Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jenn's Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Summary: A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Gemma, 16, has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy. –Patty Campbell, Amazon.com

Review: I've read this book twice – the first reading was a few months ago and I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice in a review. I also figured I'd give it a second chance as I was far from keen on it the first time through. I like it better this reading than the first reading, but I've also come to realize what bothers me about Libba Bray's writing style: it lacks a certain fluidity. She has a tendency to use periods in place of commas, especially when she is in a lengthy description. YA books should be exemplary prose, and I don't feel this is the case here; and it made for choppy reading. Bray's first person voice in the novel switches back and forth from a journaling style to a story telling style and it was noticeable to me and therefore disruptive while reading.

I also have issues with how modern the characters seem to be in a novel set in the late 1800s... especially when Bray goes to such lengths to keep the story historically anchored. (She takes a huge amount of the book with the plot exposition and laying the foundation, maybe too much). Perhaps this is an attempt to make it interesting to Young Adults, but to me it feels like over simplification. As readers, if they are mature enough to find an historical novel interesting, they are intelligent enough for historically accurate characters. I wish she had chosen modern or historical, as modernizing history sacrificed her story, in my eyes.

I'm also not sure what happened in the climax. I've not only read the book twice, but I've reread that particular passage several times and I'm still not sure what happens or, more importantly, why it happens. I will continue reading this trilogy as I'm curious to see where her writing style and plot are headed, but I can't say that I am recommending that you do the same...


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Julie's Review: The Quickie

Summary: Lauren Stillwell is not your average damsel in distress.When the she discovers her husband leaving a hotel with another woman, she decides to beat him at his own game. But her revenge goes dangerously awry, and she finds her world spiraling into a hell that becomes more terrifying by the hour. In a further twist of fate, Lauren must take on a job that threatens everything she stands for. Now, she's paralyzed by a deadly secret that could tear her life apart. With her job and marriage on the line, Lauren's desire for retribution becomes a lethal inferno as she fights to save her livelihood--and her life.Patterson takes us on a twisting roller-coaster ride of thrills in his most gripping novel yet. This story of love, lust and dangerous secrets will have readers' hearts pounding to the very last page.

Review: I really just need to stop reading James Patterson, but he's like a drug that I keep going back to, probably out of habit. Plus my dad read it and sent it to me so it's not like I'm out money on the book. I know why the title of the book is called The Quickie because once I started reading it, it was a quick read. There are a few good twists in the book and one that comes in the first 55 pages of the book that I really didn't see coming but the rest of the book is pretty standard fare for James Patterson. The characters were 2 dimensional and didn't get any emotional attachment from me either way. I didn't love Lauren and I didn't hate her either. At times I just wish she would have "done the right thing" because I think it would have made for a better story than the one that was spit out here. This is probably the lowest rating I've given a book in a very long time, but I do feel it's deserved. From now on I'll probably only read the Alex Cross books and the Women's Murder Club series from James Patterson.

Final Take: 2.5/5

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Romance is Gone!

When I was broke I read a lot of romance novels. I mean, how could you go wrong at $6.99 a pop when you have no money and book addiction? So it was all ramen noodles and Johanna Lindsey, Julia Quinn, Jude Deveraux and Amanda Quick. As time went on and I had a little extra money to spend, I read less and less romance novels. However, I still adored Lindsey and Quinn's work and every year with out fail, I would go out and purchase their new one on the release dates and immediately devour them.

Last year though, it took me about two months to purchase The Devil Who Tamed Her, Lindsey's newest. I didn't think much of it though, I simply figured it was due to the 40 books in my "to be read" pile. Last week however, I realized that I still hadn't read it yet. Interesting... I wondered why that was. Then it dawned on me... I've fallen out of love with Johanna Lindsey. I'm not knocking the genre at all here - I may not be a big romance reader anymore, but it took me less than a couple of days to tear through The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, Quinn's latest and if you've seen my recent review of The Winter Rose you know I enjoyed it - immensely.

