Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bottom 5 Books of 2008: Julie's List

Along with the Top 10 List I posted, I do feel that I have to do my part and post the list of the biggest disappointments, for me, of 2008.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer: Easily the worst book of 2008 and it had so much potential to be good. The stories were lame and so were the characters. I say "Don't bother"

The Rest of Her Life by Laura Morarity: I read her debut novel The Center of Everything and loved it, so I had high hopes. They fell flat and I probably won't read her again.

The Quickie by James Patterson: My dad gave this to me to read. While I do enjoy James Patterson, this one was just so bad. Definitely not up to his standard fare.

Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck: I'm not one into memoirs because only one view is tainted so I didn't really care for this one. There were times when I felt badly for her but they were few and far between. It's hard to root for someone when you don't like them.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: It's not that this book was horrible, because I did like the 80s references it just became so cliche and another book that could have been so much more. I did like the style of writing so I'd be willing to give Ms. Hannah another try.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jenn's Favorites (and Not-So-Favorites) of 2008

I usually read somewhere between 50 to 60 books a year, and this year I've read about half of that (not counting books like Karen Katz's Where Is Baby's Belly Button? which I read at least ten times a day)... something about having a one year old, no hour long lunch breaks, a new online subscription to DVD rentals, and too much on my DVR.

ANYWAY, considering all that, I don't really feel it's too fair to my books to rank a top and bottom ten... that just leaves seven or eight feeling really lonely in the middle there.

So here are some of my favorites of this year:
  • Dirty Secrets Club ~ this isn't even the best of Meg Gardiner, but it reminded me of why I love her so much. I am making it a goal next year to get back to her Evan Delany novels (I had to give her up when I was pregnant, as I had concentration issues). I can't recommend this author enough! Review: The Dirty Secrets Club
  • Breaking Dawn ~ the conclusion of the Twilight Saga. I was very impressed with Stephenie Meyer's conclusion for this series. This series isn't perfect, but it is fascinating and worth the hype. I really felt the series started and ended strong. Hopefully one day soon I'll get to see the movie and can post a book-to-movie review too! Review: Breaking Dawn
  • Devil Bones ~ the latest installment of Kathy Reichs's series about forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan. I love Reichs and was slightly disappointed with the book prior to this in the series, Bones to Ashes. This was a return to all the things I love about Reichs. Such great writing! Review: Devil Bones
  • Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before ~ David Yoo's clever Young Adult book about teenage love and obsession. This was a delightful find and I thank the publisher for sending it my way! Review: Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before
  • Fault Line ~ Barry Eisler's new novel that breaks away from his John Rain series. This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book (available March 10, 2009) and I'm always glad to discover a new favorite author. I'll be going back and reading his original series. Review: Fault Line

While I can't say that I've never read a book I didn't like, there are very few I truly dislike. That said, here are some of my least favorites this year:

  • Plum Lucky ~ Why do I bother with your in-between-the-number-books, Janet Evanovich? Why? Why?

  • The Secret Scroll ~ This was a debut novel for Ronald Cutler, and while I would be interested in trying another of his novels, let this one fall to the bottom of your 'To Be Read' pile.

  • A Great and Terrible Beauty ~ While I still intend to forge ahead with this series, this one fell short of the mark. Next year, I'll see what else Libba Bray has in store for me.

  • Before You Know Kindness ~ "For the kind of people who like that sort of thing, this is just the sort of thing those people will like," a politically correct response attributed to Lincoln when an author asked Lincoln about his book, I think it applies for me here too. Chris Bohjalian is just not the author for me.

  • Dedication ~ From the writing team that brought us The Nanny Diaries, which I know was a huge success, I was expecting more from this. But I'd be willing to give the authors another shot.

New Year's Resolution: Make more time to read!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Top 10 Books of 2008: Julie's List

I can't believe it's almost the end of 2008 and I've been working like a dog. Since it's that time of year again, it's yet again time for our Top 10 Lists. I'm on my 56th book for the year as I'm doing this list, so I guess it could be edited if the books I read between now and 12/31 deserve being on the list.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory: This is probably by far my favorite book of 2008. It's rich in elaborated history, romance, intrigue, sex and politics of the Tudor Dynasty. It's told by Mary Boleyn a.k.a. "The Other Boleyn Girl" which gives the history a unique view. The Other Bolyen Girl review

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner: I can always count on Jennifer Weiner to make me laugh and make me cry. This one was no different. Her view on family and mother/daughter relationships hit it on the nose. Plus it brought back one of my favorite characters, Cannie Shapiro. It's chick-lit but so much more than your standard book in that category. Certain Girls review

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian: I have to thank Lisa for turning me on to this brilliant writer. As you can see 2 of his books made my top 10 list for the year. If you haven't read him, maybe you should and see why. The Double Bind is truly brilliant, thought provoking and keeps you on your toes until the end. The Double Bind review

Peony in Love by Lisa See: Another author that has 2 books on my list. I have never read many books based in China and/or Chinese history. I found myself entralled with this book and I couldn't put it down. What a tale of love and mistakes that a person can't take back. How one decision can change the course of many lives. Peony in Love Review

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen: I admit I didn't want to read this book at all. I couldn't comprehend it being good. I mean a book about the circus?! It was brilliant and so well written. The ending is perfect. A true must read even if the subject isn't something that you would usually find interesting. Water For Elephants Review

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly: Another shout out to Lisa for sending me this book to read. It was wonderful and a great historical fiction book. Ms. Donnelly writes so vividly that you feel you are right there in England during the time period. The characters are easy to love and easy to hate, which is all it takes for me to enjoy a book. I'm sure I'll be reading The Tea Rose early in 2009. The Winter Rose review

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian: See above for my rave on Mr. Bohjalian. This was another thought provoking book about how split second decisions can alter lives and how we never really move on from them. Midwives review

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen: What a fun read. It wasn't quite as terrific as Garden Spells but definitely a lot better than most Sophomore novels. Ms. Allen will keep me coming back buying her books because of her way of writing wonderful characters and the setting of the novels. The Sugar Queen review

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: A book about friendship, love and misunderstandings. How the way you say something and someone else interprets it can ruin lives. In a world of emails, it's easy to see how this might happen more frequently. I found again that Ms. See's writing style and subject matter to be beautiful and relatable. Snow Flower & The Secret Fan review

The River King by Alice Hoffman: I read this early in 2008 and really enjoyed it. I found the book to be haunting and a daunting coming of age story. As with most Alice Hoffman books there's a bit of magic that surrounds the story but to me that is what makes her stand out as an author. The River King review

