on me, there is still much knowledge to be gained from Happy This Year!


Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Bookman's Tale (Charlie Lovett)

A book about books…my cup of tea.  In The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession, Charlie Lovett has written a story that’s perfect for the true bibliophile.  At times, I couldn’t put it down; at other times, I struggled to get through Lovett’s overly melodramatic sentences.  However, it’s a worthwhile read for many…one that seamlessly transitions between various time periods.

Peter Byerly is an antiquarian bookseller with severe social anxiety issues, which are made even worse by the untimely death of the love of his life, Amanda.  He often goes out of his way not to deal with people and is only semi-happy nowadays when he’s with his old books.  One day, as he’s perusing the books of a possible client, he comes across the Holy Grail of the bookselling business, one that could silence forever the doubters that Shakespeare was the author of his own plays.  As he tries to prove the authenticity of this find on what could be a very dangerous investigation, Lovett blends together the mysterious history of the book and the beginnings of Peter’s great love affair.

I found part of The Bookman’s Tale absolutely fascinating; however, Peter and Amanda’s relationship was almost saccharine sweet.  I’m sure this was written like this to make Peter’s loss that much harder.  However, for me, it was quite jarring to go from reading about this priceless book to Peter and Amanda’s…ahem…numerous times together…on the rare book room’s floor.  Because of this, I liked it, but I did not love it.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is usually shelved in the young adult section at the bookstore and in the library.  In fact, I know of many schools that teach it in the 8th or 9th grade.  However, PLEASE do not let that keep you from reading this wonderful novel.  For in The Book Thief, you won’t find a wizard, vampire, or bow and arrow in sight; what you will find is Death as the narrator and one of the most beautifully written (and heartbreaking) books of the modern time.  It is literature….and it is literature at its very best.

Where do I begin with how much I loved this book?  Let’s start with Death, the character who takes on this extraordinary journey, telling us the story of Liesel, a girl growing up in Germany during the Holocaust.  At a young age, Liesel saw her brother die, just as the both of them were on their way to a foster home.  At the cemetery, Liesel picked up her first book…one that fell out of a gravedigger’s pocket.  After a tough beginning, she grew to love her new parents, especially Papa.  When a Jewish man shows up at the door, Mama and Papa take him in to hide in the basement.  Liesel and Max develop a friendship that’s based on their love of words.  Max even paints over his copy of Mein Kampf (yes, a Jewish man had the book but used it for a completely different purpose), turning an absolutely hated book into something completely different. 

Throughout the story, Death shows us all of Liesel’s relationships during one of the most tragic times in history.  Zusak does this in the most imaginative way; Death, knowing everything that is going to happen, often tells us the ending first in the most shocking matter-of-fact way.  Only then does he go back to fill in the blanks of what happened.  Of course, most of us hate when someone tells us the ending before we even read the story, but I promise you, in Zusak’s magical hands, it works beautifully.

Between the lyrical language and heartbreaking content, Zusak has written one of the most powerful books I have ever read.  It will stay with me for a long time.