Falling out of love with an author - what a unique concept in my world. I've no doubt that publishers love people like me, because if at any point I enjoyed your work, you've got a fan for life. I would go out an purchase your next thing, sight unseen. I'm the same with music and I'm likely to stick with a dog of a tv show out of habit. Though I'd like to tell myself that I had extra money to spend on different books, it's quite likely that I fell out of love with Amanda Quick and I know for certain, I stopped reading Deveraux, when she started writing contemporary romances.

I want to blame this falling out of love thing on an evolved taste in reading material, but I know that has little to do with. A good "bodice ripper" does wonders for the soul every now and again and I'm not so sure that I won't be buying her next one if I hear that it's a Mallory novel. Either way, I'll be thinking long and hard about purchasing another Johanna Lindsey or a John Grisham or a Zane. And I'm sure I'm going to drag my feet to get the next Sophie Kinsella.

So what about you? Can you relate? Which authors have you fallen out of love with and why? What would make you purchase another book by an author you'd fallen out of love with?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fannings out! Other people In?

This just in:
"Future moguls Dakota and Elle Fanning have left My Sister's Keeper, a film about a couple who conceives a child (Elle) to be a genetic match for her ailing sis (Dakota). Apparently, Dakota didn't want to shave her head to play sick. Diva! Oscar nom Abigail Breslin and newcomer Sofia Vassileva will fill the void..." ~from TV Guide.

Hmm... Not gonna say "thank god", but coughthankgodcough. Who is this Sofia person?

Julie's Review: Second Chance

Summary: Green, author of chick-lit favorites Swapping Lives (2006) and The Other Woman (2005), explores the way one man's death affects the lives of his friends. Tom Fitzgerald, a Brit living in the States, is only 39 when he kisses his wife and children good-bye and boards a doomed train. In the wake of his death, his friends, some of whom haven't seen in each other in nearly two decades, come together to remember him. Despite one night of passion, Holly and Tom remained best friends, and she thinks she is content with her picture-perfect life despite a lack of love for her husband until she reconnects with Tom's charismatic, introspective younger brother. Olivia takes a chance on a man Tom set her up with shortly before he died. An actress in L.A., Saffron has fallen in love with one of Hollywood's sexiest stars, but she is growing tired of waiting for him to leave his loveless marriage. Paul and Anna couldn't love each other more, but her inability to conceive a child mars their happy marriage. Peopled with her trademark likable, sympathetic characters, Green's latest is sure to have wide appeal. ~Booklist

Review: I think that I've read almost all of Jane Green's books and have enjoyed everyone of them for various reasons. Second Chance isn't her best in my opinion but still a pretty decent read. I found that I did like all of the four main characters but I found it a little farfetched that they would resume deep, meaningful friendships after 20 years of sporadic contact. On the flip side of that I find that to be refreshing that they could resume their friendships even after a long lapse in time. Nothing like a tragedy to bring people together unfortunately and to cause them to examine their own lives. I found Saffron to be a sterotypical Hollywood actress and found some of the plot about Hollywood to be cliche. My favorite transformation of the group was Holly. From being someone she's not to coming into her own and realizing who she is. I did think throughout the book that her husband was cheating on her but it turns out he was just a jerk.

If you haven't read Jane Green before I recommend either The Other Woman or To Have and To Hold: A Novel before I'd tell you to read Second Chances. The book was a good read but it didn't stir any deep emotions in me and while I liked Holly I just wanted her to wake up at some points. The rest of the characters were good but 2 dimensional.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Written Word Giveaway

Stephanie's Blog The Written Word is giving a way a copy of The Friday Night Knitting Club on February 14th.