I can't wait to see what will make the list for 2009. I highly recommend any of these books if you have not yet read them.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jenn's Review: The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez

Summary: Sonia Rodriguez was born in the United States, but her parents are Mexican immigrants who came to California before she was born. Her father has three Social Security numbers, her mother is pregnant (again), and neither of them speaks English. Sonia's mother spends most of her time in bed, watching soap operas, and letting Sonia clean up after her brothers. Sonia's father works dutifully to support his family, but he knows that his daughter's dreams are bigger than making tamales for family get-togethers. When Sonia attempts to put school work before her familia, her mother decides that it's time for Sonia to visit her grandmother in Mexico to learn "the ways of the old world." While in Mexico, Sonia spends time with her wise grandmother and her cousin Maria who teach her that while familia is important, the most important thing is to follow your heart. Sonia returns to the States determined to succeed in school, but the birth of her new twin siblings, inappropriate advances from her drunk uncle (Drunkle), and a forbidden relationship with an El Salvadorian boy push school to the back burner. If only Sonia can find the time to cook dinner, secretly meet with her boyfriend, avoid her Drunkle, AND finish her homework, she just might be able to graduate from high school...

Review: There were several times that I had to put this book down because I was frustrated ~ not frustrated with the book so much as I was frustrated for Sonia, and I had to walk away. This is a heart wrenching story of the difficulties of growing up as a first generation Latina immigrant who is trying to strike the balance between respecting her family and her cultural heritage, and respecting herself.

While I appreciated the characters in the book and was routing for Sonia in the most heartfelt manner, there were a few nagging things that kept me from enjoying this book completely. Sitomer's writing style skips large amounts of time with a single sentence or two, and while I understand the need to move the story along, I found the abrupt jumps slightly jarring. There were times, too, when I was strongly aware that I was reading a grown man trying to find a teenage girl's voice.

I disliked his stereo-typical teachers, and while I know that there are some out there (there is a kernel of truth to all stereotypes, that's how they become stereotypes) there were an appalling number of them teaching at this school. (And as Sitomer is a teacher who defies those stereotypes, I am surprised he 'went there.')

I also found the ending a little too fluffy, fairytale-happy. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that everything worked out for Sonia, but it wasn't very realistic. Sitomer spends so much time in gritty, gruelling details to make this story true to life, it felt like he took an easy out. I understand it was meant to be inspirational (as the sign in one of Sonia's classroom's states, "Good things happen to those who try"), but this was winning the 'good things' jackpot.

As a final note and a personal aside, I must say that I enjoyed the Spanglish in this book. As a teenager I babysat for two Ecuadorian girls and I would come home speaking a mixture of Spanish and English all the time. It brought back some great memories and made me smile.

All in all, a good cultural read... but it could have been better.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Julie's Review: Love and Other Natural Disasters

Summary: Eve is grateful for the family and friends that surround her Thanksgiving table, including her husband, Jonathon; their five-year-old son, Jacob; and a baby due to make its arrival in a few short weeks. But in this predictable second novel from Shumas (Five Things I Can't Live Without), Eve's idyll gets trashed when a phone call interrupts their holiday dinner and exposes Jonathon's too-cozy friendship with another woman. What turns out to be an emotional affair launches a maelstrom of emotions for both Eve and Jon, neither of whom realized how much their marriage had disintegrated. As they struggle to work things out, they learn a lot about themselves and each other. Throughout the novel, Shumas, a therapist, invites the reader to consider the question—is it cheating if nothing physical happens? Shumas relies heavily on the standard marriage-in-trouble arc (separation, his disheveled bachelor apartment, her ill-fated fling), and readers familiar with the formula will know what to expect. ~amazon.com

Review: I'm always thankful for free books (LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewers group) and this one I'm definitely glad I didn't buy it. It was a disappointment because I was expecting something more than typically chick-lit and it was nothing but typical. Love and Other Natural Disasters is the story of how Eve finds out on Thanksgiving that her husband has been having an emotional affair with another woman. She finds this out because he's stupid enough to answer the phone to a distressed and lonely other woman. Oh and Eve's about ready to have their 2nd baby. She immediately kicks him out and the story doesn't really go any other direction than what you'd typically expect.

The interesting thing about this book was that it wasn't a physical affair, in other words no sex was involved by Jon or the other woman. We don't even get to meet Laney which to me is a disappointment and might have been an interesting climatic point to have Eve meet her. I personally think that an emotional affair can be more damaging to a marriage than one that involves sex. Sex to men, is Sex. It's not an emotional connection. Sure it can lead to one but let's be real, men and women view sex very differently. I would be extremely hurt if I found out that my husband was telling another woman things that he couldn't tell me or the antidotes that he used to amaze me with, even if I've heard them all before.

I liked Eve but I didn't love her. I didn't think Jon was a 3 dimensional character and was pretty much a stereotype for a cheating husband. He's only sorry he got caught and really didn't understand what he did was wrong. Oh and of course it was Eve's fault. (picture me rolling my eyes) Hey relationships go both ways and sure she wasn't completely interested but she was very much in love with her husband.

The ending was OK but nothing fantastic and left it open ended. I didn't like how Eve left it up to Jon to decide if they were going to give it another try. He's the one who screwed up, why should he get to decide?

Final Take: 3.0/5

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jenn's Review: Fault Line

Summary: In Silicon Valley, the eccentric inventor of a new encryption application is murdered in an apparent drug deal. In Istanbul, a cynical undercover operator receives a frantic call from his estranged brother, a patent lawyer who believes he is the next victim.

And on the sun-drenched slopes of Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley's nerve center of money and technology, old family hurts sting anew as two brothers who share nothing but blood and bitterness wage a desperate battle against a faceless enemy.

Alex Treven has sacrificed everything to achieve his sole ambition: making partner in his high-tech law firm. But then the inventor of a technology Alex is banking on is murdered... and the patent examiner who reviewed it dies... and Alex himself narrowly escapes an attack in his own home. Off balance, out of ideas, and running out of time, he knows the one person who can help him is the last person he'd ever ask: his brother.

Ben Treven is a Military Liaison Element, an elite undercover soldier paid to "find, fix, and finish" high-value targets in America's Global War on Terror. Disenchanted with what he sees as America's culture of denial and decadence, Ben lives his detached life in the shadows because the black ops world is all he really knows—and because other than Alex, who he hasn't spoken to since their mother died, his family is long gone.

But blood is thicker than water, and when he receives Alex's frantic call, Ben hurries to San Francisco to help him. Only then does Alex reveal that there's another player who knows of the technology: Sarah Hosseini, a young Iranian-American lawyer who Alex has long secretly desired... and who Ben immediately distrusts. As these three radically different people struggle to identify the forces attempting to silence them, Ben and Alex are forced to examine the events that drove them apart—even as Sarah's presence, and her own secret wants, deepens the fault line between them.

