Friday, May 30, 2008

Julie's Review: Songs for the Missing

Summary: "It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow." It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend must now do everything they can to find her. As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town's intimate struggle to maintain hope and, finally, to live with the unknown. ~book jacket

Review: I received Songs for the Missing: A Novelfrom Barnes and Noble First Look club and am very glad that I requested the book. I had never heard of Stuart O'Nan before and quite enjoyed his story telling abilities. The book centers on a family in the Midwest who's eldest daughter, Kim goes missing. The story unfolds through the eyes of Fran (her mom), Ed (her dad), Lindsey (her younger sister)and a group of her friends. Each character gives their views at different points in the book which is interesting. What I enjoyed about the book is that while the story unfolds over 3 years, it doesn't drag. Mr. O'Nan does a good job of skipping over time but not in a way that makes you think something is missing from the story.

As a parent I can't imagine the horror of going through this tragedy/event. How do you recover? Do you ever give up? Could you ever give up? At one point do you have to move on for your own sanity? These were the questions that were going through my mind while reading the book. I could see why each of the characters reacted and interacted the way they did. It was also refreshing to see the parents stay together during and after this family misfortune. I enjoyed the way Lindsey came into her own towards the end of the book.

There is a discussion thread on BN.com for the book and there are a several things I want to find out from the author. One is why did he decided to end the book the way he did? Did he think of ending it a different way? What kind of research did her do on the subject of Missing and Exploited Children? Does he have personal experience with this subject?

A couple complaints is that the book seemed to wrap up to quickly and the book jacket says something about the use of private detectives and yet there is only a brief sentence about the use of one. The ending of the book makes you wonder how the story goes on.

If you enjoy books about family and modern storytelling, Songs for the Missing: A Novel is a book for you.

Final Take: 4.0/5

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Julie's Review: The Friday Night Knitting Club

Summary: Between running her Manhattan yarn shop, Walker & Daughter, and raising her 12-year-old biracial daughter, Dakota, Georgia Walker has plenty on her plate in Jacobs's debut novel. But when Dakota's father reappears and a former friend contacts Georgia, Georgia's orderly existence begins to unravel. Her support system is her staff and the knitting club that meets at her store every Friday night, though each person has dramas of her own brewing. Jacobs surveys the knitters' histories, and the novel's pace crawls as the novel lurches between past and present, the latter largely occupied by munching on baked goods, sipping coffee and watching the knitters size each other up. Club members' troubles don't intersect so much as build on common themes of domestic woes and betrayal. It takes a while, but when Jacobs, who worked at Redbook and Working Woman, hits her storytelling stride, poignant twists propel the plot and help the pacing find a pleasant rhythm.~amazon.com/Publisher's Weekly

Review: I picked up The Friday Night Knitting Club based on a bunch of great reviews in the blogging world and I wasn't disappointed. I don't knit and don't think that you have to, to enjoy the book. My aunt knits and I've been to the knit shop that she buys her supplies from many times and that's what I kept picturing in my head while reading. I liked the fact that Ms. Jacobs had an inter-racial relationship as one of the main focuses in the book; although I feel like she could have explored the issues that a bi-racial child would face a little more, but there's only so much you can write about in one book. She also brings up the issues a bi-racial couple would encounter but then drops them with an easy out in my opinion. I enjoyed all the characters in the book but didn't fall in love with any of them. I liked how Ms. Jacobs let each female's story be told over time, you didn't get the full story at once. What I thought was great was how the only thing that these women had in common at first was knitting but that it developed into much more over the course of the book. You can bond over one thing and find out that your have so much else in common. I have a few friends that has happened with and it's wonderful to discover friendships in places you wouldn't have guessed.

I felt like the book's ending was rushed and, while I was satisfied with the ending, I think there could have been more to the story. I thought Cat's storyline wrapped up too nice and neat for the struggles someone in her situation might have happen to them. I enjoyed the style in which Ms. Jacobs wrote the novel and how knitting was central in the beginning of every chapter and even used knitting needles to separate breaks in the chapter. I thought that was quite clever.

SPOILER: My problem with books like this is that they bring in the big "C" and have a main character die from it. What would be more interesting and inspirational is if the person survived and how it changes their life. I know that the statistics for Ovarian cancer aren't very
favorable but I also do know people survive it too.

Overall the book is a great testament to female friendships and the things that bind us together.


