Sunday, September 30, 2007

Julie's Review: Dirt

It may be his fifth novel in three years, but this slickly entertaining suspenser displays Woods at the top of his game with no signs of flagging. A sizable supporting cast of paparazzi-challenged beautiful people share the action as Stone Barrington, the suave ex-cop attorney-hero of New York Dead, makes his comeback. In this superbly paced tale, Stone gets involved in a blackmail scheme involving Amanda Dart, a much-feared, nationally syndicated gossip columnist. After Amanda is photographed in bed in a Manhattan hotel with a married real-estate magnate, a fax headlined "DIRT" and presenting both the photo and details of Amanda's tryst is sent to a weighty list of prominent people and major media outlets. The DIRT fax-web quickly expands to snare the gay but closeted editor of a sleazy L.A. tabloid. When Stone is hired by Amanda to sniff out who's spilling the pearls about these jealously guarded privacies, one of his operatives, a retired N.Y.C. cop, is murdered. The intrigue deepens when one of the perps is identified as closely resembling a male model in a Vanity Fair cologne ad. Dripping with name-dropping, haute couture and pricey playthings, and spiced with hormonal aerobics as Stone trolls the siren-infested waters of upscale Manhattan, the narrative rockets toward an abrupt but absolutely stunning denouement. Using all his skills here, and subtly reminiscent of the waggish P.G. Wodehouse, Woods delivers a marvelously sophisticated, thoroughly modern old-fashioned read.

I've read several Stuart Woods' books over the past few years. I started late in the Stone Barrington series and have decided to go back to the beginning of the character. This is the 2nd book in the Stone Barrington series and it's an improvement over New York Dead. The story introduces us to a few savory and unsavory characters. The books always start at the restaurant Elaine's at dinner time and the mystery goes from there. Stone is a retired NYPD detective who works as a PI for the law firm Woodman and Weld figuring out who's blackmailing their top clients. This is the first book that introduces us to Arrington Carter, Stone's long term romantic interest. What was interesting about this book is the fact of what goes around comes around. A new tabloid is on the market but only to a select few who receive it by fax and it's poison to those who receive it. In this one I wasn't sure if the character's he introduced were going to be key and I didn't figure it out until Stone started to put them together. I always like figuring it out when they main character does so it doesn't feel like you are waiting for them to play catch up.

Since I started a decent way into this character's life, I'm finding it enjoyable to go back and read about the things I've missed or couldn't figure out. The stories have gotten better and the character has evolved.

Final Take: 3.7/5

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book to Movie: Fall 2007 Adaptations

While perusing IMDB, I noticed there are quite a few book-to-movie adaptations this fall. It’s probably no more than usual, we all know how Holly wood loves to copy, but this is the first time I’ve really noticed. Now I haven’t yet read any of these books yet (sad, I know), but I’m quite likely to see a few of these movies. The following is a list of movies being released this fall that are based on books:

September, 2007
The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler
Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
Feast of Love – Charles Baxter

October 2007
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising – Susan Cooper
Reservation Road - John Burnham Schwartz
Gone Baby Gone - Dennis Lehane

November, 2007
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Martian Child - David Gerrold
No Country for Old Men - Cormac Mccarthy
Beowulf - Anonymous
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Mist – Stephen King

December, 2007
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman
Atonement - Ian McEwan
P.S. I Love You - Cecelia Ahern
Charlie Wilson’s War - George Crile

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Group Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Summary: from
Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Khaled Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

Jenn’s Review:
A Thousand Splendid Suns is an effortless read and an accessible, compelling story. It is easy to get wrapped up in the characters and their continued struggles, to keep an accelerated pace in hope of a reprieve for the women.

Certainly, this is a book I would not have picked up on my own. Yes, its predecessor, The Kite Runner, is on my list of things I should read, but the likelihood of my getting around to it? Less probable than I’d like to admit. Now I'm anxious to go back and read it! It is impossible for me to imagine living in a society where I am stripped of rights because I am a woman, and this is a journey I wouldn’t have taken without this book. It gave me perspective on historical events that, ‘til now, had been one dimensional.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Julie’s Review:
I highly anticipated the release of A Thousand Splendid Suns and it did not disappoint. As with The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini wove the history of Afghanistan into his story which made it more alive and rich. The story intersects the lives of 2 very different women. We are first introduced to Mariam as a young girl living outside of Herat. We are exposed to how her life changes in a manner that I can only think of as normal for this culture. We are then introduced to Laila and her story. I don’t want to give away too much by telling how Laila and Mariam intersect so I’ll just say to you that they end up living under the same roof. What begins there is a story of love, hardship, survival and redemption for our heroines.