A full-throttle thriller that is both emotionally and politically charged, Fault Line centers on a conspiracy that has spun out of the shadows and into the streets of America, a conspiracy that can be stopped only by three people—three people with different worldviews, different grievances, different motives. To survive the forces arrayed against them, they'll first have to survive each other.

Review: As it is my first time reading Barry Eisler, I wasn't sure what to expect. I often have trouble reading books written by ex-military or ex-agents as they tend to get a little too heavy with technical jargon for me ~this is certainly not the case here! He does an exceptional job of keeping things realistic yet accessible. Though I must say that I saw where he was going with the plot, I really enjoyed how he got there.

Eisler convincingly writes from the viewpoints of the three main characters in this novel, a literary style that can be disengaging if not done well. Each of the characters has their own conflicting politics and belief system and Eisler has made each sympathetic to the reader: the profiled, the profiler, and the self-proclaimed family martyr. In the end, Sarah, Ben, and Alex have their core ideals challenged, and find those to which they formerly clung seem far from solid.

This is a fascinating read of espionage and modern political morals. A must-read for the spy fanatics. Look for it in stores March 10, 2009.

I'm definitely adding his Rain series to my "To Be Read" pile!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jenn's Review: Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

Summary: If Albert Kim has learned one thing in his tragic adolescence, it's that God (probably a sadistic teenaged alien) does not want him to succeed at Bern High. By the end of sophomore year, Al is so tired of humiliation that he's chosen to just forget girls and high school society in general, and enjoy the Zen-like detachment that comes from being an intentional loser.

Then he meets Mia Stone, and all the repressed hormones come flooding back. Mia, his co-worker at the Bern Inn, is adorable, popular, and most intimidatingly, the ex- long-term girlfriend of Ivy-bound, muscle-bound king of BHS and world class jerk, Ryan Stackhouse. But -- chalk it up to the magic of Al's inner beauty -- by the end of a summer vacuuming hotel rooms and goofing off together, he and Mia are officially "something."

Albert barely has time to ponder this miracle before the bomb drops: Ryan has been diagnosed with cancer, and he needs Mia's support, i.e. constant companionship. True, he's lost weight and he's getting radiation, but that doesn't make him any less of a jerk. And to Albert, it couldn't be more apparent that Ryan is using his cancer to steal Mia back. With the whole town rallying behind Ryan like he's a fallen hero, and Mia emotionally confused and worried for Ryan, Al's bid for love is not a popular campaign. In fact, it's exactly like driving the wrong way on a five-lane highway.

Review: This is the first novel I have read by David Yoo and what a wonderful discovery! It was really refreshing to read a story of male teenage angst written by a male author. His treatment of Asian stereotypes is witty and rings of truth (as a former teacher, I saw my share of Alberts) and his portrayal of the high school loner is insightful.

I am usually squeamish watching and even reading about someone else's embarrassing moment, but this wasn't an issue with this book (though there were plenty of embarrassing moments to be had) because Yoo gives Albert a sense of humor about his situation and as well as an astonishing ironic awareness. I was routing for Albert from his most embarrassing moments, to his weird moments, and yes, even in his stalkerish moments. Along his journey Albert emerges from the protective cocoon he's built for himself only to find that participating in his own life can be hard, but well worth it... and so is the book.

This book was funny, clever, and a beautiful story about self discovery and teenaged romance. I highly recommend it, and in the mean time I might just go back and check out his first novel, Girls for Breakfast.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Julie's Review: The Gold Coast

Summary: What happens to a priggish, WASPy, disillusioned Wall Street lawyer when a Mafia crime boss moves into the mansion next door in his posh Long Island neighborhood? He ends up representing the gangster on a murder rap and even perjures himself so the mafiosostet lc can be released on $5 million bail. That's the premise of DeMille's ( The Charm School ) bloated, unpersuasive thriller. Attorney John Sutter has problems that would daunt even Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. His marriage is crumbling, despite kinky sex games with his self-centered wife, Susan, who's the mistress of his underworld client Frank Bellarosa. The IRS is after Sutter, and his law firm wants to dump him. As a sardonic morality tale of one man's self-willed disintegration, the impact is flattened by its elitist narrator's patrician tones. A comic courtroom scene and some punches at the end, however, redeem the novel somewhat. ~amazon.com

Review: I read The Gold Coast ages ago when it was first released and loved it. I wish I could say the same thing for this read. I found it enjoyable enough but I think it could have been about 250 pages shorter. John Sutter is a perfect narrator. Not once did I want to see the story through another character's eyes. He's got a great wit about him and the sarcasm is perfect. He tells it like it is, or at least how he sees it, but as a reader you believe him because he's telling you his story and how he now sees it.

Basically, John is bored. He's going through a mid-life crisis and when the Mafia Don moves in next door, John finds his outlet for his boredom. Mr. Frank Bellarosa is an interesting character and he intrigues John. Looking back on it, John can see that it was supposed to be that way. The way Frank drew him into his life and ended up using him. John's married to a blue blood lady named Susan Stanhope Sutter. Frankly, I didn't like her. I found her annoying and self-involved. She was rich and didn't do much but ride her horses and ride other things. It's pretty obvious from the get go what's going to happen because John's reflecting on this period in his life but it's still interesting to see how it unfolds.

I found myself fascinated with the Mafia Don but not to the same degree that John and Susan were because well as a reader you know from the beginning that this guy is T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Not just because he's a Mafia Don but just because you know it's not going to end nicely for John and Susan. For all of Susan's faults, John does love her.

What I found interesting is how this book was published 18 years ago and so many of the stereotypes are still true today. Granted it wasn't that long ago but you hope to see a bit more progress. What fascinated me was the life on the Gold Coast and how people with "old" money act and treat others. How even when they are broke they'll hold onto the family estate.

Overall, I enjoyed entering the world of the rich elite again and reading John Sutter's story. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the sequel The Gate House, which is really why I re-read it now. As I said earlier, I think it could have been told in less pages. It's really the only downfall of the book.

