Monday, April 23, 2012

Defending Jacob (William Landay)

Defending Jacob has had outstanding word-of-mouth reviews, so I wanted to see what all the buzz was about. You may have heard that there is a shocking twist at the end. Well, thinking that I was all high and mighty, I haughtily had the twist figured out…until I didn’t. Believe me, you won’t see this one coming.

Andy Barber is an assistant district attorney in an idyllic wealthy suburb of Boston. He lives there with his wife, Laurie, and their 14-year-old son, Jacob. Everything is perfect until one day, a classmate of Jacob’s is brutally murdered in a park. Andy quickly gets on the case but is taken off when the evidence points to his son as the prime suspect.

Legal thrillers are a dime a dozen, with John Grisham and Scott Turow being the most famous authors. However, Landay is a master at them, moving all the pieces around like one giant puzzle until everything seems to solve itself. Or so the reader thinks.

Lucky (or not so lucky) for us, Defending Jacob will be a movie soon. Do yourself a favor and read the book before you see it. Sometimes Hollywood messes up a book so badly that it’s a mere token of itself at the end.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Skinnydipping (Bethenny Frankel)

Bethenny Frankel has, in the past few years, become a one-woman enterprise machine. She started off in the media eye as one of the Real Housewives of New York. Then she left to get her own show, Bethenny Getting Married, which quickly evolved into Bethenny Ever After. Along the way, she has written bestselling self-help books and began the Skinnygirl brand. She has certainly not had the easiest of lives, with lots of family troubles well-documented in her therapy sessions on her TV show. However, she always seems to pick herself up by the bootstraps and dust herself off. Her latest venture, the “fictional” Skinnydipping, hits very close to home and dives right into what we’ve come to expect from Bethenny…too much information.

This is the story of Faith Brightstone (AKA Bethenny Frankel), who leaves college on the day of her graduation to become an actress in Los Angeles. She moves in with her estranged father, a famous horse trainer, and gets a job as a production assistant on a famous TV show. She, of course, then does what every main character does in generic chick lit…goes out drinking every night, sleeps with a multitude of men, finds out that the guy she really likes is married, blah, blah, blah.

Five years later, she is back home, trying desperately to get her muffin business off the ground. She is soon spotted by producers of an upcoming reality show, Domestic Goddess, and is deemed worthy to compete. If she wins, she’ll get a TV show in the Martha Stewart style. The second half of Skinnydipping is all about the drama of filming the show. Will Faith win? Will she find true love? Will she finally get her life together?

Skinnydipping is entertaining and is the perfect book for that beach getaway. The characters, however, are forgettable, and I had to remind myself of the cast of characters practically daily. But Bethenny doesn’t really need to worry, as her fans will follow her no matter what she does.


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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Night Strangers (Chris Bohjalian)

I was hesitant to pick up The Night Strangers simply because it did not get the greatest reviews. Bohjalian's Midwives was an Oprah Book Club selection, which of course, instantly became a bestseller. He's an interesting author in the sense that he rarely writes the same style of book twice. In The Night Strangers, he takes practically every iconic, classic horror movie and mashes them up..."The Shining", "Rosemary's Baby", "The Wicker Man"...with great success until the ending.

Chip Linton is an airline pilot who is thrown into a horrible situation one day at work. His plane hits a flock of geese, and he is forced to make an emergency landing in know, like the miracle on the Hudson...which Bohjalian compares Chip's landing to ad nauseum. Unlike Sully Sullenberger, however, Chip loses 39 passengers and of course, his life becomes unbearable.

Hoping to get a fresh start, Chip, his wife Emily, and their twin daughters move to New Hampshire into a big, old house. There is a door in the basement, with 39 nails in it, which quickly becomes the center of attention. What's behind that door? What's the history of the house? Why do all of the women in their new town love to be in their greenhouses so much? Most importantly, who can they trust?

The characters in The Night Strangers, not all of whom are living by the way, are well intertwined. While I can understand some of the reviews, which thought the book moved rather slowly, I thought this quality added to the sometimes unbearable suspense. It was quite simply one of the scariest books I've ever read. Read it with all of the lights on. The ending though was too strange for me. However, I truly hope Bohjalian writes a few more books in the horror realm, because he can certainly give King and Koontz a run for their money.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The House I Loved (Tatiana de Rosnay)

Paris was very different before the mid-1800s than it is today. Villages existed where everyone knew each other, and houses were in the same family for decades. It wasn’t illogical that someone would be born and die of old age in the same house. Flower shops, bakeries, and restaurants existed where everyone knew your name. Then Emperor Napoleon came to power, and he wanted a very different Paris. He hired Baron Haussmann to make it into a city that would be modernized and renovated. Some Parisians agreed with the plan, but others did not, especially those who would be forced to move when streets would run right through their houses.

The House I Loved, by Tatiana de Rosnay (she of Sarah’s Key fame, my all-time-favorite book), tells the story of Rose Bazelet, a woman still grieving the death of the love of her life and her young son many years before. She has the support of her community, including her flower-shop owner friend, Alexandrine, through her grief. All of her memories are in that house, but it is one of the houses Baron Haussmann will tear down. Even though her estranged daughter is expecting her to come live with her, Rose does not leave her house. She hunkers down in the basement, with food and visits delivered from another friend, waiting for the demolition crew to come.

The House I Loved is both heartbreaking and suspenseful. de Rosnay writes beautifully with flowing language, and her books always translate well into English. While Sarah’s Key will always be my favorite, The House I Loved is a worthwhile read based on some historical fact. How far are we willing to go for modernization?


Monday, April 2, 2012

More Like Her (Liza Palmer)

We never truly know what another person is going through in their personal life. No matter how much we may envy their beauty, gorgeous house, and fancy job, everyone has secrets. This is the message of Liza Palmer’s More Like Her, a sometimes frustrating blend of banal chick lit and outright horror.

The story revolves around Frannie, a thirtysomething speech therapist, working in an elementary school with her best friends, Jill and Lisa. Frannie has just been dumped by Ryan, also a teacher at the same school. When the school year begins, Emma, the new headmistress, seems to have it all…looks, brains, a cushy job. All Frannie can do is rethink everything in her life and bemoan the fact that no one will ever love her.

The first part of More Like Her features endless monologues by Frannie, both internal in her head and external to her friends. Jill tries to set her up, throwing parties with guys Frannie would love to forget. When she meets Sam, she thinks she may have found someone different from all the other guys, but soon Sam acts just like all the others. Things take a tragic turn when a life-changing event occurs, making Frannie realize that you never truly know another person unless they let you.

This novel definitely becomes more readable when the shocking event occurs; however, Frannie’s monologues weigh More Like Her down. More action and less talking would probably make things more interesting. I was hoping in the last few pages that Palmer would not end it in the predictable way that she did. The best stories are not always wrapped up in a nice, neat package with a red bow.


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