I loved the book and the story that he wove together about these women and their struggles and strifes in a country that is so different from ours. What he wrote about did not surprise me since Afghanistan has been in the media for a few years now, but it still gets my blood boiling at how women are treated in this day and age. If you enjoyed the book, I would recommend the author Jean Sasson to read. They are just as, if not more enlightening about the treatment of women. I think what surprised me the most is that a man could write about women in such a compassionate manner and make them strong all at the same time. He truly is a gifted storyteller and one that I will continue to eagerly anticipate.

Final Take: 5/5

Lisa’s Review:
With three decades of political conflict as the backdrop, Hosseini tells the story of two women, from different backgrounds, brought together by unfortunate circumstances. They forge an unlikely friendship and together try to find a way to endure. His prose, to put it simply, is emotional yet completely engaging and full of hope. At times I found myself putting the book away so I could compose myself, often failing miserably. In the end, not only did I have an unforgettable reading experience, but I found myself profoundly grateful for the simple freedoms in my life.

The Kite Runner, which I totally judged by its cover, has now found itself very close to the top of the pile and I look forward experiencing it and whatever else Khaled Hosseini can dream up.

Final Take: 5/5

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Girls Just Reading Book Club

Sometime last year, Julie, Lisa, another friend, and I decided we wanted to start a book club. This is logistically difficult as we all reside in different areas of the east coast, which makes our little book club not-so-traditional; our book ‘discussions’ range from message boards to emails and tend to be more comments and reviews than discussions. How does that fit the mold of a book club, you might ask? Well, it introduces us to books we may not have picked up on our own, which, in my mind, should be one of the main functions of a book club.

Now with our Girls Just Reading site in place, we thought it might be an interesting exercise to do group reviews of our book club picks. Our first pick for this site is A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Jenn's Review: Agnes and the Hitman

Summary: from

Take one food writer named Cranky Agnes, add a hitman named Shane, mix them together with a Southern mob wedding, a missing necklace, two annoyed flamingos, and a dog named Rhett and you’ve got a recipe for a sexy, hilarious novel about the disastrous side of true love… Agnes Crandall’s life goes awry when a dognapper invades her kitchen one night, seriously hampering her attempts to put on a wedding that she’s staked her entire net worth on. Then a hero climbs through her bedroom window. His name is Shane, no last name, just Shane, and he has his own problems: he’s got a big hit scheduled, a rival trying to take him out, and an ex-mobster uncle asking him to protect some little kid named Agnes. When he finds out that Agnes isn’t so little, his uncle has forgotten to mention a missing five million bucks he might have lost in Agnes’s house, and his last hit was a miss, Shane’s life isn’t looking so good, either. Then a bunch of lowlifes come looking for the money, a string of hit men show up for Agnes, and some wedding guests gather with intent to throw more than rice. Agnes and Shane have their hands full with greed, florists, treachery, flamingos, mayhem, mothers of the bride, and—most dangerous of all—each other. Agnes and the Hitman is the perfect combination of sugar and spice, sweet and salty—a novel of delicious proportions.

I know, I don't read a lot of chick-lit, but this is chick-lit with crime and adventure thrown in.

Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandfather: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture,
revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!
Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try and stay awake.
Grandfather: Oh, well, thank you. That's very kind of you.
Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.
~The Princess Bride

It was the title that caught my attention, so I bought it on a whim. I needed a bit of light reading and this fit the bill. I found there to be an excellent balance of Jennifer Crusie's (contemporary-chick-lit-romance) and Bob Mayer's (military/science fiction thrillers) writing styles, neither of whom are authors I would read separately, but together I find them delightful.

It is interesting to hear the narrative from both Agnes's (Crusie) and Shane's (Mayer) point of view, sometimes overlapping chronologically and sometimes moving us ahead, but never in a confusing manner, as so often can occur with overlapping chronology. The writing styles are smooth and blended into each other such as to be indistinguishable to me, though perhaps if I was more familiar with their separate bibliographies, I would not find that to be true. There are some excellent plot twists as well as some downright laugh-out-loud moments. Though slightly far fetched in storyline, this is easy to overlook when given so much to sink one's teeth into.

I intend to go back and add their first collaboration, Don't Look Down, to my collection as another fast-paced, entertaining read.

Overall 4.9/5.0

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Word About Bones

For the last couple of weeks I have been catching up on the tv show Bones (thanks Jenn). This show is based on Kathy Reichs' Temperence Brennan novels. As both Jenn and Jules have mentioned, the tv show and characters are quite different to the ones in the series. Now, I must admit that I have yet to begin reading the series, but catching up with the show has certainly increased my desire to do so.

The shows new season premiered this evening with another great episode. If you ever feel like taking a break from reading this is a good one to watch. Don't worry about feeling too guilty, because it is based on books.