If you are looking for an entertaining book involving the mafia and the downfall of a man, then this is the read for you.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Movie Review: The Jane Austen Book Club

Photobucket Summary: Lest there be any doubts about the ongoing relevance of the novels of Jane Austen, the charming Jane Austen Book Club will lay them to rest--with wit, sharp insight, and a wicked chuckle or three. Directed by the talented Robin Swicord, who adapted the book by Karen Joy Fowler (and also wrote the crackling screenplay for the 1994 version of Little Women), the film is a modern-day comedy of manners, with deeply felt emotions, repressed feelings, unquenched desire and embarrassing relatives--all staples of Austen works. The film centers on a group of six friends in Sacramento, Calif., who gather to distract themselves from loss (a newly dumped Sylvia, played with grace and quiet pain by Amy Brenneman), repressed disappointment (the prissy teacher Prudie, played by Emily Blunt), or a life of unrealized dreams (Jocelyn, played by Maria Bello, whose acting skills have gained great nuance, both in comedy and drama). All are devoted Austen fans, except the lone man, Grigg (Hugh Dancy, adorable and available, ladies), who has an ulterior motive for joining the chick-lit gang. As the months unfold, we learn about the relationships of all the members, and watch as elements of Austen's novels and characters pop up with enchanting regularity.
There's plenty of pride (Prudie), prejudice (Jocelyn), sense (Sylvia), and sensibility (Sylvia's daughter Allegra, headstrong and reckless in life and love, played by Maggie Grace)--and a fair amount of persuasion (Grigg and Sylvia's caddish ex, Daniel, a smooth Jimmy Smits). As the minuet of relationships and alliances unfolds over the months, the emotions are real and the leavening humor spot-on. About the only thing that doesn't ring true is seeing all these Sacramento women bundled up in shawls, blankets, thick sweaters and extra layers--even in July(!). Still, the film will engage even reluctant Austen readers (if there is such a thing). As Kathy Baker's Bernadette says gaily, "Jane Austen is the perfect antidote to life!" Elizabeth Bennett couldn't have put it better. ~amazon.com

Movie Review: Another book to movie, where I haven't read the book, but I thought The Jane Austen Book Club sounded like a perfect movie to watch while my husband was out. It indeed was. I was working while watching it, but it's one of those movies that doesn't need your undivided attention to get the gist of it. The cast is excellent and part of the reason I wanted to watch it. The movie itself is a tad predictable but it's not like I didn't expect that when I decided to watch it.

I did like the idea that each book club member chose the Jane Austen book of their liking and how it correlated to what they were going through personally. Again, predictable but enjoyable nonetheless. I've attempted to read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice but I couldn't make it through. (I know that's horrible being an avid book reader). I think I prefer the movies based on her novels rather than her novels *ducks the tomatoes being thrown*. I will encourage my daughter to actually read the books because I do want her to understand the language of one of the best female writers ever.

If you are looking for an enjoyable movie to watch while drinking some wine and relaxing, The Jane Austen Book Club is a perfect movie for that and if you don't mind predictability. It might make you want to pick up a Jane Austen book or at least understand the books better.

Movie Final Take: 3/5

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Movie Review: Atonement

Photobucket Summary: We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama "The Trials of Arabella" to welcome home her older, idolized brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren't up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting prospects of preoccupation come onto the scene. The charlady's son, Robbie Turner, appears to be forcing Briony's sister Cecilia to strip in the fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new "Army Ammo" chocolate bar; and upstairs, Briony's migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present....

The interwar, upper-middle-class setting of the book's long, masterfully sustained opening section might recall Virginia Woolf or Henry Green, but as we move forward--eventually to the turn of the 21st century--the novel's central concerns emerge, and McEwan's voice becomes clear, even personal. For at heart, Atonement is about the pleasures, pains, and dangers of writing, and perhaps even more, about the challenge of controlling what readers make of your writing. McEwan shouldn't have any doubts about readers of Atonement: this is a thoughtful, provocative, and at times moving book that will have readers applauding. ~amazon.com

Review: To be honest I have had this movie on DVR for a bit of time and wasn't sure if I wanted to watch it because it had gotten such mixed reviews from the book community. My sister who, like me, wanted to see it because of the critical acclaim, couldn't even finish it. I on the other hand came home from Thanksgiving and happened upon it on cable, so I watched it. I'm happy to say that I did.

While the movie was a bit slow in parts I thought the story was fascinating and very well told and true to the time period. I thought Keira Knightly was splendid as Cecilia and well James McAvoy is my new crush. He's utterly charming and sensitive as Robbie Turner. From the first time we see Cecilia and Robbie together you know that they are destined to be together. Of course nothing can be easy. Robbie and Cecilia have a bit of a tiff and when Robbie writes her a letter, actually 2 letters, you just know one version is going to be his downfall.

Enter Briony, Cecilia's younger sister. She's a bit imaginative and comes to imagine things she didn't see. What she thinks she sees is different than what she really sees and as viewers we know she's lying. Her lie, intentional or not, changes the course of 2 people lives. I'm not going to give anything away because it would completely ruin the movie.

It's a story of lies, jealousy, secrets but most of all love. I haven't read the book and probably won't but the movie was beautiful.

Movie Final Take: 4/5

Friday, November 28, 2008

Group Review: Dedication

Summary: The team behind The Nanny Diaries and Citizen Girl returns with another breezy chick lit portrayal of a woman wronged and, eventually, empowered. When Kate Hollis's childhood chum Laura calls from their Vermont hometown and announces the arrival of Jake Sharpe, a mega rock star and Kate's high school sweetheart, Kate jumps on a plane from Charleston, S.C. (where she's a sustainable development consultant) and makes for idyllic Croton Falls. Through it's been 13 years, Kate still has a primal need to confront not only the boy who abandoned her before the senior prom, but the musical pirate who used her personal life as fodder for his most celebrated songs and cheated his high school bandmates out of deserved recognition and royalties. Chapters switch back and forth between the present and the pivotal middle and high school years where Kate (then Katie) and Jake did the first-love thing: readers get to see Jake's growing he's-just-not-that-into-you-ness and how (surprise!) their Zima-fueled love (it was the '90s) was idealized. While one spends much of the book wanting to shout at Kate to give it up, go back to Charleston and get on with it, McLaughlin and Kraus do get the nagging need for closure in even the shallowest relationships comically right. ~amazon.com

Julie's Review: Dedication is a book about coming to terms with the love that you lost. I think it's a great premise but the book fell short. I found the writing to be choppy and adolescent. I liked Kate but I also couldn't stand her. I guess it was the whole, get on with your life at 30 that was bothering me. Sure, Jake Sharpe used their teenage romance to become a big Pop Star but I'm sure he's not the first one to do so or the last, maybe other pop stars just aren't so blatant. He did have a song called "Katie". So 13 years after he leaves her before prom, he's back in the town they grew up and fell in love in. So she drops everything to show him what he's missing. Some funny stuff ensues at times but mainly I just wanted to get to the point where they try to work it out and SURPRISE!! it doesn't. Jake is self-absorbed and surrounded by his cronies. Kate wants to figure out if she loves the guy that Jake's become. Before we even get to know the 30 year old Jake, the reader can tell that NO she won't be able to love him.