It looks like a good curl up and read it on a weekend book. The link above will take you directly to enter the contest...it's easy just put a comment and you are entered.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lauren Groff's Schedule of Appearances

Continuing in our quest to promote The Monsters of Templeton, below is a schedule of Lauren's events from February through April. Too bad she's not making a stop in Chicago or I'd go and introduce myself. Hopefully some of our readers will go and meet her, but don't forget to mention us. :)

Saturday, February 9……………………………….………….…..COOPERSTOWN, NY
5:00 p.m. AUGUR’S BOOKS, 73 Main Street
Reading & Signing in connection with the Cooperstown Winter Carnival
6:30 p.m. TEMPLETON HALL, 63 Pioneer Street
Party for Cooperstown hosted by the Groff family

Sunday, February 10……………………………….…………...……..NEW YORK CITY
7:00 p.m. KGB BAR, 85 East 4th Street

Wednesday, February 13………………………………….……...……NEW YORK CITY
8:00 p.m. HAPPY ENDING BAR, 302 Broome Street

Tuesday, February 19………………………………….……………...…...JACKSON, MS
5:00 p.m. LEMURIA, Banner Hall, 4465 I 55 North, Suite 202

Wednesday, February 20……………………………………………..…….OXFORD, MS
5:00 p.m. SQUARE BOOKS, 160 Courthouse Square

Saturday, February 23 – Sunday, February 24…………………….COLUMBIA, SC
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln Street

Thursday, February 28……………………………………………SOUTH HADLEY, MA
7:00 p.m. ODYSSEY BOOKSHOP, 9 College Street

Sunday, March 9……..………………………….……………………GAINESVILLE, FL
2:00 p.m. GOERINGS BOOK STORE, 1717 NW First Avenue

Thursday, March 13-Saturday, March 15…..FORT LAUDERDALE, FL

Thursday, March 27……………………………………………………...SARASOTA, FL
7:00 p.m. SARASOTA NEWS & BOOKS: Groff in Conversation with Stephen King
at University of South Florida/Sarasota-Manatee Campus, 5700 N. Tamiami Trail

Friday, April 25………………………………….……………………..…LOS ANGELES, CA

Saturday, April 26-Sunday, April 27……………………………..LOS ANGELES, CA

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lisa's Review: The Winter Rose

When India Selwyn Jones, a young woman from a noble family, graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900, her professors advise her to set up her practice in London's esteemed Harley Street. Driven and idealistic, India chooses to work in the city's East End instead, serving the desperately poor.

In these grim streets, India meets--and saves the life of--London's most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. A hard, wounded man, Malone is the opposite of India's aristocratic fiancé, Freddie Lytton, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.

Though they fight hard against their feelings, India and Sid fall in love, and their unpredictable, passionate and bittersweet affair causes destruction they could never have imagined. Sweeping from London to Kenya to the wild, remote coast of California, The Winter Rose is a breathtaking return to the epic historical novel, from a masterful writer with a fresh, richly vivid, and utterly electrifying voice. ~ from the inside flap.

You know that fight you have with yourself when you need to go to sleep, but you just want to read one more chapter or to the end of the page? That was my experience with Jennifer Donnelly's second novel of her "Rose" trilogy.

With a rich and vivid narrative you can almost feel the desperation of the characters as they roamed the streets and alleys of East London, or feel the heat of the African sun or smell the salty sea air from the bluffs of Point Reyes. The details lent to the novel's authenticity and it was a great joy to immerse that time in London's history.

Despite a few cliched archetypes (the modern independent woman with a desire to change the world or the criminal with a heart of gold) the characters are well-formed and take believable journeys throughout the course of the plot. India and Sid make you believe in their convictions, their love and their destiny. The secondary characters all played well and I paticularly enjoyed meeting Fiona and Joe (protagonists from The Tea Rose - first in the trilogy and a book that's officially at the top of my to be read pile). Speaking of brilliant characters, besides possibly Voldemort, I can't remember ever reading a villian as well written and completely beyond redemption as Freddie Lytton. His demise was just not good enough in my humble opinion.

At 700 pages, this is a monster of a book, though that's not my complaint. I felt far too much time was spent setting things up and I would have gladly exchanged some of those chapters for a few more pages with Sid and India in their new life. I won't get too greedy about that though, because if this book is any indication, I'm sure they'll show up again in the next one... which was set up beautifully by the way.

Though a romance at its core, the delightful mix of history, adventure and suspense makes this a genre-busting novel that is simply one great read.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Monday, February 4, 2008

Interview with Lauren Groff - Part Two

As promised - the rest of our interview with Lauren Groff. Enjoy!