Don't you just love that theme song?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book to Movie: Confessions of A Shopaholic

This morning, I read on TV Guide that Isla Fisher will be the lead in Disney's adaptation of Confessions of a Shopaholic. Finally! After all this time, someone's making a movie!

So, Isla Fisher as Becky Bloomwood. Hmmm, let me see... it could work, I suppose. I've only ever seen her in "Wedding Crashers" where I found her comedic instincts dead on, but I don't feel that's enough for me to form a full opinion. Truthfully, I'd never really picked out an actress to play Becky in my mind so it doesn't bother me much. I just always assumed that if a movie was made, it would be with a British actress unknown to me. Speaking of which, Ms. Fisher is most certainly not British - though that means diddly. Renee Zellweger earned herself some kudos and a Golden Globe nomination for the Bridget Jones movies, after all. Further investigation reveals that Isla grew up in Australia and is engaged to Sasha Baron Cohen and though neither of those makes her anymore British, they both make me think she'd be able to fake it and fake it pretty darn well.

As for Luke Brandon... let's just go ahead and call up Christian Bale's people. Please and Thank You.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lisa's Review: In Another Man's Bed

When Justine walks in on her husband with another woman, she flees their cabin, promising a swift divorce. Andrew pursues her in his car, intending to get his wife back. But when his car goes over a cliff, hours later Justine is looking down at her comatose husband, wondering how it ever came to this. Now she is faced with a difficult choice about whether or not to pull the plug. And if she does, is it because of his cheating ways or because it’s the humane thing to do? Should she keep faith for his supportive mother that he’ll revive from his coma? Then, when an old flame resurfaces, will Justine follow her heart or her conscience? ~Book Description

This is a romance novel in the very basic and formulaic sense, so there were no surprises here. Although I found the coma plotline is a bit soap opera-ish, it presented an interesting moral dilemma. What would you do? Leave? Pull the plug? Decisions. Decisions. Francis Ray did an adequate job of portraying Justine’s confusion and pain, although she remained irritatingly passive throughout the entire ordeal. The secondary plotline featured a “tough cookie” lawyer and Justine's best friend, who resists the charms of a “good” man. When she finally starts to give in, she finds herself delicately off balance and at a loss for what to do next. Ultimately, this was fun and light and exactly what I needed to read at the time so I was entertained throughout and therefore more than willing to look past the ridiculously clichéd characters.
Final take – 3.25/5

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Books For Boys

I love this story. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to do justice to a summary so I won't even try. Read it here.

This left me hopeful and inspired. What about you?

Related: Women Read More Than Men

Julie's Review: Break No Bones

Summary: From Publishers Weekly
The success of the Fox TV show Bones, based on bestseller Reichs's series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (Cross Bones, etc.), bodes well for this latest installment, in which Brennan once again stumbles on a modern-day mystery inadvertently. While supervising a dig of Native American burial grounds in Charleston, S.C., Brennan finds more recent remains. Soon, her ex-husband, who's a lawyer, appears in town, pursuing leads in a missing persons case connected with a local church. Bodies start piling up at an alarming rate, and Brennan begins to suspect that the deaths are linked to each other—and her ex-husband's inquiry. Reichs's down-to-earth heroine is an appealing creation, who deftly juggles personal problems with professional challenges. Despite the somewhat obvious solution, this novel confirms the series' place in the front rank of the ever-expanding forensic thriller subgenre.

Another strong book for the series. To me the case was second fiddle to having Tempe deal with her personal life head on for a change. This is the first time we've really gotten to know Pete other than mentions here and there. I love how it caused Ryan or should I say Andrew to call her on the carpet. He had very valid points to Tempe about her guard/wall with him. I liked the "Alpha Male" incidents between Ryan and Pete. I think it's ok for Tempe to have a hard time letting go of Pete, it's only normal, they share history and a daughter. Enough said about that before I let something slip.

In regards to the case this time, I felt it was good but not quite as interesting as some of the other cases (Monday Mourning comes to mind). The part that I felt should have been explored more was the religious powerhouse group. I felt that part of the story was a cop-out the way it was resolved. For the case we were introduced to Emma Rousseau a long time friend and collegue of Tempe's since Charleston is her jurisdiction. Sometimes I feel that when KR introduces these characters it seems like she expects us to already know them, when in fact we are just getting to know them. That at times irritates me, but not to the point that I don't want to read her.

You might ask why I rated this one the same as my last Reichs' book if I didn't enjoy it as much? I did enjoy the book overall, I just felt there were some areas where it could have been wrapped up better and the personal issues were far more interesting than the case this time.