Have we all wondered what would happen if we reunited with our first love? Of course, but most of us know that it is never like it was when it was your first. First loves are pretty much intense and I think everyone will always love a part of their first. The thing is as you mature you realize it for what it was and that doesn't dawn on Kate until the end of the book.

Julie's Final Take: 3.5/5

Jenn's Review: I agree with Julie in that the premise of this book is fascinating; it holds so much potential. Growing up in Buffalo, I know people who used to be friends with John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls (whoo-hoo, Six Degrees of Separation and all that jazz). Not that I'm comparing McLaughlin's and Kraus's character of Jake to John Rzeznik (because I don't know him, I know of him and even that's nothing at all), because as far as I know there is no comparison. I'm just saying that, knowing someone who was friends with someone who became a rock star, the plausibility of the plot is all the more tangible for me. This could have been a delicious read, and instead it was merely sub-par.

The incessant cutting back and forth from flashbacks of Katie's memories of the past thirteen years (middle school through college and beyond) at first was just confusing. There were far too many secondary characters that, it turns out, I needn't have fussed over trying to keep straight because they weren't important and very few carried through the rest of the story. Some of her high school flashbacks were important, even interesting, but again they get bogged down in mundane minutiae. When McLaughlin and Kraus finally give you enough of the back story through flashbacks that you can grasp what is at the center of this ridiculous obsession of Kate's, and I'm finally thinking 'Phew! We're done with the flashbacks.', there are more of them! These becoming just fluff in the grand scheme of things.

At the heart of the plot, when I felt like we'd arrived, and that the story could finally go somewhere, it didn't. I didn't even feel like the character of Jake was consistent. There was rationalization for his behavior in the reader's eye, as well as some through Kate's eyes, but it all got thrown out the window in the end.

Most disappointing of all is that the book ends with a Kate flashback. It was weak. I know it was supposed to be symbolic and bring the story full circle, but it lessened the importance of what Kate was supposed to have gleaned from her journey. The denouement is not supposed to plummet through the floor, and this one really felt like overkill.

Jenn's Final Take: 3/5

Lisa's Review: I suppose I will be the lone dissenting voice, because I liked this one just a little better than my friends. Probably because I know the desperation of seeking closure to the relationship that didn't quite end correctly. I know it all a little too well and the fact that this book accurately captured that desperation, the opportunity to confront and the confusion that comes along with it is possibly my favorite part. Thankfully, my experiences never included a now famous ex-boyfriend, who parlayed our teenaged love life into consistent number one hits - can you imagine? The story unfolds chapter by chapter, alternating past memories with the present.

Katie is sympathetic and I am right there with her in every moment, fearing her choices, willing her to be brave and cheering her on. Yes, 13 years was a lot of time, but my twenties were dotted with the soundtrack to my first sexual experiences and my parents lives, so I can't judge whether she should have fully moved on already. I did wonder what would have happened if Jake hadn't shown up that Christmas. I also worried about whether we would get the 'chick-lity' ending, this was executed in the "right" way - real and extremely satisfying, coming full circle and ultimitely to the wise realization that true friendship surpasses all.

I will agree with my friends that the writing needed some work. For such a short book, my mind wandered a little too much at times and there were times the authors could have been less vague about some things. Overall, I think the plot rules the writing stlye and it was short and easy to read.

Lisa's Final Take: 4/5

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Julie's Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Summary: See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well. ~amazon.com

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel is an excellent book about love, friendship and life. We learn Lily's story through her eyes at 80 years old and reflecting back on her life and even though she could paint herself "rosy", I didn't feel like she did. I felt she gave an honest account of her laotong relationship with Snow Flower. This relationship started when they were 7 years old and last their lifetime's. It is an intense and yet innocent relationship when they are younger and only grows into a more mature friendship as the women marry and have children. There are many trials and tribulations for both of the women as we go through the journey of their lives. There are even a few twists and revelations that I didn't see coming.

There were 2 extremely vivid parts in this book for me. The first, is when Ms. See describes in great detail the foot binding process. I literally felt sick to my stomach while reading this and couldn't even imagine the pain these young girls were put through to gain beauty. It's amazing how differences in culture defines beauty. To us Westerners foot binding is seen as a deformity and cruel, but to the Chinese it was a way to gain status and marry into a better family. It was an important stage in a young girl's development.

The second was when Snow Flower and Lily have to retreat to the mountains to outlive a raid on Snow Flower's village as China changes government and people rebel. The descriptions of what happened to them emotionally and physically is astounding. It's amazing what people will persevere through by sheer will.

As with any book about friendship, there was a huge misunderstanding that leaves Lily with much guilt and has her trying to atone for her mistake the rest of her life. I don't want to give away much because well that would ruin the book. I think all women can identify with this to some degree. How many of us have read an email and thought that there was one meaning in it when really the author meant another? I know I have and it lead to a 6 month misunderstanding and miscommunication between my best friend and I. Thank goodness we talked it out but I think these things are quite common. Not only in personal correspondence via email but also business. Email is the 21st century version of Nu Shu in some respects.

Ms. See has a wonderful writing style. Her attention to detail is tremendous and her history research is quite impressive. This is the 2nd book of hers I have read. I previously read Peony in Love: A Novel(Julie's Review) and give that a slight edge over Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel because I found the story a bit more intriguing. That being said I can't wait to find out what Lisa See has in store for her readers next.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jenn's Review: The 6th Target

Summary: When a horrifying attack leaves one of the four members of the Women's Murder Club struggling for her life, the others fight to keep a madman behind bars before anyone else is hurt. And Lindsay Boxer and her new partner in the San Francisco police department run flat-out to stop a series of kidnappings that has electrified the city: children are being plucked off the streets together with their nannies-- but the kidnappers aren't demanding ransom. Amid uncertainty and rising panic, Lindsay juggles the possibility of a new love with an unsolvable investigation, and the knowledge that one member of the club could be on the brink of death. And just when everything appears momentarily under control, the case takes a terrifying turn, putting an entire city in lethal danger. Lindsay must make a choice she never dreamed she'd face--with no certainty that either outcome has more than a prayer of success.

