Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Room (Emma Donoghue)

Wow…I haven’t read a more powerful book than Emma Donoghue’s Room in a very long time.  While it has an extremely disturbing (and sadly, true-to-life) premise, Room also brings out the sweetness and innocence of a child in a way that is truly remarkable.

The narrator of the story is Jack, who proudly just turned five years old.  He’s been living with his Ma (we never learn her first name) in a small room since he’s been born, held captive by a man they call Old Nick.  Since Jack doesn’t have any friends to call his own, he makes the items of the room his friends…Sink, Meltedy Spoon, Eggsnake (a long train of eggshells), and Plant.  Now that Jack is older, Ma tells him that there is an “Outside” he never knew, and they make plans for a grueling-on-the-reader escape.  Split into five sections with two distinct parts, Room is the most unique book to come along in some time.

Room’s writing is extraordinary and extremely original.  Making Jack the narrator, who doesn’t know anything about “Outside”, makes the novel less disturbing to the reader.  Some reviewers have found Donoghue's writing in Jack's voice “annoying”, specifically with the use of multiple proper nouns.  However, my thoughts are that it had to be this way.  Donoghue imbues innocence onto Jack and in so doing, inspires the reader to want to get him and his Ma out of that room in any way possible. 

Read through the many pages of gushing blurbs in the front of the novel.  Every one is true.  Room is highly original and both heartbreaking and inspiring at different times. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Castaways (Elin Hilderbrand)

I’m slowly working my way through Elin Hilderbrand’s repertoire, my latest being The Castaways.  The setting, as usual, is the author’s hometown of Nantucket; after reading so many of her novels, I really need to get there!  Part soap opera, part unsolved mystery, The Castaways is the perfect mental escape.

Four couples have become the best of friends since meeting on the island.  Some are related (Tess and Andrea), some have even dated each other in the past (Jeffrey and Andrea), but all have secrets.  After an accused infidelity, Tess and Greg are trying to repair their marriage by taking a sailing trip.  Unfortunately, they do not come back alive, causing a sordid web of backstory and grief.  Hilderbrand lets each character (except Tess and Greg) narrate as the huge puzzle they’ve all gotten themselves into slowly comes together.

While I enjoyed The Castaways and found it difficult to put down, I was not enthralled with the ending.  You never really know the true story of how Tess and Greg died; Hilderbrand lets the theories of the other characters influence your conclusions.  I’m all for open endings, but in a supposed mystery, this is ridiculous.  How did a piece of Tess’s hair get ripped out?  Why did Greg have cuts and bruises? 

However, the soap opera of the novel is what truly keeps it going.  Some characters are more likable than others, but all have interesting stories to tell.  This is a great, breezy read for vacation…just not a sailing trip!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nantucket Nights (Elin Hilderbrand)

Nantucket Nights…just the name sounds like it should have Fabio on the cover and give Fifty Shades of Grey a run for its money. It practically screams Don Johnson running down the street with a pastel t-shirt and white jacket. If you think all of this sounds dumb, that’s because Nantucket Nights is a dumb novel. While there is a plethora of intelligent chick lit out there (Hilderbrand’s latest books, Silver Girl and Summerland are two examples), this is not one of them.

Kayla is a Nantucket housewife married to Raoul with four children (one of which is a central character). Val, Kayla’s friend, is a high-powered attorney. Antoinette is…um, just someone that they both know (You can’t really call her a friend because in her words “she doesn’t want to have any friends.").  Twenty years ago, these three women started a ritual where they went swimming on the Friday before Labor Day and shared their innermost secrets. They named themselves the “Night Swimmers.” Now, it’s time again, with all three having big secrets, to grab lobsters and champagne and go swimming! But one decides to dance straight into the water, and lo and behold, goes missing! Did she drown? Did something more sinister happen?

Does that paragraph entice you to read Nantucket Nights? Probably not. However, just because the plot leaves a lot to be desired doesn’t mean Hilderbrand isn’t a great writer. I’ve given plenty of her books a 4 or 5 and am reading one now that I love. While there are some exciting parts, the storyline and extremely unsympathetic characters make this novel one I wouldn’t recommend.


Monday, September 10, 2012

One Breath Away (Heather Gudenkauf)

Numerous blurbs on the back of Heather Gudenkauf’s latest, One Breath Away, describe Gudenkauf as the next Jodi Picoult.  Picoult has taken the idea of multiple narrators and practically created an entirely new writing style.  The payoff is immensely satisfying when it’s done correctly, as it creates a truly completed puzzle.  While not as successful as  her debut novel, The Weight of Silence, Gudenkauf has written a worthwhile and powerful read in One Breath Away.

Gudenkauf takes every parent’s worst nightmare, an intruder in his/her child’s school, and creates a riveting narrative (so, ironically, did Picoult in Nineteen Minutes).  Each narrator adds a slice of the pie to the horrible hours when the incident took place.  Augie, sent to live with her grandfather after her mother’s accident; Will, Augie’s grandfather; Holly, Augie’s mother; Meg, a police officer at the school whose daughter is thankfully not there that day; and Mrs. Oliver, the third-grade teacher whose classroom the intruder is holed up in.

Gudenkauf wisely writes short chapters, which causes the “just one more” syndrome.  At times, I couldn’t put it down and kept reading long into the night.  Gudenkauf builds suspense with making the reader guess the intruder’s identity and hoping against hope that everyone will get out safely.  However, the identity is easily guessed, so the reader shouldn’t expect any big surprises there.  That part needed much more drama and felt a little too amateurish.  The lead-up to the big reveal and the afterword was wonderfully written. The actual reveal…not so much.  However, don’t let that stop you from picking up One Breath Away.  The heroics of the key players and general suspense keep you wanting more.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

One Day (David Nicholls)

I’ve been going through a phase where I’m reading books that other people have raved about…what some would call “modern-day classics.”  I usually focus on newer books on 1776books, but there are some novels on the aforementioned lists that I haven’t read yet.  A few months ago, I picked up Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go which I really disliked.  I saw David Nicholls’s One Day on the shelf at my local library and decided to give that one a go as well.  The numerous blurbs from prominent authors and publications made it seem like the second coming of The Great Gatsby.  So many people I talked with loved it and said Anne Hathaway’s movie ruined it.  Well, having neither read the novel nor seen the movie, I was looking at it with a clean slate.  And the one thing I took with me from reading One Day night after night…make my own darn decisions about the books I read.

One Day has a very interesting premise, following two people on the same day year after year beginning after their college graduation.  Dex and Emma, the reader is led to believe, are soulmates but do not know it.  No matter whom else they each happen to be with, Nicholls strongly makes the case that they belong together.  Each chapter describes the same day (July 15) every year, and the reader is responsible for filling in the other 364 days between.  This makes One Day a pageturner in a sense, as you want to find out if one person will recover from an illness or two people will stay together.

This novel was a solid 4 until the unbelievable massive turning point.  Then it got so irksome and boring that I just wanted to be done with it already.  Reviews of One Day are very interesting in that people usually give it the highest rating possible or the lowest rating possible.  You either love it or hate it.  I didn’t hate it, but I definitely wouldn’t read it again.  I’m giving it a 2 for solid writing but a pitiful ending.