Final Take: 4/5

Monday, September 17, 2007

What Makes A Book Good?

I tend to reread books because I'm a speed reader and as a child I would often finish books so quickly that my mother would threaten not to buy me any more, as it was seemingly a waste of her money. To appease her, I started re-reading the books.

To this day, that's how I justify buying a book in hardcover. Will I re-read it?

So my rating system is simple, especially when comparing apples to oranges (i.e. YA to Historical Fiction to Chick-lit):

Did I enjoy it enough to re-read it?

If it's below a 4, probably not.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jenn's Review: Bones to Ashes

Summary: From Publishers WeeklyIn bestseller Reichs's entertaining 10th Temperance Brennan forensic thriller (after Break No Bones), Brennan, her relationship with Det. Andrew Ryan on the rocks, welcomes the distraction of an unidentified New Brunswick skeleton from Québec's cold case unit. But when the bones are determined to be that of an adolescent girl, Brennan is convinced they belong to her childhood friend, Évangéline Landry, who disappeared at age 15. Now Brennan must come to terms with Évangéline's possible death, while trying to ignore her feelings for Ryan as they investigate a series of teenage abduction murders that could be tied to the mysterious bones. With her usual blend of cutting-edge forensic science, nail-biting suspense and characters that pop off the page, Reichs, who's vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists and the producer of Fox's Bones, has produced another winner in one of the genre's most satisfying series. (Aug.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Although there are many good things to be said regarding this novel, Bones to Ashes, it is not among my favorites in the series. It's not even due to the romantic (or lack of) situation that Brennan finds herself in; I was far more dissatisfied with where Reichs left us in Tempe's love life at the end of her last Bones adventure.

Reichs loves to champion a cause in her books and this time the subject is that of Arcadian culture and the struggles of the Arcadian peoples. I found this thoroughly interesting, but not as well connected as some of her prior themes. It felt like she was stretching the book a little too thin to get all the details in, with little of the character development I've grown to love in her books. Everything tied together in the end, but it seemed a little... forced to me

The book had the wit but not the charm. ~ But even my least favorite Reichs book outshines most other authors any day!

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

SIDEBAR: As Julie mentioned in an earlier review, yes, this is the series that the hit TV show Bones comes from, but the characters differ greatly from the books to the TV version, not only in location but in character background and personality. I love both the TV series and the novels, but don't expect to pick up the novel and be immersed in the world of Booth and Brennan and vice versa don't jump into the TV show wondering where Andrew and Pete are... both stand on their own merits and deserve to be started from the beginning - and judged separately.

Jenn's Review: Eclipse

As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob --- knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death. But which is which?

Review: Death or Death-by-Immortality is perhaps the bigger question...

It's been more than a week since I finished this book and I hoped that in that time I would gain a little perspective on it. I've read and re-read bits and pieces of it, but I'm still torn in my opinion of it.

As an adult, former teacher, and soon-to-be-parent, I'm struggling with the message of this book... it was in the corner of my mind nagging me a little while reading New Moon and I set it aside, but I'm afraid I cannot ignore it any longer. Yes, as a purist, I understand the axiom "true love conquers all" but at what cost? To what end?

Then, I must think of it as a novel for the sake of a novel. Would I have such an issue with this is if weren't labeled young adult? I think the answer here is 'no.' As a whole this was a well written book, showing the most maturity in writing styles of the three, and it was a solid plot. There were times where I actually felt a little bogged down in the plot exposition, which is unusual for Meyer. The struggle to choose a path when the heart is divided, adversaries as allies... all told in a sensual manner - very compelling.

Meyer left the end of this one open, and there is a fourth book planned. I'm not sure where Meyer will go from here, but I am interested to find out.

Overall Rating: 4.7/5

Friday, September 14, 2007

Book to Movie: Casting My Sister's Keeper

I'm a little slow on the uptake, which is why I only recently found out that Cameron Diaz has been cast to play the mother in the movie adaptation of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper (a must read). Story here. My immediate reaction was "No. All wrong!" Learning that the team that brought us the fantastic tearjerker The Notebook is the same team bringing us this movie, does nothing to change my mind about this horrendous casting decision.

Let's hope that Nick Cassavettes and Co. do a better job casting the remaining characters, especially Anna (Please, please - no Dakota Fanning!)

Were it my decision, I'd probably go with Julianne Moore type. You?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What Makes A Book Good?

Reading is subjective as you all know already and by default so is rating a book. Usually, I already know what kind of rating a book is going to get while I am reading it, either because it's just so good or just plain crap. Below are the elements that drive my ratings philosophy.