Review: I looked back over my reviews of the WMC books and I keep finding myself saying "this isn't my favorite," in other words, few are living up to the first novel in the series. However, I think that this one was solid. There are instances where I don't feel that multiple cases in a crime novel work well, but this is not one of those instances. I found all of the crime stories accessible and plausible, though the central crime, child abduction, was the least riveting case in that it seemed too predictable and had the least satisfying solution (what about the rest of the children???). It's also far more realistic that a homicide detective would be working several cases (but would they take the lead in a kidnapping regardless of whether or not a murder was part of the case?). I didn't like Lindsay's demotion, though I understand the literary reason for it... I don't think that counts as a flaw in the story, just a product of my own personal connection with Lindsay. I truly loved the side-story about Cindy's new apartment, though.

The only real shortcoming I can site in the book was Lindsay's relationship issues. They seem to have come out of thin air and were much ado about nothing. She seemed to become highly irrational about her situation and I don't think it was congruent with her character, but maybe that's just me. Oh, and I also disliked the random discovery about Claire that came from her hospital stay. That seems to be a standby, proverbial monkey wrench.

All in all, a better Women's Murder Club than I have read in a while.


Julie's Review: The 6th Target

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lisa's Review: The Secret Life of Bees

Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh, unyielding father, Lily Owens has shaped her entire life around one devastating, blurred memory--the afternoon her mother was killed, when Lily was four. Since then, her only real companion has been the fierce-hearted, and sometimes just fierce, black woman Rosaleen, who acts as her "stand-in mother."

When Rosaleen insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily knows it's time to spring them both free. They take off in the only direction Lily can think of, toward a town called Tiburon, South Carolina--a name she found on the back of a picture amid the few possessions left by her mother.

There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters named May, June, and August. Lily thinks of them as the calendar sisters and enters their mesmerizing secret world of bees and honey, and of the Black Madonna who presides over this household of strong, wise women. Maternal loss and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness entwine in a story that leads Lily to the single thing her heart longs for most.

The Secret Life of Bees has a rare wisdom about life--about mothers and daughters and the women in our lives who become our true mothers. A remarkable story about the divine power of women and the transforming power of love, this is a stunning debut whose rich, assured, irresistible voice gathers us up and doesn't let go, not for a moment. It is the kind of novel that women share with each other and that mothers will hand down to their daughters for years to come. www.suemonkkidd.com
I'd never heard of The Secret Life of Bees. Maybe I had, and it never registered. When I'd learned of of the movie and realized it was based on a novel, I knew I had to get to reading.

Unfortunately I found myself detained by Edgar Sawtelle. Anyway, I was careful not to read Julie's review of the movie, because I wanted to savor. And savor I did!

I really would just be repeating Julie, telling you just how wonderful this book is. To say it was well written, heartwarming and relevant would just be redundant. Getting caught up with getting to know the Boatwright Sisters, the colorful Daughters (and Son) of Mary, and learning about their livelihood was nothing short of a pleasure. I was unfortunate enough to find myself, on a crowded train, nearing the end of the book, with nary a tissue in sight, no desire to stop reading and absolutely not caring.

I thought the ending was a bit saccharine and tied up really neatly, probably more than I normally would, and the cynic in me knew that this element would get played up in the movie. I saw this as the biggest detriment to my enjoyment of the book-knowing about the movie. I was not truly able to create my own versions of the characters myself, due to visions of Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson dancing in my head.

Inability to compartmentalize aside, I had a truly emotional reading experience and you will too.

And finally, I'm off to the theatre.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Author Interview: Cyndia Depre

I want to thank Cyndia Depre for taking time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for us at Girls Just Reading. Enjoy the interview.

GJR: Where do you write?

CD: I have a room of my own, and that’s where I write. Three walls have shelves stuffed with books. My computer is here. My thesaurus and dictionary are within reach. I call it my cave, but it’s really my idea of heaven. Sometimes my husband comes in here, but he always tiptoes and whispers. It’s so cute. Ideas come anywhere any time, so I always have paper and pencils with me. I once wrote the bones of a short story while stuck at a train crossing.

GJR: How do you develop your characters, plot and writing style?

CD: I love a twisty-turny plot, so I try to surprise readers. That takes a lot of time, but is worth it. I start with the ending and write it first. Then write to it. My taste in books is very character driven, and I work hard on my protagonists. I want them to be as close to real people as possible. I see them in my mind, and at times it almost seems I’m watching them and listening to them speak. Please don’t think I’m goofy. I really do think a lot of writers do the same.

GJR: How do you write?

CD: Other than needing long uninterrupted sessions, there is no system to my writing. I do it when I feel like it and never try to force words to come. If a scene pops into my head, I write it and worry about where to fit it in later. My first draft is my outline. When I start the only things I know for sure are whodunit and the main characters. It seems my best ideas come just as I’m about to go to sleep. I get out of bed and sit on the bathroom floor making notes. Then jot down where I want the idea to occur and put it in a file the next day. When I write I separate the notes into chapter piles. Sometimes I’ll have the same note written several times. It’s hard to remember if I wrote something down, so I’ll do it again and again. I guess that means I really like the idea!

Someday I hope to write in short spurts. But I tend to concentrate so hard that I can’t just get into and out of a scene willy-nilly. When I write I even shut off the phones. I have no idea what I’ll do when my husband retires and lurks around the house all day. Maybe he’ll take up canasta or bowling or something. I can only hope.

Thanks again to Tracee at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for hooking me up with Oblivious and Cyndia Depre.

To keep up with Cyndia check out her website Cyndia Depre's website

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Julie's Review: Oblivious

Photobucket Summary: Eccentric Olivia Chatham has found her life's calling. Crime Buster. Tucker Monroe. The small Wisconsin town's mysterious new resident, discovers he, too has a mission. Keeping up with her. ~book jacket.

Review: I received Oblivious from Tracee at Pump Up Your Book Promotion and agreed to read and review it. I have to say, it probably wasn't something that I'd pick up off of a shelf. That being said, I really did enjoy it. I thought the character were hilarious and very well written. I adored Olivia Chatham and well Tucker Monroe screamed "HUNK". Both of them aren't really what they seem. At first, ok well during the book at times too, Olivia comes off as a bit dim but proves that she isn't and is actually quite smart. Olivia wasn't the most worldly but she definitely had a naivety that was refreshing. I thought the crime that they set about solving was quite humorous and entertaining. I'm not saying murder is funny but well how Olivia, Tucker and her best friend Josie go about solving the murder.

I also enjoyed the book for it's "Midwest Flavor". I could definitely picture Chatham, Wisconsin and well I think Chicago is the best city that I've ever been to. The whole town is a hoot and Olivia's parents are quite fun too.

I can't really say much more without giving it away, so I won't.

I have to say that the cover of this book does it no justice at all. I would definitely recommend getting a different cover for the next print run. If Ms. Depre writes another book with Olivia Chatham, I'm in. I will say that the comparison's to Janet Evanovich are pretty good, but I do think Ms. Depre has a bit to go until Olivia is as popular as Stephanie Plum.