Girls Just Reading: Templeton is based on your hometown of Cooperstown, NY but is the family lineage based on stories about the ancestry of the town or is just purely fiction? If fiction, how much time was spent on developing the detailed storyline and the details of the Temple Family Tree? If it’s based on non-fiction, how much research went into making sure the story was as accurate as the facts you could find?

Lauren Groff: The ancestry is fictional though some of the characters come from James Fenimore Cooper’s fiction and personal biography, though those of the latter source are so patently fictionalized that I was able to just have fun with it. My intention was to allow the people of Templeton who are generally not allowed to have a voice in history to speak—the wives and servants and slaves and regular people and obscure sons of big, important people. The family tree was the hardest thing to do, and even into the ARCs (Advance Readers Copy) there were some big issues with the genealogy—it gets so very tricky to weave all the separate strands, and I’m sure I’d horrify actual genealogists. For me, the characters were the important parts.

GJR: I (Lisa) knew immediately who Willie’s father was when I met him. What was your reasoning behind choosing this particular individual?

LG: Congratulations! As far as I’ve heard only a few people like you so far did know off the bat—and I’m not going to write much more about this, in the fear of spoiling the plot for those who haven’t read the book yet. Well done, in any case!

GJR: Willie has an interesting relationship with her mother, sometimes there seemed to be a lack of respect happening. Why did you feel the story was best served by having this sort of relationship between the two women?

LG: I think because even in very close relationships between parents and daughters, even when the children are grown, there are moments where there’s an apparent lack of respect! Willie loves her mother, but is massively frustrated and irritated and bemused by her, and has always had a sort of co-parenting role in the relationship anyway—she feels a little bit as if her mother, who was so very young when she had Willie, grew up at the same time that Willie herself did. Willie has a protective, almost sisterly relationship to her, and though she acts poorly at times she does, deeply, respect her mother. That aspect I think only comes clear the deeper you go into the book, though.

GJR: One of the things we enjoyed most was the fact that the novel is written in so many different voices and information comes in different forms (i.e. letters, diary entries, etc.) What compelled you to use these devices?

LG: Thanks! They only came clear on the fourth draft—I was trying to write a panorama of a town during the many eras in its existence, and the best way I came up with for doing that was allowing the actual voices of the town to surface.

GJR: Are you at work on another novel at the moment? Is it a going to be a new idea or will you base it off of a short story you’ve previously written?

LG: I do have a short story collection coming out next, which I’m thrilled about, and I’ve been at work on another novel (with a new idea) for about a year--which means I have about thirty “keepable” pages, alas. It’s due in 2010, which is starting to seem way too close for comfort.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Julie's Review: Water for Elephants

Summary: Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its ownway of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out --- orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act --- in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air. ~readinggroupguides.com

Review: First, I just want to say that I really didn't want to read Water for Elephants: A Novel because the circus was a major character and it just didn't interest me. Second, I want to thank my girlfriend for sending it to me because it was one of the best books she'd ever read. Third, it was hard to find a summary that didn't ruin the story for those of you who haven't read it so I hope the one above doesn't ruin too much of the story for you, I didn't think it would.

Since I was skeptical walking into this book I was amazed at how quickly I became enthralled by Sara Gruen's vivid descriptions of both the time period and the traveling circus. The story starts off with gusto and doesn't let up because frankly you want to know what happens. Along the way you meet all the interesting characters in the story. Most of them are so vividly described that they will forever be ingrained into my memory. The story is a combination of history lesson, love story between both man and woman, woman and animals, and man and animals, and mystery. I enjoyed how she wrote the story from a 90+ year old man's point of view and how the story moved from past to present. I think that by telling the story through Jacob's eyes and moving the story back and forth between past and present made the story seem that much more real.

Ms. Gruen is a masterful storyteller who knows how to describe the scenery in such a manner that those of the traveling circus are forever burned in my brain. I also enjoyed how the book had historical pictures of Ringling Circus before every chapter, it made everything seem a bit more real than just a fictional story wrapped in historical fact. I'm sure her fiction is pretty close to someone's reality though. I always feel that unless it's a far-fetched storyline, it's probably happened somewhere in the human race.