How does the book open? A bad opening chapter never bodes well. It's rare that a book with bad beginning has redeemed itself in my eyes by having a decent ending. As a matter of fact I can't think of a single instance where this has been the case. If by the end of the first two or so chapters I'm not thinking "Alright I can dig this", things are not looking good.

How's the writing? I am a simple girl, I read for entertainment and enjoyment and I like simple, plain English. I dislike when authors talk down to me, over-complicate the story they are telling, go off in unnecessary tangents or write dialogue in ways that people don't speak. I refuse to continue reading Wicked or The Chronicles of Narnia for expressly that reason. The only author allowed to over-complicate the language is Shakespeare and since my school years are far behind me, you better believe I'm not sitting around reading Shakespeare for the fun of it. Not to mention he's not really writing much these days.

Is there bad grammar? Any plot holes or other inconsistencies? Research errors? Typos? These are the marks of a lazy writer and editing team. I am by no means a grammar snob or even ultra-anal because oftentimes I don't even notice (especially if the book is good), but whenever I do, I always find myself distracted and no longer interested. Simply because I no longer trust that the writer even knows what the heck they are talking about. If you can't take a minute or two to do your research or double check your spelling – you and I can't roll. Making the above mistakes is disrespectful to me as a reader. I am more forgiving of typos, unless there's more than one, then it points off for that.

Did I learn something? Most novels aren't known for being teaching aids, so I don't read them for that reason. However, I am an intelligent girl and I always enjoy learning something in a book. Any book. Even if it is something as simple as a new word to add to my vocabulary. The book that sends me running to the dictionary or to Wikipedia, once or twice, is alright with me.

How developed are the characters? I give different marks for character depth, based on the genre I am reading. I don't ever expect Stephanie Plum to be more than an indecisive, incompetent yet slightly lucky bounty hunter and for that reason I don't expect that I'll ever rate any book in that series higher than a 3 out of 5. If I'm reading something a little meatier, then I expect to care, relate and/or despise (with a passion) the appropriate characters.

How did it make me feel? This is easy. A book gets a good rating if it evokes some sort of heartfelt emotion. Did I laugh? Cry? Scream in surprise? Saddened that I have to leave the characters behind? Awed and speechless? These are all good things. On the other hand, if I ever get the urge to suck my teeth and throw the book across the room. Look out!

See? Not complicated at all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

About Girls Just Reading

This blog was created by me (Lisa), a book lover and avid reader, who wanted to share her love of all things bibliographic with whoever was interested. I conned a couple of my friends into joining me for the ride.

Here at Girls Just Reading we will provide comprehensive (we can do that because we’ve read the books) reviews about the fiction genres that we are interested in, namely, African-American Fiction; “Chick-Lit”; Crime Dramas; Contemporary Fiction; and Young-Adult Fiction.

In addition, we’ll try to:
  • Profile some of our favorite authors
  • Review movies and TV shows based on books
  • Give recommendations (we’ve read tons, trust me when I tell you this)
  • Highlight book events
  • Opine on interesting news and any miscellaneous book related items.

We are:
Jenn - Ratings Philosophy, Updated Philosophy (2009)
Julie - Ratings Philosophy
Lisa - Ratings Philosophy

Got questions? Email us

Monday, September 10, 2007

'A Wrinkle in Time' author Madeleine L'Engle dies at 88

The death of Madeleine L'Englehas me seriously analyzing my literary roots. As a child I often read mysteries, but it was L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time that expanded my horizons, not only to science fiction, but to the realm of literature beyond. More importantly, though, she stretched my imagination.

L'Engle's bibliography extends past her fictional and young adult works, but it was those for which she was known best. She was and is often dubbed as a children's literature author but she took exception to that label in that she never 'wrote down' to obtain any particular audience.
"'Why do you write for children?' My immediate response to this question is, 'I don't.' ... If it's not good enough for adults, it's not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words." ~Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet (1972)
Like Jim Henson, L'Engle's themes were presented in a simple way, easy for a child to understand yet at the same time often carried ideals perhaps loftier than a child may immediately grasp, engaging the minds of all audiences.
"Sometimes I answer that if I have something I want to say that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children. This is usually good for a slightly startled laugh, but it's perfectly true. Children still haven't closed themselves off with fear of the unknown, fear of revolution, or the scramble for security. They are still familiar with the inborn vocabulary of myth. It was adults who thought that children would be afraid of the Dark Thing in Wrinkle, not children, who understand the need to see thingness, non-ness, and to fight it." ~Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet (1972)
For me, she introduced the concept that religion, science, and magic all coexist as different facets of the same reality. For her works of literature, I'm profoundly grateful.
"Just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist." ~Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

Lisa's Review: In Sheep's Clothing

When Trudy lands a secretarial position at a travel agency, she feels like a new woman. And her warm, friendly personality soon wins her the adoration of her colleagues—with one exception. Ann Oliver is a high-level manager and the only other African American employee. She’s also an extravagant snob who despises the low-income black experience Trudy represents—especially when their white co-workers get the two of them confused. But Trudy keeps her cool. No one is going to ruin her new life. In fact, she’s found a way to make it even better. As the secretary who processes the agency’s bills, Trudy has easy access to company credit cards—including Ann’s.