For a fun light read, I definitely recommend Oblivious.

Check back tomorrow when Cyndia Depre does a guest blog for us.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lisa's Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

WTF? I'm very tempted to let those three letters be my review, but it would just be unfair. So I'll try to be fair, however, this may end up being more rant than review, so bear with me.

First rule of reading, follow your instincts. I really should have followed mine. I was mildly intrigued by the premise when I saw the author interviewed on the today show. The critical acclaim and numerous positive reviews led me to buy this although I was not at all swayed by the summary. Hold on - let me move my hair so you can brand "sucka" on my forehead.

For starters, it is long - it could easily have been 150 pages shorter, without losing anything. No one needs a 3 page dissertation on playing canasta, particularly when it does nothing to enhance the plot, move it forward or explain motivations.

With the exception of Edgar and one or two others, the characters are one dimensional, unrelatable or in some instances, flat out useless. Knowing their motivations for their actions might have helped some.

There was at times a saving grace that came in the form of delightful prose. Other times, especially when discussing the elements of dog breeding, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Tedious, convoluted, laborious, and sleep-inducing immediately spring to mind. Let's just chalk that up to me being wholly uninterested in dog breeding.

All of the elements of a coming of age story are evident and the overall plot was interesting at times. The execution, though left much to be desired. I don't blame the author that much, it's his first time, but his editors... It's been a bestseller, so obviously I am not the only one that got suckered in. And that is the source of my disappointment, I didn't follow my own mind and wasted 4 weeks of valuable reading time.

Its a good thing I can fight the urge to spoil the ending for those of you who are still interested.
Final Take 2/5

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Julie's Review: The Abstinence Teacher

Summary: Stonewood Heights is the perfect place to raise kids. It's got the proverbial good schools, solid values and a healthy real estate market. It's the kind of place where parents are involved in their children's lives, where no opportunity for enrichment goes unexplored.

Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school. She believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power." Ruth's younger daughter's soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Tim belongs to The Tabernacle, an evangelical Christian church that doesn't approve of Ruth's style of teaching. And Ruth in turn doesn't applaud The Tabernacle's mission to take its message outside its doors. Adversaries in a small-town culture war, Ruth and Tim instinctively mistrust each other. But when a controversy on the soccer field pushes the two of them to actually talk to each other, they are forced to take each other at something other than face value. The Abstinence Teacher exposes the powerful emotions that run beneath the surface of modern American family life and explores the complex spiritual and sexual lives of ordinary people. ~tomperrotta.com

Review: I hadn't read a Tom Perrotta novel but I had seen 2 movies based on his books, Election and Little Children. I thoroughly enjoyed both so much that I decided to read one of his books. The summary sounded very good but after finishing the book, I think the title “The Abstinence Teacher” is a bit misleading. Sure it’s what fuels the novel into a direction but I really think the novel is about faith, religion and personal choices. I found the two main characters Ruth and Tim to be likeable. I could identify with both of them on different levels. I see why Tim was drawn to religion, as many recovering addicts are; he just joined a very “pushy” church and got sucked into their rhetoric. As for Ruth, all she did was make a simple statement about how some people enjoyed oral sex after being asked a direct question by a student. Frankly, it’s not like she showed them how perform it. This comment sends a ripple through the community and enter in Joanne Marlow, who is the very put together Abstinence Teacher. The school even does an assembly where she testifies to how she’s a virgin and all of her friends who’ve had sex have had traumatic outcomes. Now, I do think that abstinence should be taught as part of an overall sex education course, but I do not think it’s realistic to believe that teenagers abstain. Ruth is basically forced to teach the new curriculum even though she doesn’t believe in it and thinks it’s full of crap.

When Ruth’s daughter Maggie is lead in prayer after a soccer game by her coach, Tim, Ruth throws a fit and pulls Maggie off the field. Ruth is ticked off because Tim is a part of the church, Tabernacle, which is forcing her to teach the abstinence course. She feels that if she can’t teach other alternatives to abstinence in her classroom, her daughter shouldn’t be subjected to prayer in a park district sponsored sport. Ruth wants to compose a letter to the head of the Soccer Association that scolds Tim for his prayer after a game but she’s finding that the other parents are reluctant to get on board since no harm was really done. Tim comes to Ruth to discuss the issue and Ruth resolves not to send a letter.

I’m not sure if it’s the meeting with Ruth that sends Tim into a religious tailspin or if he would have gotten there eventually anyway. I think he was struggling with his new found faith for a while. I don’t necessarily think his issue is with God because he still does pray for guidance at the end of the book, I think his issue is with the church he is attending and its leader, Pastor Dennis. He does everything Pastor Dennis tells him to do, even if it doesn’t feel right so that he can be a righteous man instead of a sinner. He even marries a young woman even though he’s not in love with her because his Pastor tells him it’s a good idea. Tim is a follower and religion makes it worse. I agree with Tim’s mom when she says that religion is just another addiction for him. I think by the end of the novel he does start to realize that fact and is looking for his own truth. Which isn’t that what all of us are doing anyway?

Overall, I like his prose, wit and how he examines subject matters that most of us deal with on some level or at some point in our lives. I wouldn’t say I loved this book but I did find the characters appealing and real. I would definitely read him again.

Final Take: 3.5/5

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Movie Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Summary: What happens when two witty, wise, but vulnerable teens meet by accident at a chaotic punk rock club? They fall in love, of course. While both are dealing with the fallout of failed relationships and the infinite hurt that accompanies them, they are questioning everything about themselves, their friends, and their future paths. The passion and intelligence of these characters, along with the authors' intimate knowledge of and complete respect for their audience, make this novel unique. Told in alternating chapters over the course of a single night, the narratives create a fully fleshed-out picture of both teens, informed by their love of music, their devotion to their friends, and their clear-eyed view of the world. These kids don't drink or do drugs and it's solely their obsession with music that takes them to these clubs. One of Norah's relatives calls her a potty mouth, and that's no exaggeration. Throughout the book, the expletives fly fast and furious, but they are more about personal expression and in-your-face attitude than about strong emotions. Yet, there is also considerable depth and sensitivity. Norah explains the Jewish concept of tikkun olam the responsibility to heal a fractured world and Nick comes up with an original spin on it. There are many heart-stopping, insightful moments in this supremely satisfying and sexy romance. A first-rate read.