Final Take: 4.25/5

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Julie's Review: The Rest of Her Life

Summary: Moriarty's follow-up to book-group favorite The Center of Everything again explores a tense, fragile mother-daughter relationship, this time finding sharper edges where personal history and parenting meet. Now a junior high school English teacher married to a college professor, Leigh has spent much of her adult life trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional childhood. Raising their two children in a small, safe Kansas town not far from where Leigh and her troubled sister, Pam, were raised by their single mother, Leigh finds her good fortune still somewhat empty. Daughter Kara, 18 and a high school senior, is distant; sensitive younger son Justin is unpopular; Leigh can't seem to reach either—Kara in particular sees Leigh (rightly) as self-absorbed. When Kara accidentally hits and kills another high school girl with the family's car, Leigh is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her daughter, her resentment toward her husband (who understands Kara better) and her long-buried angst about her own neglectful mother. The intriguing supporting characters are limited by not-very-likable Leigh's POV, but Moriarty effectively conveys Leigh's longing for escape and wariness of reckoning. ~amazon.com/Publisher's Weekly

Review: I was expecting a lot going into this book. Heck Jodi Picoult raved about The Rest of Her Life and you all know how much I like her and I loved her first book CENTER OF EVERYTHING, THE. So needless to say my expectations were high, only be severely let down. The premise seemed good: mother-daughter relationship on the outs, daughter gets into an accident and the stress this puts on the family. My first major problem with the book was that it was told from only one point of view; Leigh, the mom. In a story like this I think it it almost always better told from at least 2 points of view, maybe even three. The second problem with this book is that Leigh isn't even likable. She's bitter and angry and frankly jealous of her own daughter. We see how Leigh grew up with her mom and sister Pam and no dad in flashbacks that take up a decent amount of the books chapters. Frankly, I was more interested in the here and now, not in why Leigh was the way she is. Very little of the book was actually spent on the accident and how it would affect the daughter Kara's life. We only saw and got to know Kara through Leigh's eyes and even then I don't feel like I got a good sense of who she was.

I never related to how Leigh was so much more concerned about the grieving mom than her own daughter. Sure, I would feel absolutely horrible and would want to convey that but the way Leigh goes about it is wrong and makes her even more unlikeable. I would want to do anything and everything in my power to help my daughter if God forbid something like this happened to her. She becomes almost obsessed with the mom of the girl who died in the accident.

The one view of the mother would have worked better if she was at all likable. I understand why she was bitter and angry but many people have the same or worse childhood as she did and learned how to be happy. She was a very depressing main character to have the story told through her eyes.

I would highly recommend reading CENTER OF EVERYTHING, THE for a great first novel by Ms. Moriarty but I would definitely skip this one. In the end, I'm not even sure the title is appropriate.

I will be curious to see what subject Ms. Moriarty tackles in her next book but I might hesitate to buy it this time.

Final Take: 2.5/5

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jenn's Review: The Secret Scroll


Summary:

Josh Cohan, a work-obsessed archaeology professor, has a recurring dream about a great secret. He follows his instincts to the Judean desert, where he makes a fantastic discovery an ancient scroll which seems to have been written by Jesus Christ. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has a claim on the scroll, but another, more sinister organization wants the scroll as well. The Guardians, members of an ancient extremist religious sect, are willing to kill to get what they want.

Josh joins the government-sponsored team of translators who believe the scroll might be genuine, and falls in love with Danielle, the fiery daughter of one of the translators. When a friend turns up dead and Danielle goes missing, Josh realizes that the scroll might be more powerful and controversial than he had ever imagined. Will Josh be able to prevent something terrible from happening to the woman he loves without giving up the most important discovery mankind has ever made?


Review: For readers who find writers Dan Brown and Kathy Reichs too heavy, this just might be the novel for you. A little history, a little mysticism, a little intrigue, a little romance, a little religion The Secret Scroll covers it all. While I do think that this was a good first novel for the author, I also think perhaps he tried to be too many things to too many people. I felt as if he had a solid idea that ran away from him a little. Perhaps if he had sacrificed the mysticism or the romance a little, he might have been able to develop the characters more fully. There were several plot twists that seemed a little farfetched and some shifts in focus that seemed forced – especially the misdirection applied in the case of the antagonist. That was actually what led me to figure out the villain. I was disappointed when I pegged the antagonist two-thirds of the way through the novel, and kicking myself for not spotting it earlier.


While the last book I read for the blog seemed to be without a moral, there was an abundance of message thrust forth in this novel from religious tolerance to violence in the name of religion – all very pertinent themes in today’s society. I felt the resolution of this social conflict was slightly superficial.


Lastly, I was a little exasperated by the editing in the book. I am no great speller but even I noticed the shifting back and forth from the older spelling of Moslem to the newer Muslim with no real rhyme or reason. I also realize that some writers take literary license and use de-structured sentences for effect. However, when I find myself concentrating on their sentence structure instead of their story, I have to deem the literary device as being unsuccessful.


All in all, this is an interesting first novel. I would like to see where Ronald Cutler goes from here.


Final take 3.8/5.0

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