At first, Trudy’s deception involves a few high-priced lunches—but it soon expands to include cash advances, a dramatic makeover, and weekend “business trips” to exotic locations. And when Ann suddenly resigns, Trudy’s spree goes to the next level. Now she’s leading a glamorous double-life—Ann’s life—complete with a secret apartment where she entertains the men she meets at upscale bars. But their worlds collide the night Trudy brings home the wrong man—one who has an angry score to settle. With Ann. Now, unless Trudy can convince him she’s not the woman he’s after, she may pay the highest price of all…

Identity theft is a difficult subject for obvious reasons. Can you make your protagonist symphathetic enough for us to feel that their actions are justified? Can you make us dislike the antagonist enough, to feel that they are deserving of such treatment? I was interested to see how a story like this would work and where national best-selling author Mary Monroe, would take us in this her sixth novel.

If I had to use one word to describe this effort it would be "What?". It seemed to me that great effort was made to keep the main characters somewhat grey and likeable, instead they were underdeveloped and as a result, completely unsympathetic. I am still trying to figure out what compelling reasons the Trudy had for choosing to steal as she did. The death of her mom sixteen years earlier? Having a boss who acted like a boss and not a sistah girl friend? The antagonist (Ann), who was supposed to be an evil woman, was more a mystery than anything else and in my mind, was someone to be ignored, rather than seek revenge on. Freddie (Trudy's best friend and supposed voice of reason) was simply wishy-washy. The lesser parts the characters had to play, the more stereotypical they became.

Ms. Monroe's writing is plain and painfully convuluted and the story often took off in tangents that neither moved the story along nor provided any insight. The climax was pat and rushed and ultimately there were no lasting reprecussions and no redemption for Trudy.

There is so much lost potential here. The opportunity to go deeper and create a compelling tale was lost. I am truly disappointed and frustrated. This is undoubtedly my first and last Mary Monroe novel.

Final take: 2/5

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Julie's Book Review: 19 Minutes

Summary:Set in Sterling, New Hampshire, Picoult offers reads a glimpse of what would cause a 17-year-old to wake up one day, load his backpack with four guns, and kill nine students and one teacher in the span of nineteen minutes. As with any Picoult novel, the answers are never black and white, and it is her exceptional ability to blur the lines between right and wrong that make this author such a captivating storyteller.

On Peter Houghton's first day of kindergarten, he watched helplessly as an older boy ripped his lunch box out of his hands and threw it out the window. From that day on, his life was a series of humiliations, from having his pants pulled down in the cafeteria, to being called a freak at every turn. But can endless bullying justify murder? As Picoult attempts to answer this question, she shows us all sides of the equation, from the ruthless jock who loses his ability to speak after being shot in the head, to the mother who both blames and pities herself for producing what most would call a monster. Surrounding Peter's story is that of Josie Cornier, a former friend whose acceptance into the popular crowd hangs on a string that makes it impossible for her to reconcile her beliefs with her actions.

At times, Nineteen Minutes can seem tediously stereotypical-- jocks versus nerds, parent versus child, teacher versus student. Part of Picoult's gift is showing us the subtleties of these common dynamics, and the startling effects they often have on the moral landscape. As Peter's mother says at the end of this spellbinding novel, "Everyone would remember Peter for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million?"

Review: This is my 6th Jodi Picoult novel and I love her style of writing and the realism of her stories. She yet again tackles a very real and troubling current issue but from a different point of view than I was expecting. The book starts off a bit slow for me but it picks up the pace as the story progresses. There are many different issues at play in this book: guns, bullying, coming of age, drugs, emotional abuse, parent/child relationships and popularity. I don't think that one out weighs the other and Ms. Picoult weaves them splendily into her story.

She brought back Jordan McAfee who was in her previous books The Pactand Salem Falls as a defense lawyer. As with most of the stories I've read the climax of the book happens in the court room and it's a suitable climax and a suitable ending.

What struck me was how isolated teenagers can feel even when they have a strong support system. I think that all of us have been teased at one point or another but to resort to that kind of violence, it makes you wonder at what point someone snaps and that point is different for everyone. Another issue is bullying and how someone feels after being tormented for their whole lives.