Review: It's a vary rare weekend where I get to see 1 movie let alone 2 and for both of them to be book adapations is probably even more rare. I haven't read Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist but I definitely will after seeing the movie. It was adorable. A wonderful movie about finding your way and falling in love. I adore Michael Cera and really wanted to see the movie because he's in it. Now I did read a couple of reviews on the book a while ago and it peaked my interest. The music is wonderful in the movie and well what can go wrong when there's a Yugo involved. Many young people will have no clue what a Yugo is but us children of the 80's/90's remember them well.

I loved that everything happened in less then 24 hours in the movie, which at that age in your life seemed like a long period of time and was so exciting. Norah's friend Caroline is a hoot as are Nick's friends. Nick is a "straight edge" as is Norah. Needless to say there are a few moments where the story could turn on it's head but you know in the end that Nick and Norah will end up together.

At 35, I'm probably past the age of the target audience for this movie but I still enjoyed it. I think now I want to go and read the book, because I can almost guarantee the book is better.

Final Take: 4/5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Book to Movie: The Secret Lives of Bees

Summary: In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their South Carolina peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic. ~amazon.com

Review: I can't believe that it's been 7 years since I've read this wonderful book. I'm so thrilled that they made it into a movie. My mom had actually recommended the book to me, so we went to see it together along with my sister. The movie was every bit as good as I remember the book being. The cast is just fantastic. While I may not have wanted Dakota Fanning in My Sister's Keeper, she was superb as Lily Owen. Queen Latifah was her usual charming self as Beekeeper August Boatright; Alicia Keys shines as June Boatwright; Sofie Okenedo is wonderful as kind, sensitive May Boatwright. I can't believe that was Paul Bettany as T. Ray Owens. I knew he looked familiar but I just couldn't place him since it was a different role for him. I can't forget the wonderful Jennifer Hudson who's character Rosaleen is the catalyst for the story.

The story is funny and very moving depending on the scene. It is definitely a coming of age story in a very turbulent and pertinent time in US history. The music throughout the movie is beautiful and fits perfectly. I wonder if Ms. Keys learned how to play the cello. I would think with her background she would be able to pick it up fairly quickly. The story of the Black Madonna moved me to tears and I loved how it was an integral part of who Lilly became.

It's a story about family and finding out who you are and where you belong. Something I think all of us can relate too.

Now I can't speak to how it translates from the novel to the movie because of how long it's been since I read it, but the movie is worth whatever the price in your area.

Book to Movie Final Take: 5/5

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Julie's Review: Off-Season

Summary: For as long as she can remember, they were Cam and Lilly--happily married, totally in love with each other, parents of a beautiful family, and partners in life. Then, after decades of marriage, it ended as every great love story does...in loss. After Cam's death, Lilly takes a lone road trip to her and Cam's favorite spot on the remote coast of Maine, the place where they fell in love over and over again, where their ghosts still dance. There, she looks hard to her past--to a first love that ended in tragedy; to falling in love with Cam; to a marriage filled with exuberance, sheer life, and safety-- to try to figure out her future.

It is a journey begun with tender memories and culminating in a revelation that will make Lilly re-evaluate everything she thought was true about her husband and her marriage. ~amazon.com

Review: I know I've read a previous book by Ms. Siddons' before, but I don't think I'll be going back. I had such high hopes for Off Season. It sounded excellent, the reviews on amazon were wonderful; what a let down. Now it's not the worst book I read this year that's for sure because there were some pretty great bright spots, like the first 60% of the book, after that she lost me.

What I loved was the parts of the novel with Lily as a 11 year old girl summering in Maine, or the house that is called Edgewater. I could picture the house and the beautiful scenery surrounding it. I could picture Lily as a 11 year old girl, the leader of the pack who was coming into young adulthood and didn't understand her mom. This is the summer she meets Jon Lowell. This is the summer when everything changes. This was the best part of the book and the subsequent chapters when they go back to Washington and their lives are changed forever.

What I didn't like was the way she met Cam. It just felt so contrived and completely unrealstic. I don't mind having the character fall in love and have a whirlwind romance but it just seems like she didn't even know who she was or what she wanted when she was swept away. I didn't like the way they had Lily seem to go mad when she went back to Edgewater. I knew what was going to happen as soon as a character was introduced. It was a bit obvious to me even from the book jacket what the secret was going to turn out to be. That was disappointing. And the revelation was anti-climatic because it came at the end of the book and I'm not even sure if Lily knew it.

The writing at times was beautiful and at times it was scattered. It seems like toward the middle of the book, Ms. Siddons' didn't know where she wanted to go with the story. I thought the magical/mystical part was a little much for a "adult" book. I think only Alice Hoffman really can pull that stuff off for women.

It wasn't a complete waste of time because I did like the majority of the book but I wouldn't recommend it unless you really were running out of things to read.

Final Take: 3/5

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jenn's Review: Anatomy of a Boyfriend

Summary: Before this all happened, the closest I'd ever come to getting physical with a guy was playing the board game Operation. Okay, so maybe that sounds pathetic, but it's not like there were any guys at my high school who I cared to share more than three words with, let alone my body.

Then I met Wes, a track star senior from across town. Maybe it was his soulful blue eyes, or maybe my hormones just started raging. Either way, I was hooked. And after a while, he was too. I couldn't believe how intense my feelings became, or the fact that I was seeing—and touching—parts of the body I'd only read about in my Gray's Anatomy textbook. You could say Wes and I experienced a lot of firsts together that spring. It was scary. It was fun. It was love.

And then came the fall.

Review: When Daria Snadowsky sent me this book to read, I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this. Because it's labeled YA chick-lit, I think I was prepared to discover more Gossip Girls, less... real. There are lots of reviewers comparing the book to Judy Blume's Forever; the author herself even dedicates it to Blume. I am abashed to admit, I never read Judy Blume growing up - is that considered a crime against humanity? - I was more of a of a Madeleine L'Engle fantasy fiction and mystery (Nancy Drew Case Files) fanatic. So this book took me completely by surprise.

Unlike some YA chick-lit that champions sex for the sake of sex, this book is NOT trashy. Snadowsky paints a very real portrait of first love and first sexual experiences that is very relevant today. Snadowsky doesn't speak for or against teen sex but relates the trials and triumphs of a mature teen who is experiencing everything for the first time. There are moments I'm sure many of us can relate to... some fondly and some not so fondly. Honestly, I wish I'd read this as a teen (or perhaps Ms Blume, as she's more my vintage). It gives realistic expectations; it's informative without being a 'how to'; it captures the emotional roller coaster that is first love and first sex. It's honest, and I find that really refreshing.

But here's the real test:

Would I give this to my daughter to read when she starts dating seriously? (As much as I'd prefer her to be 25 before she decides to serious date, I know how unlikely that is...)

You bet I would.