I can't give this book a 5/5 purely because I could see some of the storyline come fast down the train tracks but I'm also not holding it against the story either. The love story was pretty obvious from the get go as was part of the ending of the book. There was not a point while reading that I thought the book dragged and I felt the ending was a perfect way to wrap up the story.

For those of you who might have this book on your TBR list or for those of you who have thought about purchasing it, buy it and read it soon. I'm sorry that I was so off put by the backdrop in which the story takes place that I didn't read it for over 1.5 years.

The next time Sara Gruen releases a new book, I'll be there to buy it. I truly think that she's one of the most gifted storytellers I've read in a while.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Weekend Today Show Segment: Winter Books

I happened to have the luxury this morning of watching the Today Show's Weekend Edition. During the brief time I could watch it they did a segment on Great Winter Books to read and while I knew some of the books they were discussing, I was even more excited when they mentioned The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. I'm very excited for Lauren that she's getting this much press for her first novel.

Here it is!!

Thanks to Julie P for locating it for me!! Sometimes I'm not very internet literate. ;)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Interview with Lauren Groff - Part One

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know by now that The Monsters of Templeton will be published on February 5, 2008. As part of the mini-promotional thing that we're doing here at Girls Just Reading, we asked Ms. Groff if she would answer a few questions for us - she graciously agreed. What follows is part one of our attempt at asking insightful questions about the cover, her writing process and hoping she would spill a few secrets (no such luck!)

Please enjoy!

Girls Just Reading: We know that most authors do not have much say on the cover art for their book, but it seems like yours ties into the book immensely. Did you have some input and can you tell us (without giving much away) who the pictures are of on the cover? We have an idea but would like to see if we are correct.

Lauren Groff: I actually had no say at all—and am so glad that everything worked out so beautifully. Throughout writing the book, I did have an image in my mind for what the book would look like (a stark white cover, with the lake monster half-emerged in black and white along the bottom edge). I was so surprised to see my color scheme replicated, but in such an intricate and storytelling way by the paper-artist Beth White. As soon as I saw the cover, it was the first time it sank in that the novel was going to be published. And though I’d love to confirm your suspicions, I’d rather not explain the cover! First of all, because I could be wrong, myself (the artist and cover designer were the ones to make those decisions)—second, because I love the idea that individual readers could interpret things the way they want to.
GJR: How long did it take you to develop the outline for the book? Is this something you’ve worked on over a few years or was it something that you sat down and wrote over a few months?

LG: It took me three years to write this book, and never from an outline. It was, instead, the work of historical research and multiple complete drafts that I subsequently abandoned, keeping only the good ideas. A few months would have been fabulous, but unless you’re wildly prolific, that usually doesn’t end up being the timeline of the creation of a book—since I write first drafts freehand and then revise as I transfer to the computer, I have something like 1,500 pages of Monsters of Templeton in the world.

GJR: Glimmey, the lake “monster” in the story seems to be a version of another lake being, did you get your inspiration from the Loch Ness monster tales? How much research did you put into developing this character for the story? What types of experts did you reach out to?

LG: Glimmey comes form an enigmatic story I’d heard constantly when I was little, and from Moby Dick a little bit. His details are only from a delighted idea of possibility—I did some research on cryptozoology online, and I knew I wanted to make him parthenogenic and carry a great deal of the metaphoric weight for the story, but the rest of the details come from idly clicking through the internet. I sometimes think that too-intensive research tends to kill some of the imaginative possibilities in fiction—I’m pretty sure a creature like Glimmey is anatomically impossible, but I couldn’t really resist the ability to give him some of the attributes he has—like supersonic ears.

GJR: On the subject of Glimmey, we felt the intent was to parallel Willie and how she felt about returning home, her search for her father and so on. Are we correct in our assumptions?

LG: So sorry—again, I think I’m going to decline being the arbiter of this one. Primarily because I think Glimmey could be read in a dozen ways, and I did intend for it to have a multitude of readings, all of which are correct in each reader’s mind. So, you’re absolutely correct—as are fifty other readings of the monster!