As a parent this book scared the crap out of me. How do you reach out to your teenager? How do you keep the lines of communication open? How do you keep yourself knowing what they are upto/into without invading their privacy? It's a very thin line. One thing I know is that kids needs parents because they have friends.

I would recommend this book for every parent and child to read this book before they enter high school. If your child isn't getting bullied, there's a chance that they are doing the bullying.

The biggest lesson from this book is that our actions not only affect us but they affect other people.

Final Review: 4.5/5

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Women Read More Than Men

It's a good thing I took "Must Read" off of my list of things to look for in a husband, because I'd be looking until I was ninety! I joke, but this recent article from NPR which states that women read more than men is disturbing. Though, it's not surprising to learn this, I hate finding concrete evidence to confirm these kinds of suspicions. To be fair, the article focuses on fiction reading only and it also offers up some interesting theories to explain this phenomenon, one of which is:

At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain. "Girls have an easier time with readin g or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says.

Alrighty then! However, they can sit in front of the television either watching it or playing video games for hours on end, right. (Ok, so playing video games isn't exactly sitting still, but you catch my drift).

Apparently, the Harry Potter series (thank heavens for JK Rowling) may have helped to turn the tide a little bit on the reading habits of boys but there is still the issue of young people reading less than older people.


So, let's recap: 25% of American adults are not reading at all, men and boys read less than their female counterparts and then there the age gap.

Imagine the reading landscape 20 years from now.

That's nothing to joke about.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Jenn's Review: New Moon

Summary: New York Public Library

Recovered from the vampire attack that hospitalized her in the conclusion of Twilight, Bella celebrates her birthday with her boyfriend Edward and his family, a unique clan of vampires that has sworn off human blood. But the celebration abruptly ends when the teen accidentally cuts her arm on broken glass. The sight and smell of her blood trickling away forces the Cullen family to retreat lest they be tempted to make a meal of her. After all is mended, Edward, realizing the danger that he and his family create for Bella, sees no option for her safety but to leave. Mourning his departure, she slips into a downward spiral of depression that penetrates and lingers over her every step. Vampire fans will appreciate the subsequently dour mood that permeates the novel, and it's not until Bella befriends Jacob, a sophomore from her school with a penchant for motorcycles, that both the pace and her disposition begin to take off. Their adventures are wild, dare-devilish, and teeter on the brink of romance, but memories of Edward pervade Bella's emotions, and soon their fun quickly morphs into danger, especially when she uncovers the true identities of Jacob and his pack of friends. Less streamlined than Twilight yet just as exciting, New Moon will more than feed the bloodthirsty hankerings of fans of the first volume and leave them breathless for the third.

I really feel that this second novel from Meyer flows much better than the first. There is no waiting around for the story to begin and much more development of non-central characters. Some of this due in part, I'm sure, to the fact that Meyer expects you to have read the first book and she feels that she can start in the middle of her story. Also, without Edward, Meyer is forced to focus on other characters.

To me, this story feels far more complete from a writing standpoint. Although, I find the incident that sparks Edward's decision to leave Bella is rather tame in comparison to his reaction, it gives us a chance to explore Bella's world without him. Meyer beautifully depicts "going through the motions" and the attempts at regaining some sort of semblance to a shattered soul. Should Bella let herself get romantically involved with someone who obviously loves her more than she could ever love him, if only just to feel again? And is her penchant for danger going to kill her even without being involved with Edward?

My only objection is that I really feel that the blurb's on the back, and to some extent the prologue, give us too much information on where we are headed. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised when I get there. All in all, this was a very solid read for me.

Overall Rating 4.8/5

Lisa's Review: Second Chance

Summary: From Publishers Weekly

Bestseller Green (Swapping Lives, The Other Woman) injects a topical note into an otherwise paint-by-numbers work. After a terrorist attack on an Amtrak train kills 39-year-old Tom, his death serves as the catalyst for changes in the lives of four estranged schoolmates he left behind in England. Reuniting at Tom's memorial service are Holly, a former free spirit uncomfortably forced into becoming a suburban matron by her workaholic, social-climbing husband; Olivia, a lonely director of an animal shelter; Paul, a writer whose blissful marriage with his fashionable wife is marred by their inability to conceive; and Saffron, a recovering alcoholic actress secretly involved with a married Hollywood megastar. Tom's death reignites their friendship, causes them to reevaluate their lives and sends them marching toward a concluding warm fuzzy. Green's writing is competent, though her characters feel more like embodiments of their problems than actual people. There are few surprises, but the fairy tale ending should appease Green's many fans.

Jane Green always delivers. Always. My lack of enthusiasm for this her 9th novel stems only from the fact that I was unable to fully relate to the characters and their individual crises. Dealing with unexpected death by terrorism, divorce, inability to conceive, unwanted pregnancy and alcoholism is serious business and all things that I, at the tender age of 29, have been fortunate (or unfortunate?) not to have yet experienced. I fully appreciated the themes of friendship and the idea of getting a second chance to do over parts of your life. I believe we can relate.

The characters are well established, as always, and Jane's trademark wit is present. I love the way she writes as if she's sitting across from you in a coffee shop telling you a story. Unfamiliar themes or not, it's easy to get lost in the story that she tells and root for the four friends to find their happy endings.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Julie's Review: Lean Mean Thirteen

In her rollicking 13th Stephanie Plum adventure (after Twelve Sharp), bestseller Evanovich is in top, quirky form. Plucky, bumbling New Jersey bounty hunter Plum is reunited with her two-timing lawyer ex-husband, Dickie Orr, while doing a favor for the mysterious, sexy Ranger. But when Dickie disappears from his house leaving behind only bloodstains and bullet holes, Plum becomes the prime suspect in his alleged murder. Determined to clear her name, Plum and her on-again off-again Trenton cop boyfriend, the irresistible Joe Morelli, uncover Dickie's ties to a shady group of men involved in everything from money laundering to drug running. And when Dickie's jilted business partners decide Stephanie holds the key to the $40 million they believe Dickie stole from them, she's in for a wild ride. With the author's usual cast of eccentric side characters—everything from a taxidermist with a penchant for bombs to a grave-robbing tax man—Evanovich proves once again that Stephanie Plum and her entourage are here to stay.

First off you must know that I'm a "Cupcake", while I believe that being a "Babe" might be fun for a while the mystery of Ranger would wear out it's welcome. Which is why as much as I love this series, I'm ready for Steph to make a decision between Joe Morelli and Carlos Manoso AKA Ranger. I love the banter between Stephanie and Ranger and the heat it generates but there is something that pulls her to Morelli more than Ranger.

I enjoyed the adventure as usual in the book. I enjoyed how Ms. Evanovich brought in Stephanie's first and slimy ex-husband Dickie Orr and her ultimate nemesis Joyce Bernhardt, it made for good comedy. The adventures in the series are never complex but more to show how much trouble Stephanie can get herself into without even really trying.

The supporting cast in the book is always what makes it for me. Grandma Mazur, Lula, Mr and Mrs. Plum. They are the glue that holds this series together; since at times Stephanie can get on my nerves, you need a strong supporting cast.

This wasn't the best book out of the series but it was entertaining enough to make me wonder what happens in the next book. Note to Janet: MORE MORELLI!!!

Final Take: 3.8/5

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Jenn's Review: Twilight

Summary: book jacket
When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret.
What Bella doesn't realize is the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk. And it might be too late to turn back....

This is a young adult series that I'm starting to hear a little buzz about, so I decided it was time to check it out for myself. My initial reaction to Meyer's writing style is that it is slightly pedestrian, but of course I'm coming off of having just re-read the entire JK Rowling series a few months ago, so maybe I'm subconsciously making an unfair comparison.

Meyer's preface takes you to the end of her novel, near the climax, before she returns to the beginning in her first few chapters to give you the plot exposition and character introduction. While it's been a while since I've read a book that is in the first person of a high school student who wasn't attending Hogwarts, I found she came up with a very likable main character with whom it is easy to identify. Her minor characters, and this is where I feel I might be a little unfair in comparison, are a little underdeveloped for my tastes. She takes her time with her exposition, and I wish she'd been able to encompass more than just surface interaction with her surrounding characters. Then again, Bella is in high school, so a lot of her interaction is on the surface.

I knew where the story was headed, it's clearly stated on the back of the book ("About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him –and I didn't know how dominant that part might be– that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.") so it was almost a little frustrating that it took six chapters of exposition to get us there. If it wasn't for Meyer's blurb on the back and her foray into the future in the preface, a less seasoned reader might be tempted to put the book down before it gets going.

Ah, but then it gets going, and all is forgiven. Her main characters are enchanting, no enthralling. Girl-meets-Vampire and they fall hopelessly in love is nothing new to those who are familiar with Buffy lore, but here Meyers gives it an original spin that is both refreshing and inviting. This is no slayer, but a mere mortal girl who recognizes things, humans, and vampires for what they are without question. Edward, the non-human feeding vampire, has a centuries worth of wisdom and a conscience that is endearing. In the end it is Bella's honest acceptance and altruism (beyond her seemingly delectable aroma) that continue to draw Edward to her, though he is aware of how impossible their relationship continues to become.

There is just the right mix of danger and romance... and even a little humor. Meyer leave you thirsting for more adventures for Bella and Edward, whether they be in this realm or the next...

I look forward to continuing this series.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5